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Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, UT

 

Thursday, August 14

I stayed up much too late last night reading and overslept this morning, oops? But hey, it’s a day off and I’ve got no place I need to be, it’s nice to sleep in on occasion.

It’s mostly cloudy out and temperatures are holding in the 70’s with little to no wind, perfect for today’s destination which isn’t far from home.

Ahhh, feels nice between the toes

Ahhh, feels nice between the toes

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park (wow, that’s a mouthful), is set on a small paved road off highway 89, the turnoff is about 10 miles north of Kanab. It’s $8 entry for a motor vehicle, less for a pedestrian or bicycle and and group rates start for vehicles with nine plus passengers.

90% of the park is open to ATVs, which today are easily over half of the park’s visitors – which still aren’t many. The driving access for cars is really pretty small, behind the entrance/Visitor’s Center there’s a parking lot for a viewing point of the dune field, and a trail that takes you into down into the dunes in a section ATVs aren’t allowed in. Beyond that is the little 25 site campground loop, and that’s it.

That dune hike though, it’s very worth it. Metal plaques with information guide you along a path through the vibrant orange sand, explaining a lot about how the dunes for formed, and the flora and fauna.

coral-pink-sand-dunes2

The valley the park sits in lies in runs south to north, widening the farther north you go. The sand enters the narrow gap to the south where strong winds come off of the plateau at a lower elevation below. As the winds blow north, they lose their strength as the valley widens, and drop the sand in a relatively narrow channel.

Sand can be made from many different materials, but interestingly enough the sand at Coral Pink is primarily quartz. It started out white, part of a vast ancient desert that covered parts of six states, then millions of years ago an inland sea pushed into Utah and as part of a seabed it hardened over time into sandstone, which was later brought back to the surface due to tectonic forces, where the elements now break the sandstone down into sand again, and the wind whips it into fantastical shapes.

There are many different shapes sand dunes can take, and I find it interesting that the two largest dunes in the park are different kinds. The first dune in the Coral Pink range at the most southern end is a parabolic shaped dune, it looks like a crescent. It formed that way because a ridge of stone created an obstacle that sand built up around as the wind hit it and lost force. The other dune is star shaped, a tall center with points radiating out. This type of dune forms when winds collide from multiple directions and dump their sandy load.

coral-pink-sand-dunes3

Besides the unique landscape, the process of walking itself is pleasant. Being all sand, I opt to go without shoes for my hike, very rarely can I swing that. What I suspect is a kangaroo rat hops from one patch of scrub to the next, much too fast for me to get a picture. In the distance a line of ponderosa pine spring up from the sand. Ponderosa pine are usually found at higher elevations than Coral Pink’s 6,000 feet and, and here is the only place they can be found in a desert environment. Something about the way the summer storms blow through here and the way the a hollow has been carved out between dunes allow the trees to get enough water to survive.

It’s entrancing to be here, this is the first time I’ve seen sand dunes on this scale in person, and it’s not a crowded day in the park so it’s quiet and peaceful. Localized thunderstorms threaten in the distance, but never arrive. After the hike I read a while at the observation deck and am again struck at the sheer variety of ecosystems found in southern Utah, this is nothing like Zion, Bryce, or Grand Staircase. The little campground isn’t anything special, the sites are too packed together for my taste, but it seems like the park is surrounded by BLM land, and boondocking in the area may be possible. This was a sweet place to spend a cloudy summer afternoon, is another pin I’d put on your map as a To-See if you visit this area.

 

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Becky

At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.

10 Comments

  1. Terri on November 18, 2015 at 6:44 am

    I just did a search on your site to see what you had written about Zion and Utah, now that I’m here and can really relate to the places. I also went to Coral Sands one afternoon but didn’t do the hike. Reading your post, I see I should have, but that day, I just wasn’t in the mood, I guess. I also wasn’t impressed with the driving access and the campground was super tiny. I took a drive through it but got lots of looks from campers so didn’t feel super welcome. But yes, there is lots of BLM land right there, which is cool, and I know people who have boondocked there. That, I can imagine, is pretty cool.
    Terri recently posted..Observations and Thoughts While Hiking Zion National Park’s Observation Point TrailMy Profile



    • Becky on November 18, 2015 at 7:31 pm

      I like tiny campgrounds and harder to get to places because they tend to be less crowded, but the sites were so close together here that I wouldn’t want to stay unless the campground was more than half empty. Maybe during certain times of the year that’s possible. Glad you had a chance to see it Terri. πŸ™‚



  2. Jodee Gravel on August 17, 2014 at 9:39 am

    When I was in college my dad took a trip east and stopped at the dunes. He brought me home a small jar of sand which I still have. Such a unique color. I’m looking forward to seeing the dunes myself and love this little “visit” until then :-).
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..A Motorhome Is Like a Wedding DressMy Profile



    • Becky on August 17, 2014 at 11:26 am

      Yes, I love that color! Cameras have a hard time capturing it.

      I saw the title for your latest blog post and giggled a little, amusing comparison. πŸ˜‰



  3. jonthebru on August 16, 2014 at 11:51 pm

    “This was a sweet place to spend a cloudy summer afternoon, is another pin I’d put on your map as a To-See if you visit this area.”
    What an excellent idea!
    Nice post as usual.



    • Becky on August 17, 2014 at 11:19 am

      Glad you enjoyed it Jon and hope you get the chance to visit it someday.



  4. EmilyO on August 16, 2014 at 8:04 pm

    My first time there was THE best. I stayed in the campground for 4 nights and had the whole place to myself. If is really a fascinating and interesting place to visit – and the quiet at night. Some times, I am told, if it is quiet enough you can hear the sand moving. I was fortunate enough to have a park person take me on ” a round” trip up and over the dunes and around checking for lost souls. That was my first time in an ATV. There weren’t any lost souls but I sure experienced some thrill and saw some beautiful sights. Thanks for the memories.



    • Becky on August 17, 2014 at 11:18 am

      Sounds like it was a really special trip Emily, glad to share my experience. πŸ™‚ The campground was over half full when I went through, August has been the busiest month out here.



  5. Pleinguy on August 16, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    Nice report on the dunes. To see really big ones, go to White Sands in New Mexico. Yes, there is plenty of boondocking in the area. Plus, a nice BLM Campground down the road.
    Pleinguy recently posted..PanhandleMy Profile



    • Becky on August 17, 2014 at 11:15 am

      I came across a wide open area with picnic tables and at least one fire pit, there was a board nearby with postings and it looked mostly ATV related. Not sure if it was part of a group’s meeting site or open BLM land but I was thinking I could get Cas in there easily enough. πŸ˜‰



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