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Jonathan Stull | 07.03.2017

Endlessly varying, sand dunes are a shifting landscape that is never the same twice. Within the earthen waves is a mysterious desert environment that provokes a truly unique experience: a dive into sand dunes is also a dive into the beyond into something deeper. For some, this is literal. Although rare in comparison to the deserts of Africa and other parts of the world, sand dunes in the U.S. are fantastic places to backpack, sandboard, or ski.

Whether you experience the sand dunes for an ambiance out of The Alchemist or Warren Miller, some of the continent’s best can be found in these-here recommendations. Get out there!

  1. Kelso Sand Dunes, Mojave Desert, California: The largest sand dunes in the Mojave rise 600 feet above sea level and rumble with the wind, a phenomenon known as “booming.” Along with a rare lizard that swims in the sand, some of the best views in the area can be found at the top of its biggest dune.
  2. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Desert Valley, California: The smallest collection of sand dunes in Death Valley is also its most accessible, and the others are too far away for most visitors. Its largest dune is known as Star Dune for its role as an overlook of Mos Eisley in A New Hope, the sixth installment in the Star Wars franchise.
  3. Indian Sands, Oregon Coast: These cliffside dunes offer unbelievable views over the Pacific and the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor, a beautiful 12-mile stretch of Oregon’s southern coast. The hike is short and steep, so expect few companions.
  4. White Sands National Monument, New Mexico: White sands like snow, the largest sand dunes of their kind get their color from gypsum, which rarely takes the form of sand. Photogenic, surreal, encompassing 275 square miles, and entirely backpacker friendly.
  5. High Dune Loop, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado: Perhaps the most scenic sand dunes in North America, some rise more than 700 feet at the footstep of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The High Dune Loop opens access to backcountry camping in the dunes, a completely unique backpacking experience.


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