It's the perfect time of year to start planning your trip to Death Valley National Park. The months of October and November are an ideal time to visit the "hottest place on earth" as temperatures begin to drop to a "mild" 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the fall sunsets allow for spectacular photo opportunities, especially of the famous sand dunes.
The massive dunes of Death Valley were created over millennium of rain waters washing down the surrounding mountains. Winds help shape the dunes, often erasing the footprints of desert animals and day hikers alike. Sunrise and sunset are particularly great times to capture the shadows and color changes of the dunes as well as providing a bit of a reprieve from the heat.
Hiking the dunes is a must for adventure seekers. Although Mesquite Dunes are easily accessible, being just 1.5 miles from the main road of the park, they are well visited. It's likely you'll come across dozens of other hikers. If it's solitude you crave head out to Panamint Dunes.
The hike to Panamint Dunes is about 3.6 miles (one way) from the parking area on Lake Hill Road. The vastness of the valley can play tricks on you---making the dunes appear closer than they really are. It can also fool you into believing it's a flat hike, however, you'll likely gain at least 1000 feet, depending on the current height of the dunes as these change over time.
You should plan on it taking several hours to make this round trip hike, fully exposed to the sun and heat. For this reason be sure to pack in plenty of water (more than you might assume you'll need) and proper sun protection, which should include:
- A hat: for keeping the sun off of your face
- Affordable sunglasses: to protect your eyes from both the sun's rays and blowing sand
- A bandana: wet and tie around your neck to stay cool
- Sunscreen: to prevent burning, yes, even in November
Don't forget your camera to record your accomplishment as well as some snacks to refuel. But most of all, take some time to enjoy the peace and tranquility as you gaze up at the Panamint and Cottonwood and Nelson ranges, miles away from every one and every thing.