Not all of America's beaches reside by the sea. In some places, miles and miles from any water, you can find piles of sand so if your dog isn’t allowed on trails in our national parks, what is the most obvious solution? Take your dog to a park without any trails...
Bruneau Dunes State Park (Idaho)
Unlike its sister dune fields across western America, Bruneau Dunes is the site of the country’s highest single-structured sand dune. Sands have accumulated in a natural basin since the Bonneville Flood 15,000 years ago. Prevailing winds blow in opposite directions about equal amounts of time and so, unlike most dunes, these do not drift far. The Bruneau Dunes rise approximately 470 feet. You are free to climb anywhere on the dunes and vehicles are not allowed which makes for a more enjoyable outing for hikers. The dunes also back a small desert lake waiting to refresh a tired sand-climbing dog. Hardy canine adventurers will want to jump on the Dunes 5-Mile Hiking Trail that follows a circular path in semi-wilderness desert terrain, crossing dunesland and marshland.
Mountain Home, Idaho
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park (Utah)
The great national parks of Zion and Bryce and Capitol Reef that are the backbone of Utah’s “Color Country” can be seen by your dog only from a parking lot. The same iron oxides and minerals that produce that color are responsible for the coral-colored Navajo sandstone that has eroded and blown into this notch in the mountains over thousands of years. Where the winds are pinched so much they can’t sustain enough speed to carry away the grains of sand. A quick introduction to dune formation comes on a half-mile nature trail at the day-use lot. The Two Dunes Trail visits a wind-blown barchan (crescent-shaped dune) and a star-shaped dune caused by winds coming from several directions before returning in less than two miles. Longer canine hikes are possible on the open, windy dunes. Check with the ranger station for latest maps as the shifting sands constantly cover old trails. As with all dune hikes, keep an eye on your dog’s paw pads for irritation. Coral Pink Sand Dunes is a magnet for noisy off-road vehicles so consider early morning hikes here since the onslaught cannot begin until 9:00 a.m. The cooler sands of the morning will be welcome to your dog’s paws as well.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (Colorado)
The tallest sand dunes in North America formed when sand from ancient dry lake beds got trapped in a low curve of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Prevailing winds from the valley floor blow toward the mountains but frequent storm winds blow the dunes back toward the valley. This opposing wind action causes the sand to pile up vertically in the natural pocket. There are no designated trails in the park sand and your dog is invited to explore the main day use part of the 30-square mile dunefield. When climbing massive dunes use a zig-zag pattern to ascend to the ridgelines. From the main
parking lot you’ll see the imposing “High Dune” which affords a 360-degree view from its 650-foot summit. To the west is America’s highest sand pile, the spectacular 750-foot Star Dune. Your dog’s day in this sand box will end when it gets too hot so start early and also consider night hikes. In the heat of the day consider the moist, cool sands of Medano Creek for a canine hike.
Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area (California)
About 15 miles west of Yuma, Arizona are the Algodones Dunes, the great sand dunes of the lower Colorado River Valley. Stretching for 40 miles and as wide as ten miles, the dune complex, part of the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, is one of the largest open sand piles in the United States. The Algodones Dunes have been appearing on movie screens almost since the beginning of Hollywood. The Rudolph Valentino starrer The Sheik filmed across the sandy wastelands, which were once crossed by a wooden road (remnants of the Plank Road may be seen at the west end of Grays Well Road, the frontage road south of Interstate 8). Through the years, it has been a good bet that any movie calling for scenes of never-ending sand was staged in the Algodones Dunes that can rise to heights of 300 feet. Such sand-choked classics as Beau Geste and Sahara were shot here and, more recently George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg came to the dunes to film Three Kings. From 1951 through 1964, portions of the dunes were used as a U.S. Naval Impact Range. While the area has been searched for unexploded ordnance, shifting sands continue to expose dangerous shells, rockets and practice bombs so don’t let your dog start digging during your explorations of the more than 100,000 acres open for recreation.
El Centro, California
Little Sahara Recreation Area (Utah)
A bit south of the Great Salt Lake, deposits left by a Lake Bonneville feeder stream, the Sevier River, have been whipped around by prevailing winds to create Little Sahara, one of the largest dune fields in the American West. Today there are nearly 60,000 acres of towering sand dunes and sagebush flats that have become known as Utah's greatest sand play area. The Little Sahara Recreation Area is a paradise for off-highway vehicles who roar in and out of dune bowls and up sand mountains as high as 700 feet. There are no designated trails out in the dunes so there is a chance you can encounter a motorized vehicle just about anywhere you hike, unless you make it across the dunes to Rockwell Natural Area which is a vehicle-free zone. But if you avoid popular holiday weekends there is a good chance to experience a solitary dune hike with your dog somewhere in the 124-square mile system of giant, freemoving sand dunes. If your dog tires of trotting through deep sand there are networks of dirt trails to be had here as well.
White Sands National Monument (New Mexico)
Dogs have long been welcome on the mystical white sands of southern New Mexico. When America's space age began at White Sands Missile Range with the firing of a Tiny Tim test booster on September 26, 1945, it was important to retrieve small missile parts to analyze success or failure. These searches routinely wasted countless man-hours as ground recovery crews scoured vast expanses of desert for often-buried missile fragments. That ended in 1961 with the introduction of the Missile Dogs: Dingo, a Weimaraner, and Count, a German Shorthair. For up to a year before firing, important components of a missile were sprayed with squalene, a shark-liver oil that the dogs could smell from hundreds of feet away. After a missile firing, Dingo and Count raced among the sands sniffing out the scent objects. With a 96% recovery rate, the program was so successful that other military and scientific agencies requested the services of the original Missile Dogs of White Sands. Today you can hike with your dog anywhere in the giant sandbox that is White Sands National Monument. The world's largest gypsum sand dunes form when mineral dissolves in nearby mountains during rainstorms. White Sands offers 6.2 miles of marked dog-friendly trails but there is no need to limit your explorations. Any dune is open to a canine hike. Stay alert for reptiles and rodents scampering on the dunes that have adapted to the white sands and are now a funny bleached white color. During the heat of summer, try a night hike - when the moon is full, the park, located in New Mexico on U.S. Highway 70 between Alamogordo and Las Cruces, stays open until midnight. The desert cools off then and the sands are haunting by moonlight.
Holloman AFB, New Mexico
RETURN TO OCTOBER 2010 NEWSLETTER
Love waterfalls? Love hiking with your dog? Share your photos with our
Waterfalls for Dogs group at Flickr...
No Dogs Allowed?
Don’t let this happen to you
Find a new tail-friendly trail every day at the hikewithyourdog blog...