Tag Archives: sand dune

Mojave National Preserve

Overview

Mojave National Preserve is a massive 1.6-million acres of desert bounded by Interstate 15 to the north and Interstate 40 to the south.  Passed by millions of commuters every year, it does not take many miles of driving to leave behind the bustling freeways for a quiet landscape.  Species diversity is high here given its elevation range from 800 to 7,929 feet and its place at the intersection of three deserts: the Mojave, Great Basin, and Sonoran.  Watch for desert tortoises, Mojave rattlesnakes, roadrunners, ravens, kangaroo rats, mountain lions, mule deer, and some of the 1,000 bighorn sheep that reside in the preserve.

Highlights

Kelso Depot, film, Kelso Dunes, Hole-in-the-Wall Nature Trail, Rings Loop Trail

Must-Do Activity

If you are driving on I-15 between California and Nevada consider entering the preserve via the Cima Road exit, with a first stop at its gas station’s interesting waterfall urinal in the men’s restroom.   From there drive south on a paved road into a dense Joshua tree forest on the gently sloping flanks of the enormous Cima Dome (an extinct volcano) and then stop at Kelso Depot where the National Park Service (NPS) operates a visitor center and museum.  From there you can continue south to the beautiful Kelso Dunes or take the paved Kelbaker Road back to Interstate 15 at Baker, home of the world’s tallest thermometer.

Best Trail

The one-mile Rings Loop Trail has metal rings cemented into its canyon walls in some places to help you ascend and descend steep portions.  Hole-in-the-Wall Nature Trail and the six-mile Barber Peak Loop Trail are also found in this area near the NPS campgrounds.

Instagram-worthy Photo

We love sand dunes (see our Top 10 list) and one of our favorites is the nearly 700-foot tall Kelso Dunes, which create a booming sound when the sand shifts and moisture conditions are right.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/moja/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The main roads are paved, however, most of the 1,000 miles of roads are unpaved and some of them require a high-clearance vehicle, especially if you want to access neighboring Castle Mountains National Monument.

Camping

Dispersed camping is allowed throughout most of the preserve, but there are also NPS campgrounds around the Hole-in-the-Wall Ranger Station.

Related Sites

Castle Mountains National Monument (California)

Joshua Tree National Park (California)

Death Valley National Park (California)

Explore More – How many acres of Wilderness are designated within Mojave National Preserve?

Wright Brothers National Memorial

Overview

The Wright Brothers hailed from Dayton, Ohio but they came to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for the sustained winds they needed to get their winged contraptions off the ground.  They glided from the top of Kill Devil Hill more than a thousand times between 1900 and 1902.  Then on December 17, 1903 they finally made history: twelve-seconds of motor-powered, man-carrying flight in a heavier-than-air airplane.  After the fourth and longest flight (59 seconds) that day the flying machine was irreparably crashed and the brothers headed back to Ohio. 

Highlights

Museum, replica flyer and glider, monument, sculpture

Must-Do Activity

Since 1932, a massive granite monument has stood atop the 90-foot tall hill, which is actually a sand dune stabilized with planted grass.  Visitors to Kitty Hawk will also find a replica flyer and glider, reconstructed hangar, boulders marking the landing spot of each of the four flights, and a life-size bronze sculpture added on the first flight centennial in 2003. 

Best Trail

A paved walkway connects the Wright Brothers Monument atop Kill Devil Hill with the five boulders marking the lift-off point and four landings that occurred on December 17, 1903.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A full-scale replica of the 1903 flyer is located inside the museum run by the National Park Service (NPS).  Rangers give lectures in that room throughout the day, also explaining details of the replica 1902 glider.

Peak Season

Summer and every December 17

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/wrbr/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$10 per person or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There are NPS campgrounds located south of the memorial in Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Related Sites

Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park (Ohio)

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site (North Carolina)

Cape Hatteras National Seashore (North Carolina)

Explore More – The 1903 flyer on display here is a replica, so where is the original exhibited?

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Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Overview

There are currently three National Lakeshores in the National Park Service system, and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is one of two in Michigan.  It encompasses 31 miles of mainland shoreline and 34 more miles on two large islands that give the park its name.  The park receives over a million visitors annually and is known for its fishing and canoeing.

