Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes (aka Death Valley Dunes)
This location is actually the first Death Valley location you see when watching STAR WARS - EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE. The scene is early on in the film and comes just after the droids, C-3PO and R2-D2, land on the planet Tatooine. The shots of the droids leaving the escape pod and arguing over which direction to go were filmed in Tunisia. After they decide to go their separate ways, all of the shots of C-3PO are from Tunisia. But the shot of R2 rolling away towards some rocky hills was actually completed in Death Valley at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes (sometimes informally called the Death Valley Dunes and/or Stovepipe Wells Dunes). The shot looks east and the two darker hills on the horizon (to the right of R2) are known as the Death Valley Buttes.
These dunes were the second STAR WARS filming location I visited in Death Valley. Oddly, I can't recall ever reading anything about them or seeing any behind-the-scenes photos in any STAR WARS related media. Instead I became aware of their role as a STAR WARS location from a friend. Originally, I had intended on visiting Tunisia in 1999 with several like-minded fans I had met on the internet. Due to financial concerns on my end, that didn't happen and I ended up going on my own the following year. But I kept in touch with one of them, who visited Death Valley in 2001 and had located most of the filming locations. From him, I learned that the solitary shot of R2-D2 rolling off across the sand toward the hills was filmed at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.
The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are very easy to get to. They are located on the north side of HWY 190 as you approach the resort of Stovepipe Wells from the east and can been seen for some distance as you approach. In recent years, a paved parking lot has been built so that you no longer have to park on the shoulder of HWY 197. It is roughly 22.5 miles northwest from the Death Valley Vistor Center to this parking lot. From the gas station at Stovepipe Wells, it’s 2 miles east. As with all roads and attractions in the park, check with the Death Valley National Park website for road closures prior to your trip. See also wikimapia | googlemaps
The view of the Death Valley Buttes as seen from the dunes was something I had expected to see at the dune field in Tunisia. I remember being disappointed that the horizon was completely different. It wasn't until a few months after I had returned home that my online friend had shared with me some photos of his trip to Death Valley. Going there myself and taking the time to hike out to the middle of the dune field finally rewarded me with the view I had expected to find, but didn't in Tunisia.
Next up... Artoo's Arroyo!