Seas of SandSand dunes are the dust unto which mountains return. Over millions of years, erosion grinds certain types of rock into grains of sand, and winds pile them up in seas of sand. Fragile plants, trees, water, and sometimes even ice anchor and stabilize the dunes, enough so that some named dunes such as High Dune and Star Dune in Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes maintain relatively consistent shapes and are arguably small mountains themselves. The colors and forms of sand dunes delight photographers, and sand dunes make fine outdoor playgrounds (although they are sometimes abused by ATV usage or just way too many people and their ideas of fun).
This page is for gathering SP’s sand dunes pages so that someone checking out one of them may discover the others. The pages are therefore attached here as children in order to make this one, and subsequently the others, noticeable to the viewer. I will not include coastal or lakeshore dunes, though, unless they are named and of sufficient stature (so don't attach a page for the 15' barrier dunes up and down the Outer Banks of North Carolina).
Currently, there are 13 sand dunes pages on SP: eight are area/range pages, four are mountain/rock pages, and one is an album (I have not included trip reports, but people are welcome to attach them). All are for U.S. locations. There are many photographs of other dunes both inside and outside the U.S., but I have not attached those and do not plan to unless area or mountain pages for those places are created. And although the areas listed on and attached to this page are all in the United States, I welcome additions of sites that are outside this country; there are spectacular sand dunes on every continent, even Antarctica, which has frozen dunes in its Dry Valleys region.
Dunes Sites with SP Pages
Eureka Dunes (Death Valley National Park)-- Some guidebooks say these are North America’s tallest sand dunes. They rise 600-700’ above the floor of remote Eureka Valley and have ominously named mountains such as the Last Chance Range as their backdrop. When wind conditions are right, these dunes “sing”--- the wind blows off the dunes with a sound akin to a high-pitched voice. Although these dunes are not exactly unknown, the long drive to them virtually assures visitors that they will not encounter the types of crowds common in places like the Great Sand Dunes and White Sands.
Kelso Dunes (Mojave National Preserve)-- The highest of these dunes is also very tall, rising over 500’. The Kelso Dunes, due to their remote location and the fact that they are not in an actual national park, do not get too crowded, but they do see plenty of visitors. However, blooming desert wildflowers and views of a vast desert wilderness make these dunes a great place to visit and explore.
Mesquite Flat Dunes (Death Valley National Park)-- These are the best known of the five dune fields in Death Valley National Park. Although they are not very high, the dunes are easy to reach--- just a short walk from the park’s main thoroughfare, which is paved. At dawn, the dunes are golden while surrounding mountains glow red; combined with the deep shadows at this time of day, those features create one of the finest spots for photography anywhere in the country.
Panamint Dunes (Death Valley National Park)-- From the SP page: "The Panamint Dunes are a small and compact area of dunes located at the northern end of the Panamint Valley. The dunes top out at an elevation of around 2700' which is a figure that changes with the wind. With a prominence of around 400', they are also among the tallest dunes in Death Valley though trailing the 'world-famous' Eureka Dunes by 300'."
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve-- The other candidate for the tallest sand dunes in the United States. Two named dunes, High Dune and Star Dune, rise over 600’ from their bases. Located at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, these dunes are in one of the most spectacular settings imaginable. Beyond the graceful dunes that are inspiring enough in their own right, the jewels of the Sange de Cristos loom: Crestone Pealk, Crestone Needle, and the other peaks of the Crestone group. For most of the year, snow caps these mountains, making the setting even more dramatic. And because the Great Sand Dunes are located at about 7000’ in Colorado and at the base of some of the country’s highest mountains, they are among the few dune fields where snow on the sands is not uncommon.
Bruneau Dunes State Park-- Idaho is more than famous wilderness rivers and rugged mountains. Southwestern Idaho is high desert, and the Bruneau Dunes, which house the world's tallest single-structure dune at almost 500', may surprise and amaze. There is also a lake here, albeit a man-caused one, that makes for a nice photo subject when including the dunes.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore-- From the SP page: "Indiana Dunes NL protects exactly what you’d think that it protects-- a range of sand dunes. Beyond that, it’s a pretty weird park unit. It’s fragmented into a bunch of pieces, mostly along the shores of Lake Michigan. There are also some inland bogs and other “natural” areas."
Ludington Dunes-- From the SP page: "The dunes and surrounding area north of Ludington, MI are one of the most popular and visited areas in the Great Lakes state, as well as one of the most beautiful. The state park campgrounds fill up for the summer camping season almost as soon as reservations are available and stay full well into autumn. These dunes do not set any height records and certainly there are far more unique and isolated dune ecosystems, but being such a popular and strikingly beautiful area I figured they deserved some recognition on SP along with Sleeping Bear Dunes and others..."
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakesore-- Rising up to 450' from the shores of Lake Michigan near Traverse City, these are the highest sand dunes in the Midwest. The Grand Sable Dunes at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Michigan's Upper Peninsula are also quite tall and worth seeing, as they drop steeply and spectacularly to the shoreline of ocean-like Lake Superior, the world's largest freshwater lake.
White Sands National Monument-- Here is the world’s largest field of gypsum dunes, about 275 square miles in area. Much, though not all, lies within the borders and the protection of the national monument. These dunes are not very tall, only rarely topping 50’ in rise, but they are wide open and uncommonly beautiful.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park-- A lot of this place is open to OHV use, but much is closed to it, too. Near Kanab, a gateway town to the redrock wilderness of southern Utah and northern Arizona, this park houses endemic species and offers a scenic and relatively quiet detour on the way between the famous parks nearby. Stay at least one night to enjoy the strong colors and shadows of dawn and sunset.
Other Dunes SitesThis is by no means an exhaustive list, just a range of suggested other places to visit (and maybe pages to make). Remember that I have not covered coastal and lakeshore dunes on this page. Additional note—these are places that are entirely closed to motorized use or at least have large areas closed to it. This link to an OHV-use site shows a list of several dunes sites closed to motorized usage. I doubt the site owners intended their list to be helpful to people seeking vehicle-free recreation, but it's nevertheless the case here.
Kobuk Valley Dunes (Kobuk Valley National Park, Alaska)
Killpecker Dunes (Red Desert, Wyoming)
Cadiz Dunes (Mojave Desert, California)
Ibex and Saline Valley Dunes (Death Valley National Park, California)