Sand Dunes Power Rankings

Thought I’d try something different this post…  Sand dunes are one of my favorite things to photograph, and I’ve been fortunate enough to walk on some of the most amazing dune fields in the world.  Here’s how I rank them.

 

1.  Sossusvlei, Namibia

Far and away the coolest dunes I’ve ever seen.  Reddish sand rises to amazing heights in one of the driest deserts in the world.  And hidden within the dune walls is Dead Vlei, a hauntingly beautiful graveyard of ancient camel thorn trees.

 

Sossusvlei Dunefield

Sossusvlei Dunefield

 

Sossusvlei Landscape

Sossusvlei Landscape

 

Sossusvlei Sand Dune

Sossusvlei Sand Dune

 

Camel-Thorn Trees in Dead Vlei

Camel-Thorn Trees in Dead Vlei

 

2.  White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

No other dunes in the U.S. match the ethereal beauty of White Sands National Monument.  I visited for the first time this year and can’t wait to go back again.

 

White Sands Pattern Square

White Sands Pattern Square

 

Sunset Color Over White Sands

Sunset Color Over White Sands

 

White on White at White Sands

White on White at White Sands

 

Sunset Over White Sands 8x10

Sunset Over White Sands

 

White Sands Blue Hour

White Sands Blue Hour

 

3.  Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, California (Death Valley National Park)

I’ve visited this dune field more than any other, by a large margin, and I never get tired of it.  The setting is a big part of the appeal:  nothing but desolate vastness in all directions

 

Yellow Orange Red Dune Sunset

Yellow Orange Red Dune Sunset

 

Death Valley Sand Dune

Death Valley Sand Dune

 

Marie Hiking on Blowing Sand

Marie Hiking on Blowing Sand

 

Singing Dunes

Singing Dunes

 

Dune Layers

Dune Layers

 

Sunrise on the Mesquite Dunes

Sunrise on the Mesquite Dunes

 

Death Valley Sandstorm Portrait

Death Valley Sandstorm Portrait

 

Sand Dunes in Black and White

Sand Dunes in Black and White

 

4.  Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

A photogenic dune field bordered by mountains.  My first visit to this park was far too short.

 

Sunset at Great Sand Dunes National Park

Sunset at Great Sand Dunes National Park

 

Close-up of Sunset at Great Sand Dunes NP

Close-up of Sunset at Great Sand Dunes NP

 

5.  Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Utah

The pinkish hue of this relatively small dune field is unique and beautiful.

 

Clouds Over Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

Clouds Over Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

 

Coral Pink Sand Dunes Sunset

Coral Pink Sand Dunes Sunset

 

6.  Swakopmund Dunes, Namibia

Not nearly as impressive as Sossusvlei, but small touches – like fences vanishing into the sides of the dunes – give it a compellingly lonely vibe.

 

Swakopmund Dunes

Swakopmund Dunes

 

Swakopmund Dune Fence

Swakopmund Dune Fence

 

7.  Imperial Sand Dunes, California

A massive dune field I’ve visited often but haven’t nearly explored in full.  It loses points for the heavy dune buggy traffic, but it’s so large that finding unmarked sand is just a question of how far you’re willing to walk.

 

Imperial Sand Dune Curve

Imperial Sand Dune Curve

 

Imperial Sand Dunes in B&W

Imperial Sand Dunes in B&W

 

Waves at Imperial SD

Waves at Imperial SD

 

8.  Huacachina Dunes, Peru

The majesty of these towering dunes is marred by ubiquitous trash and yells of “Woooo-hoooo!” from tourists in dune buggies.

 

Walking Down Huacachina Dunes

Walking Down Huacachina Dunes

 

Blowing Sand at the Huacachina Dunes

Blowing Sand at the Huacachina Dunes

 

9.  Khuri Dunes, India

This somewhat small dune field was scrubby and crowded with people when we visited, but the camels (and the camel drivers) made it much more interesting.

 

Camel Driver at Sunset

Camel Driver at Sunset

 

10.  White Sand Dunes, Vietnam (Mui Ne)

Much of the sand is crusty, scrubby, and covered with tracks from people sliding down the dunes on plastic mats.  But the place still has a core beauty and it’s possible to find some incredible patterns in the sand.

 

White Sand Dunes

White Sand Dunes

 

11.  Panamint Dunes, California (Death Valley National Park)

A nice, relatively small dune field that just doesn’t offer much over the more easily accessible Mesquite Dunes.

 

Panamint Sand Dunes

Panamint Sand Dunes

 

12.  Kelso Dunes, California

A small dune field with interesting character but few areas of vegetation-free sand.  One visit was probably enough.

 

Kelso Dunes Pattern

Kelso Dunes Pattern

 

Of course I’ve hardly even scratched the surface when it comes to visiting the world’s dunes.  The Sahara, the Gobi – most of the largest deserts in the world are still blank spots on my travel map.  But I hope to chip away at them over time.  If anyone has recommendations for amazing dune fields I should be sure to see, I’d love to hear them.