When I left off we had just found the perfect spot to set up camp at Kelso Dunes at the edge of the wilderness boundary, the sun was setting and I was running for the dunes with my gear.
Wow, it was everything I had hoped it would be. The first thing to catch my eye were the various patterns of ripples, and the late afternoon sun was perfect to photograph them.
Then as I looked closer I noticed the animal tracks. The most obvious and recognizable were those of roadrunners and kangaroo rats. This isn't the best shot of the bunch, but it does show both types of tracks:
The Kelso Dunes rise up to 650 feet high, cover 45 square miles and are part of a greater sand transport system which includes nearby Devil's Playground. The dunes are composed mainly of quartz and feldspar, and black magnetite accumulates along the crests. They are known for their "singing", or booming, which is a relatively rare phenomenon in the world. It seems that when the sand is dry and the humidity is low enough, the dunes make a low frequency sound that can actually be felt; they literally emit acoustical energy when the sands are disturbed. It is not at all like the squeaking one hears when walking across wet beach sand, it is a much deeper sound. This link at the National Parks Conservation Agency has an audio file you can listen to. They can sometimes be heard when the wind blows, but a favorite activity of hikers is to slide down the side of a dune to make it sing. Yes, you are not only allowed, but encouraged, to do this. I was still very disappointed that we hadn't made it in time to hike up to the top of the taller dunes and that I wouldn't get a chance to see if I could make them sing, but was hoping to hike up before first light in the morning. The hike is steep loose sand, an uphill climb for over 600 feet once you make it past the smaller dunes, so the rangers warn hikers to plan for two hours out. Of course, the hike back is much faster, especially if you slide to the bottom!
The dunes turn a warm pink-gold color in the late afternoon light, the sun was just about to sink behind the mountains and I was composing and shooting as quickly as I could.
Because we were surrounded by mountains, we would lose the light well before sunset. I started heading back toward where Bill, Toad and BullFrog had camp all set up. My final images were of the alpenglow on the Providence Mountains, one of which was in my last post, and this shot of the last light on the dunes:
Once the sun was down the temperature started dropping like a rock. With the fire going we cooked up a hearty dinner and had a few nips of Jameson while reliving the events of the day and making plans for the following day. The temperature continued to drop and we were soon dressed in full winter gear. We were sitting so close to the fire that we were practically in the firepit. As a matter of fact I managed to melt the side of my favorite coffee mug and it now has two protruding growths (bubbles) on the one side. Bill had everyone choose a rock to use as a sleepingbag warmer. No one wanted to leave the warmth of the fire for the tents that night, but eventually our supply of wood needed to be conserved for the morning and the day's adventures had finally worn us out enough that we grabbed our sleeping bag rocks and turned in for the night.
I can honestly say that this was the coldest night I ever spent on the desert floor and we were fortunate that there was no wind. The word 'brutal' comes to mind. Bill insists on sleeping in his skivvies and he was miserable all night. I, on the other hand, sleep in my UnderArmours and sweats - layers - and was fine except for my feet because they had gotten beyond cold earlier and I was never able to warm them by the fire.
Up before dawn with every intention of heading out to the dunes, I decided to make some coffee to take with me. I tried to fill a pot with water from my jerry can but was only able to get about half a cup out. I wondered if we had somehow used up all of our water already, but then noticed that the water in the pot was freezing right before my eyes. Hmmm...I am not a morning person - I basically function on auto-pilot and if something out of the ordinary happens I don't have sufficient brain cells working yet to think it through, but I did somehow decide to start a fire because it was COLD. All thoughts of heading out to the dunes disappeared as I huddled around the fire for warmth and contemplated my need for caffeine. Toad got up then and gave me some bottled water she had in her jeep. I added it to the ice in the pot, made my coffee, and realized that the only way my feet were going to thaw out was if I took my boots off and set my stocking feet near the flames.
That did the trick, so I set off for the dunes knowing that once again I would not have time to hike to the top, but I could catch the early morning light on the lower dunes.
Toad and I agreed that we'd have to return soon and give ourselves plenty of time to hike up because these dunes are incredibly beautiful and it's a shame that we didn't give ourselves enough time to do them justice.
Back in camp the guys were up so we started cooking a hearty breakfast and spent a lazy morning around the campfire. None of us were too eager to pack up since we hadn't slept well because of the cold and it felt so good to huddle around the fire, so we didn't get moving until late morning. We did our usual sweep to see if we could leave the site better than we found it but this area was absolutely spotless and we made sure the fire was completely out. A few minutes for group photos (and jeep photos) in front of the dunes, and we were off to Aiken Mine Road and Cinder Cones and Lava Fields National Natural Landmark to explore a lava tube.
BullFrog and Bill posing before we hit the trail again: