A dry camp is defined as a campsite without water resources – including flushing toilets. When the dry camp is located in Death Valley National Park, dry may already be a familiar state to park visitors – as well as hot – but it takes on a more urgent meaning if you plan to stay a few days camping in the Mojave Desert. Death Valley is home to several dry camps in addition to developed campgrounds, with the main differences being the aforementioned flush toilets and the fact that the dry camps are located in some of the park’s most fascinating landscapes. The Eureka Dunes dry camp is no exception.
Found in the northern end of the park after a long drive on flat, wide, but bone-rattling dirt roads, the second-highest sand dune site in the United States boasts its own ecosystem and a spectacular spring wildflower show if the conditions are right. The dry camp itself is more than a wide flat spot to pitch a tent. Four designated sites include the comforts of campfire rings, picnic tables and parking spaces. Nearby, you’ll find a pit toilet and further down the road you’ll find dispersed campsites that are popular with groups and those who prefer privacy to a short stroll to the toilet.
The Eureka Dunes are nestled in a rock amphitheater of the Last Chance Mountains, rising 700 feet above the floor of Eureka Valley at an elevation of 3000 feet above sea level. The unique and isolated nature of the dunes has caused several species of plants to evolve distinctively, including Eureka Dunegrass and Eureka Dunes Evening Primrose. Blooming in March and April if the previous winter brought significant rains, the primrose is deceptive in its display. As an evening bloomer, the flowers close completely during the heat of the day and lay flat against the plant’s starburst of green leaves that barely rise above the sand. Campers are most likely to catch the showy yellow, pink and white flowers in the cool of the morning and may never notice them at all during the heat of the day. Many other kinds of wildflowers are found in the land surrounding the dunes, providing a rainbow of color against the browns of the desert in a good wildflower year.
Another unique characteristic of the Eureka Dunes is the ability to sing. Singing sand dunes occur when the conditions are just right in summer – a certain amount of heat and strong winds allow cascades of sand to create booming noises. The ‘singing’ is most likely to occur in the keys of G, E or F.
Despite being isolated in the north end of the park, the desert of Eureka Valley may not provide silence and solitude during your visit. Death Valley’s proximity to several military installations in California and Nevada means that fighter jet fly-bys are frequent. Many visitors to the dunes experience their closest encounter with America’s military might as the amphitheater surrounding the dunes proves irresistible to pilots who circle the dunes several times a day. The flight restrictions at the southern end of Death Valley do not apply here and jets often perform fly-bys at a mere 300 feet above the valley floor. The effect is thrilling and deafening.
The easiest access to Eureka Dunes Dry Camp is via the Death Valley Road from Big Pine, California. High clearance vehicles with 4 wheel drive are best. Check road conditions at Death Valley Backcountry Roads before you travel.