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Dunes—Shades of Sand

Updated: Sep 14, 2022

travel stories with landscape photographic artist

kent j burkhardsmeier

9 more miles

Table of Content

—> November's Overview

—> Desert Delight

—> Arriving in Arizona

—> More Arizona

—> Thanksgiving

—> Sand Like Snow

Shades of Sand Zen

RV and Truck at campsite in Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

As I crisscross America, I am learning that there are many dune fields in the country. Each one has a different color—what I call: shades of sand. Last month during my travels, I photographed khaki-tan dunes at Mesquite Flats Dunes. This month I photograph salmon-pink and drywall-white shades of sand.

Departing the campsite at Furnace Creek in Death Valley National Park (DVNP), I headed into Nevada to camp near the last remaining desert oasis and stroll during the night in a ghost town. Then I traveled on to the salmon-pink sand dunes within southwestern Utah.

Moon rising over Sedona canyon.

Sedona (AZ), with its magical rock formations and mystical vortices, is one of my favorite southwestern locations. Unfortunately, there are few campsites in the area, and none had openings. Luckily, I found a lovely RV park outside Camp Verde, about 45 minutes south of Sedona.

Heading east out of Camp Verde (AZ), I passed through the beautiful, forested parts of AZ along the Mogollon Rim to Lyman Lake State Park (AZ). From Lyman Lake, I drove across US Highway 60 towards Alburquerque (NM) passing through Pie Town (NM) and past the VLA. While in Alburquerque (NM), Whispers received a new replacement awning! Criss also received something new in Alburquerque (NM).

I celebrated Thanksgiving with family in Santa Fe (NM). After Thanksgiving, I departed Santa Fe and I headed to Alamogordo (NM) for some drywall-white sand.

Being present in a dune field offers a moment of Zen.

Ghost Town, Oasis, and Underground River

(November 1 - 4)

Amargosa Valley (NV)

Pink and blue accent the sunset over Pyramid Peak, viewed from Amargosa Desert.
Amargosa Desert sunset

Not far outside the eastern boundary of Death Valley NP (DVNP) flows the Amargosa River. The river starts in the mountains near Beatty (NV) flowing south under the Amargosa Desert. It turns west and then north before terminating into the aquifer that feeds DVNP's Badwater Basin. The river traverses some 200 miles from start to finish, ending a mere 50 miles away (as-the-crow-flies) from its headwater. Badwater Basin is the lowest point on the North American continent (-282 feet below sea level).

Remnants of salt crystals at Badwater Basin within Death Valley National Park
Badwater Basin

The Amargosa River, referred to as the "Crown Jewel of the Mojave Desert," is the only free-flowing river in this region of the Mojave Desert. Most of its 200 miles are underground. It is an ancient river and indigenous humans have lived along it for over 10,000 years. Nature and wildlife thrive from this life-giving watershed.

Desert Oasis

The largest remaining desert oasis of the Mojave Desert sits within Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. Twenty-six (26) endemic species of plants and animals call the refuge's 24,000 acres home, including the endangered Amargosa pupfish and the critically endangered Devils Hole pupfish.

Spring flowing in Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge

Ash Meadows NWR was internationally recognized during the 1971 Ramsar Convention as a Ramsar Site. It is one of the 41 USA wetland sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance. When you drive the area and walk along Ash Meadow's boardwalks you understand its importance to nature.

Ghost Town

It seems appropriate that remnants of eight (8) ghost towns are scattered across Death Valley. Rhyolite was the largest city with a peak population of 10,000 people during its heydays (1905-1911). Rusted, broken debris from the once thriving city are scattered across are the hillside where homes, stores, foundries, machine shops, an ice plant, hotels, school, an opera house, and houses of "ill repute" once stood. As the town boomed, it had 3 newspapers, an ice cream parlor, and the Stock Exchange and Board of Trade building. The 3-story building reportedly cost $90,000 to build with portions still standing.

