Climb shifting mountains of sand in Idaho, Utah, California, and Wyoming.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes
Squint, and for a moment you might think you’ve landed in a windswept Saharan drift. But look more closely and you’ll see that your surroundings have a distinctly Western flavor. Rising sharply above the arid valley floor are massive piles of salmon-hued sand, tiny particles of ancient Navajo sandstone deposited by wind over millions of years. In the distance, jagged vermilion cliffs and pinon-dotted mountains reach for the crystal blue sky arching over this 3,700-acre state park in southwestern Utah.
Visit at sunrise, when dawn washes the valley in amber light that makes the coral ground glow—and when the night’s breezes have covered yesterday’s ATV tracks, wiping them from the dunes as surely as sand trickling through an hourglass erases time. Twenty-two miles northwest of Kanab. $6. (435) 648-2800, www.utah.com/stateparks/coral_pink.htm .
Here’s another Golden crests cover 45 square miles and rise 700 feet from the Mojave Desert floor at Kelso Dunes outside Baker, Calif. The “singing sand” dunes emit a low rumble when you slide down from the top. (760) 252-6100, www.nps.gov/moja .
Killpecker Sand Dunes
The largest active dune field in North America, Killpecker Sand Dunes spans the Continental Divide and spreads across 109,000 acres in southwestern Wyoming’s Red Desert. (307) 352-0256, http://www.yellowstonepark.com .
With a peak that rises 470 feet above the lakes lapping at its base, Bruneau Dunes in Idaho’s high desert boasts North America’s tallest freestanding sandpile. Sixty miles south of Boise. (208) 366-7919, www.parksandrecreation.idaho.gov .
Photography by James W. Kay
This article was first published in May 2008. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.