Highlights

Dune Climb, Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, Glen Haven Village Historic District, 1871 South Manitou Island Lighthouse

Must-Do Activity

Much of this National Lakeshore is forested and surrounds several small townships (marked “Twp” on many maps).  For a backcountry experience on the mainland, take the winding 7-mile Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive that becomes a cross-country ski trail in winter.  Trails and overlooks provide stops along the route, which is not recommended for long vehicles or trailers.

Best Trail

Dune Climb is more than 100 feet tall and the best place to play in the sand.  This is a perched dune where sand accumulated atop glacial moraines left from the last ice age.  From the top there are great views and you can continue on several other trails.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Glen Haven Village Historic District maintains a former general store, blacksmithy, and cannery, which now contains a museum dedicated to small watercraft.  The Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Station Maritime Museum is open Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/slbe/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main roads are paved, but some beach access is only by dirt road.  Ferries in the summer leave from Leland, Michigan to either North or South Manitou Islands where there are no roads.  Unless you are doing a day trip, camping permits are required before departure.

Camping

Platte River Campground is open year round and takes reservations.  Backpackers can enjoy more than 100 miles of trails, including some on the two wilderness islands.  Backcountry camping requires a permit.

Explore More – What were they canning at the old cannery in Glen Haven Village Historic District?

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Overview

Since there are no campgrounds at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, many people stay at Guadalupe Mountains National Park just across the state border.  The park contains the highest point in Texas at 8,749 feet, so snow is not unheard of here.  One night when we stayed there in December, we awoke to an inch of snow.  It always looks like it just snowed at the Salt Basin Dunes.

Highlights

McKittrick Canyon, Pinery Station, Guadalupe Peak, Salt Basin Dunes, Dog Canyon

Must-Do Activity

The Chihuahuan Desert is home to many unique plant species,so start with the Pinery Trail behind the visitor center and learn to spot the differences between lechuguilla, sotol, yucca, and the many species of cacti. 

Best Trail

Guadalupe Peak is the highest point in Texas at 8,749 feet and the steep trail to its summit from Pine Springs Campground crosses through several ecosystems providing wonderful views of El Capitan and the surrounding landscape.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Autumn is a great time to visit to catch the vibrant red leaves of bigtooth maple trees.  Find them by hiking from Pine Springs Campground on Devil’s Hall Trail or further north through McKittrick Canyon to secluded Pratt Cabin, built in the 1920s. 

Peak Season

Summer, though wildfires can shut down large portions of the park.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/gumo/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$5 per person or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Roads are paved, including the 60 mile drive to Dog Canyon at the north end of the park, except the last 7.5 miles to Salt Basin Dunes (good dirt road) and Williams Ranch (4×4 road).

Camping

Pine Springs Campground and remote Dog Canyon Campground both have running water, but no RV hookups. Free backcountry permits provide camping opportunities at designated sites, though trails tend to be very steep and strenuous.


This design we created to celebrate Guadalupe Mountains National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – Why are the peaks of the Guadalupe Mountains full of marine fossils?

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Top 10 Sand Dunes in National Parks

Sand dunes are like giant sandboxes for big kids to play in and hike on, so we came up with a list of our favorites from across the National Park Service (NPS) System. Unlike most NPS backcountry trails, dogs are allowed on many of these dunes if they are leashed and picked up after.

10. Cape Lookout National Seashore (North Carolina)

9. Indiana Dunes National Park (Indiana)

8. Salt Basin Dunes at Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)

7. Mesquite Flat Dunes at Death Valley National Park (California)

6. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Michigan)

5. Eureka Dunes at Death Valley National Park (California)

4. Kelso Dunes at Mojave National Preserve (California)

Sand sledding on the gypsum dunes at White Sands National Monument

3. White Sands National Park (New Mexico)

2. Panamint Dunes at Death Valley National Park (California)

…and finally our #1 sand dune in a National Park:

1. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (Colorado)

 

Honorable Mention

Padre Island National Seashore (Texas)