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Jesse Weber | 01.18.2017

Sand is one of the most widespread substances on the planet. It is the defining feature of many beloved landscapes and key feature of many outdoor adventures. For this week's #52AdventureChallenge we will focus on sand: interesting facts about how it forms, its many uses, and, of course, the best places to get outside in the sand.

Geologists define sand as rock or mineral particles that are between 0.0625 millimeters and 2 millimeters in diameter. Smaller particles are referred to as silt, and larger ones are called gravel. Because the definition is based on size only, what we know as sand comes in a variety of compositions.

It is created when rocks are broken and weathered into smaller pieces by wind, water, or geologic processes. The texture and color of sand varies depending on the type of rock that it came from, so the properties of sand on a particular beach can reveal a lot about the history of the region.

Sand is abundant in any soil, where it is mixed in with particles of various other sizes. The reason we often find sand in unique concentrated amounts, such as on beaches and in dune fields, however, is because of where it falls in size relative to these other particles. Sand grains are of the magical size that allows them to be easily picked up by wind and water, but also easily deposited. Whereas gravel-sized particles are hard to transport very far, and silt-sized particles are carried much further and distributed more widely, sand is picked up and dropped more predictably, and tends to collect in places toward which wind and water regularly flow. Thus, we get sandy beaches where ocean currents lap against the shoreline year after year, and sand dunes where wind blows in a constant direction on most days. In fact, the tallest sand dunes in the world are in Namibia, with the Namib Desert's 'Dune 7' claiming the title of world's single tallest dune at approximately 1,250 feet (381 meters).

As a magical substance in nature, sand is also special to people. We have devised many uses for sand throughout history. Here are just a few of them:

  • Telling time with the hourglass, which works because sand of evenly sized grains will fall at a predictable rate.
  • Glass is made by super-heating sand particles and melting them together.
  • Sandbags, nothing more than bags filled with sand, are used for countless applications including flood control, battle fortification, construction, and weights for stability or to perform mechanical work.
  • Construction of brick, concrete, and mortar, using sand in the mixture to create desired consistency and strength
  • Cleaning, polishing, and sandblasting are common applications for sand because of its small grain size and coarse texture.
  • Water purification methods often use sand to filter out larger contaminants from water.
  • Artists can use sand for metal casting, sculpting, molding texturing paint, drawing, or glass blowing.

One of the most obvious uses for this versatile substance is recreation and relaxation. Lounging on the beach, playing in the sand, sand castles, volleyball, and sand boarding are just a few of the ways we like to use sand to have fun.

So, without further ado, here are some of our favorite sandy spots in the West, where you can get your fill for Week 4 of the #52AdventureChallenge.

Washington Beaches

Alki Beach, West Seattle: Views of downtown and the Olympic Mountains.
Fort Worden Beach, Port Townsend: Lots of activities, views of North Cascades
La Push, Olympic National Park: Sea stacks, tide pools.
Long beach: Annual sandcastle competition
North Beach, Port Townsend: Views of Three Fingers and Mount Baker.
​Sooes Beach, Makah Bay: Amazing sunsets, tide pools.
​Westhaven State Park + Half Moon Bay: Surfing, fishing.

Oregon Beaches

Cannon Beach: Haystack Rock, tide pools.
Harris Beach: Bird Island, tide pools.
​Manzanita Beach: Sea cliffs, mountain views.
Myers Creek Beach: Soft sand, haystack rocks, tide pools.
​Nehalem Bay State Park: Horseback riding, campground.
Ona Beach, Brian Booth State Park: Kayaking, hiking.
North Beach, Pistol River: Sea stacks, sand dunes.

California Beaches

Baker Beach, San Francisco - Golden Gate Bridge views.
Coronado Beach, San Diego: Llarge beach, free parking, sand castles.
El Matador State Beach, Malibu: Rock formations, tide pools.
La Jolla Shores, San Diego: Kayaking, swimming.
McClures Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore
: Sea cliffs, tide pools.
​Moonstone Beach, Humboldt: Surfing, swimming.
Ocean Beach, San Francisco: Famous surfing, iconic views​.
Salt Creek Beach Park, Orange County
: Lots of activities, tide pools.
Sand Dollar Beach, Big Sur: Large beach, scenery.
San Gregario State Beach: Sea cliffs, hiking, driftwood​.

Sand Dunes

Bruneau Dunes State Park, Western Idaho: Hiking, non-motorized recreation, bird watching, stargazing​.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes, southern Utah
: Large dune field, unique color.
Eureka Dunes, Death Valley National Park: Huge "booming" dunes, great views, remote.
Great Sand Dunes National Park, southern Colorado: Tallest dunes in North America.
Honeyman State Park, Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area: Non-motorized, lakes, campground. 
Indian Sands, Oregon coast: Sea cliffs, viewpoints, sunsets.
​Kelso Dunes, Mojave National Preserve, California: Huge "booming" dunes, hiking.
​​Mesquite Flat, Death Valley National Park: Easy access, hiking.
Oregon Dunes ​Day Use Area: Non-motorized, hiking.
White Sands National Monument, New Mexico: Unique white sand dunes, hiking, camping.


Happy Monday. This is my close to home adventure, a stunning Sunday stroll and sunset.
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