Black and White image of Rhyolite ghost town

Rhyolite, named after the silica-rich volcanic rock in the area, was founded in 1904. City founders, Shorty Harris and Ed Cross, discovered rhyolite crystal at their nearby Bullfrog mine.

Electricity came to the city in April 1907. The nearby Montgomery Shoshone mine boasted generating $10,000 per day from mined ore. Charles Schwab purchased the mine in 1906 for 2-6 million dollars.

Black and White shadows from Rhyolite bank.

However, the 1907 financial panic was the beginning of the end for Rhyolite. By 1910 only 611 residents lived in the town, newspapers stopped printing, and banks failed. The Montgomery Shoshone mine closed down on March 14, 1911. Then the railroad stopped running. The lights and power were turned off in 1916.

Alongside the remains of the town, lies an open-air, art museum—Goldwell. Belgian artist Albert Szukalski started the museum in 1984 with the creation and installation of his sculpture titled "The Last Supper."

Last Supper Sculpture from Goldwell Museum in Rhyolite NV
The Last Supper by Albert Szukalski

Navajo Sandstone and Pink Skies

(November 4 - 7)

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park (UT)

Pink clouds float over dunes of Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

Carried on Navajo sandstone, high winds blow nature's whispers through a notch between mountains where they build into salmon-pink dune fields at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.

Hikers, off-road vehicles, sand boarders, and horse riders claim the dunes as their daytime playground. While southwestern clouds painted pink fill the skies after the sun sets.

Bareback riding up dunes at Coral Pink Dunes State Park

The state park is nestled behind the Moquith and Moccasin mountains in southwestern Utah between Mount Carmel Junction and Kanab (UT). This park is off the grid as none of the US cellular carriers provide coverage within the state park.

Montezuma Castle — cliff dwelling of the Sinagua people

Castle in the Cliffs

(November 7 - 12)

Camp Verde (AZ)

"The 20-room high-rise apartment, nestled into a towering limestone cliff, tells a story of ingenuity, survival and ultimately, prosperity in an unforgiving desert landscape."

Montezuma Castle view from National Park walkway

The nation's 3rd National Monument, Montezuma Castle, was dedicated in December 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt "preserving our Native American culture." The Sinagua people built the dwelling approximately at the same time that Notre Dame Cathedral was constructed in Paris (1100-1300). The Sinagua left the area by the early 1400s for unknown reasons.

The Sinagua people were living in the area as early as 650 CE, as evident through uncovered remains of their earlier houses near Montezuma Well. These pit houses were built by inserting log posts into the ground, then covering with plant material. By 1050 CE, the Sinagua began building pueblos and cliff dwellings. The south facing cliff house offered warmth in the winter and coolness in the summer. They also provided protection from Beaver Creek floods while also offering views of approaching travelers.


Brass bell from Arcosanti hanging

An hour south of Sedona off of Interstate I-17 sits the prototype arcology, Arcosanti. Arcology is "a field of creating architectural design principles for very densely populated and ecologically low-impact human habitats"—Wikipedia. This term was coined by Arcosanti designer and architect Paolo Soleria in 1969.

Soleri, through The Cosanti Foundation, constructed the city of Arcosanti in 1970 as a testing ground for his progressive urban planning concepts. The community continues today with an average of 70 full-time, year-round residents. Interns and volunteers live at Arcosanti for shorter periods of time while working on programs, projects, or initiatives.

Bronze windmills crafted in Arcosanti's working foundry are known throughout the world. Each bell is a unique piece of art created by on-site artisans using original Soleri bell patterns and a unique cast-in-place silt method. Earthen, hand-carved ceramic tiles are crafted in the on-site ceramic apse. Bronze and ceramic bells can be purchased at the gift shop or online. Revenue from the sale of bells, jewelry, tours, events, overnight stays, and donations keep Arcosanti operating.

VLA position behind RAM truck and Momentum 5th Wheel RV