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.
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.
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.
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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