Sand Dunes

One good wind can erase all traces of human influence and restore a dune time and again.

Sand seeped through the fabric of my shoes and poured over their tops as I struggled up a steep sand dune in the pre-dawn light. A windstorm the previous day had provoked the sands into a roil high enough that I saw it from over 30 miles away. It erased all sign of humanity restoring the dunes to a primeval but ephemeral perfection.

I looked at the tracks I was making in the perfect sand. I could count almost 50 other photographers and sunrise worshipers on Mesquite Flat Dunes at Death Valley National Park so I wasn’t the only one desecrating the freshness. As the sun continued to warm and the nearby resort of Stove Pipe Wells awoke, hundreds of people would join in tracking up these perfect sands and it would take another blustery day to cleanse the dunes once again. I hoped to capture an image or two before every inch of dunes had a human track in it.

It has been surprising to find just how many sand dune complexes exist in the West. In the past several months, I have visited three national parks/monuments that contain sand dunes. We also made a quick side trip to Brunneau Sand Dunes State Park near Mountain Home, Idaho earlier this year to see the tallest single dune in the nation. And nearby St. Anthony Sand Dunes are a huge 41,000 acre complex of active dunes.

Despite having sand as a common denominator, each set of sand dunes seems to have its own character and personality. Dunes are usually significantly isolated from other dunes giving nature a chance to romp and play with species adaptations. Dunes commonly have their own unique sets of wildlife adapted to that particular complex.

Even sand isn’t the same from complex to complex. The sand at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico is brilliant white fine gypsum sand, not the quartz and feldspar of Mesquite Flat Dunes in Death Valley. The singing sands at the Killpecker Dunes of Wyoming’s Red Desert are more rounded and polished than most sand particles which is partly responsible for the singing or booming that arise from those shifting sands.

Sand is certainly highly variable. Black sand for instance could be from magnetite, a rock high in iron, basalt, obsidian or other dark material. If a rock can be weathered down into small pieces larger than silt, it can become sand.

In the interior of the country, dunes need two things to form: parent material weathered to sand sized particles and strong winds that can propel the sand from source to deposition area. Often the source is an ancient lakebed or sea and the winds scalp thin layers of primeval sediments, but the source can be just about any rock that continues to weather into smaller pieces.

You can tell the direction of the prevailing wind by observing the sand dune structure. On the windward side, the dune is longer and the slope more gradual. On the lee side, the dune is shorter and steeper.

Until I flew over it years ago, I was only vaguely aware that we have a national park located in southeastern Colorado named Great Sand Dunes. But when I looked out the window from 30,000 feet, I immediately recognized the dunes and was smitten by the magic of a habitat that can erase all traces of humanity and begin anew with just a few puffs of wind. Sometimes I wish it was as easy for humans to begin anew.

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

TAX DAY is coming! Here is a chance to do something good with a bit of your tax return and make the day less painful.

Donate part of your tax return to support wildlife in Idaho!

On the second page of the Idaho Individual Tax form 40 you have the opportunity to donate to the “Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund”.

Check-off this box on your next return or ask your tax preparer to mark the Nongame check-off on your behalf. You can donate any amount you wish, it all helps to support the wildlife you love.

If you are not from Idaho, check with your own state wildlife agency about how you can help. Many states have a similar program.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho