Many first time visitors to Death Valley are surprised it is not covered with a sea of sand. Less than one percent of the desert is covered with dunes, yet the shadowed ripples and stark, graceful curves define “desert” in our imaginations.
For dunes to exist there must be a source of sand, prevailing winds to move the sand, and a place for the sand to collect. The eroded canyons and washes provide plenty of sand, the wind seems to always blow (especially in the springtime), but there are only a few areas in the park where the sand is “trapped” by geographic features such as mountains.
To recreate the famous Mesquite Flat Dunes of Death Valley, we used straws and sand to create ripples in small trays. We noticed how the shape of the sand changed when we blew into the straws. Students enjoyed adding new words to the changes they saw, and giggled as they cleared their trays of sand!