Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve San Luis Valley Colorado
Coral Pink Sand Dunes in Utah

Amazing dunes are found worldwide. However, here I have focused on a few of the more interesting ones in the U.S. To begin with, sand dunes are a pretty cool phenomenon. Besides catching you off guard when you first come upon them, they are constantly morphing via wind, snow, rain, seasons, and the time of day. Besides, they shift, some sing, and the light on them creates an ever-changing landscape of shadows, colors, and reflections. They are almost always in stark contrast to the rest of their environment, making them even more intriguing.

Your imagination can also add to their mystery and magic. Whatever your passion and interest, whether it’s sand-boarding, hiking, photography, riding ATVs, or maybe just meditating, make sure you schedule some of your activities for sunset when color and contrast can make these incredible dunes the most fascinating.

Great Sand Dunes National Park Colorado
Great Sand Dunes Nat Park, Sangre de Cristo Mountains, in the San Luis Valley of Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park Colorado

Open all day and night year-round, the tallest sand dunes in North America are the Great Sand Dunes in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado. Indeed, they seem curiously and unexpectedly placed in this diverse landscape of grasslands, wetlands, conifer and aspen forests, alpine lakes, and tundra.

Recent scientific research suggests that the Great Sand Dunes began forming around 440,000 years ago after a large inland lake once covering the San Luis Valley – named “Lake Alamosa” dried up. Evidence of the lake bed was discovered in 2002.

The oldest findings of humans in the area dates back about 11,000 years. There were nomadic hunters and gatherers whose connection to the site centered around the herds of mammoths and prehistoric bison that grazed nearby. Additionally, as Stone Age people, they hunted with a large stone spear or dart points, now identified as Clovis and Folsom points. 

The tallest dune, “Star Dune,” in this 30 square mile park, is 750 feet high from its base and quite a challenging hike. You will also find numerous other recreation opportunities in the area. By the way, this National Park became “Dark Sky” certified in 2019. Incidentally, enjoying this distinction with several other Colorado locations. What a fantastic opportunity to stargaze without the interference of city lights.

Monahan's Sand Dunes
Monahans Sandhills State Park Texas

Monahans Sandhills State Park

This park consists of 3,840 acres of dunes and is located about a half-hour from Odessa, Texas.

Native Americans were present in this area as far back as 12,000 years ago. Consequently, various tribes, most notably Apache and Comanche, used the site for temporary campgrounds and a meeting place. The indigenous peoples found the game, abun­dant freshwater beneath the dunes, acorns, and mesquite beans, which they ground into a paste with stone tools for important food sources.

More than 400 years ago, Spanish ex­plorers were the first Europeans to report the vast sandhills.

Native Americans continued to use the area until the 1880s. That’s when the Texas and Pacific Railroad selected Monahans as a water stop between the Pecos River and Big Spring.

The park is only a small portion of a dune field that extends about 200 miles from south of Mona­hans westward and north into New Mexico.

More information about the park and what to do to make your visit more enjoyable can be found at

Eureka Sand Dunes Death Valley, CA
Eureka Sand Dunes Death Valley National Park, California

Eureka Sand Dunes Death Valley

The Eureka Dunes lie in the remote Eureka Valley, an enclosed basin at 3000-foot elevation located northwest of Death Valley. While small compared to other dunes, they cover an area 3 miles long and 1 mile wide while still claiming California’s tallest dunes. In contrast, these amazing dunes are against the dramatic backdrop of the Last Chance Mountain’s massive limestone wall, which rises another 4000 feet above the valley floor.

Hiking to the summit of the dunes is not an easy walk as the dunes are steep, and the constantly shifting sand makes it difficult to climb. In the end, it may be worth it because if the sand is completely dry, you may experience one of the strangest and most amazing dunes phenomena. “singing sand.” 

Per the National Park Service website the following regulations are in place:

A Special Place
Eureka Dunes are clearly a special place.  Please have respect when you visit.  Lifeforms here may not be able to survive our carelessness. Try to choose activities that have the least impact on the land. Recreational activities such as sandboarding are not allowed on these delicate dunes.  Camp away from the base of the dunes where most of the endemic plants and animals live.  Most importantly, the OFF-ROAD VEHICLE TRAVEL IS NOT PERMITTED ON THE DUNES or anywhere else in Death Valley National Park.  Please keep your vehicle on established roadways.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Utah

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Utah

A great opportunity exists for photography buffs in this off the beaten path State Park. You will find that its name: Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Utah, says it all. These beautiful geological oddities were formed by the continual erosion of the nearby red, Navajo sandstone cliffs. Interestingly, a phenomenon known as the Venturi Effect created these amazing dunes. They are a result of the wind passing through a notch between the Moquith and Moccasin Mountains.  Because the wind increases velocity through the gap, it erodes the sandstone and carries the grains to the dunes.

While the dunes are estimated to be 10,000 to 15,000 years old, this State Park was first opened to the public in 1963.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is 3,730 acres big and more than 2,000 acres of sand. Additionally, this is the only place in the world where you can find the Coral Pink tiger beetle.

About 90% of the dunes are open to ATV’s.

White Sands National Park
White Sands National Park New Mexico

White Sands National Park

In the midst of Tularosa Basin in New Mexico is one of the world’s great natural wonders. These wave-like dunes have engulfed 275 square miles of desert, creating the world’s largest gypsum dune field.

Every day, people worldwide visit and leave traces of their comings and goings by trails of footprints temporarily left behind. Actually, the white dunes of the Tularosa Basin are just a recent blip on the geological timeline. During the ice age tens of thousands of years ago, a giant body of water called Lake Otero existed. Moreover, the climate was wetter, and the vegetation was abundant. You would have been able to see grasslands stretching for miles. The land would have looked more like the prairies of Nebraska than New Mexico’s deserts. 

Large plant-eating animals and their predators, including Paleo-Humans, left their footprints along Lake Otero’s wetlands throughout the ice age.

Around 12,000 years ago, the earth’s climate began to show signs of change.  Therefore, areas once green and lush started transforming into the desert landscape we see today and leaving behind these amazing dunes for us to enjoy.

Information from the NPS website

Jockey's Ridge Sand Dunes
Jockey’s Ridge State Park North Carolina

Jockey’s Ridge State Park

This State Park in North Carolina claims the tallest living dune on the Atlantic coast.  Jockey’s Ridge is a popular location for kites, hang gliders, sightseeing, and sunsets. You will find its view arcing from the ocean to Roanoke Sound.  A visitor center with a museum and 360-foot boardwalk with exhibits explaining the dunes’ ecology offers an entry into the large dune field.  Additionally, for the more adventurous, hang gliding lessons are available through a park vendor to view these amazing dunes from a unique perspective.

Imperial Sand Dunes California image by

Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, California

These windblown dunes were formed from ancient Lake Cahuilla. Impressively, the dune system extends for more than 40 miles in a band averaging 5 miles wide.  In this recreation area, dunes often reach 300 feet above the desert floor, providing a variety of opportunities for recreation enthusiasts. Furthermore, this is a favorite place for off-highway vehicle (OHV) enthusiasts. You will also discover fabulous scenery, opportunities for solitude, and home to rare plants and animals if you enjoy a more relaxed experience.

Note: The North Algodones Dunes Wilderness offers a tranquil alternative.

by Danette Ulrich

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