Sand dune

Sometimes it seems like sand is everywhere, but in reality, it is a limited resource.

I needed a few bags of sand for a small home project. When I checked at the hardware store though, I was surprised to learn that there were a number a choices, sand wasn’t just sand. I could buy concrete sand, mason sand, playbox sand, washed sand, sandblasting sand, polymeric sand, silica-free and quartz-free sand, or paver sand. There were several colors as well. As it turns out, the biggest differences are in the uniformity of the sand: concrete sand being the coarsest and sandblasting sand the finest, although polymeric sand has additives and the silica/quartz-free sand is calcium carbonate. Sand may even be manufactured by the crushing and milling of rock material. This yields a more angular sand, useful in some construction.

Sand. Of all the natural resources we mine from the earth, next to water, sand is by far the most common. Sand is a major component in just about every construction project, and every glass window on Earth as well as every silicon computer chip, is made from sand. To satisfy our current needs, we are mining 50 billion metric tons annually.

Sand is a granular material composed of mineral particles. It may be composed of many different types of minerals and so is defined by grain size, not material. The United Soil Classification System defines sand as particles with a diameter of between 0.074 and 4.75 millimeters (up to the size of a small pea). However, for geologists, sand particles range in diameter from 0.0625 mm (or 1⁄16 mm) to 2 mm (smaller than a BB).

Sand starts as rock and the process of erosion weathers the rock. With water erosion, the small particles of rock work their way downstream where they are eventually deposited in rivers and lakes or carried to the ocean. While this process continues every day, it is very slow and on the human scale of things, sand is not a renewable resource in most cases.

Wind erosion can also work to make sand. Winds carrying sand particles can scour parent rock and transport the material some impressive distances. For instance, the St. Anthony Sand Dunes were created by sands whipped up in the Mud Lake area. Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in southern Utah has pink/orange dunes created by the erosion of nearby Navajo sandstone.

The type or composition of sand varies depending on the source of the parent material. In inland settings and temperate coastlines, the most common ingredient is silica or silicon dioxide, usually from quartz. Where volcanic rock is the parent source, black basalt sand may be created.

However, rock doesn’t have to be the primary source of sand material. Calcium carbonate is the second most common sand type and it comes from a biological source—the shells of coral and shellfish. The sands of the Caribbean islands are of this type.

In south central New Mexico is another type of sand, pure white and forming the White Sands National Park. This sand is composed of gypsum and selenite crystals blown in from surrounding mountains.  The park includes a 275 sq mi (710 km2) field of white sand dunes. It contains about 4.1 billion metric tons of gypsum sand. It is astonishing to realize that all the sand in that park would not satisfy 10 percent of the annual world demand for sand.

Sand isn’t just sand, however. Blown sand, the kind that makes sand dunes, isn’t useful for construction because of its more uniform and smoother structure. Water-born sand, often referred to as river sand, is more angular and locks in place and is what is needed to satiate our need for sand products such as concrete. However, I was talking with a Master Gardener once who advised me to use dune sand, not river sand, in my gardens to break up the clay. River sand, he explained, tended to settle to the bottom and to form hard layers. Dune sand, with its less angular texture, stayed suspended.

Sand is a hot commodity and one that we are running out of. Sand extraction has become a hot environmental topic because removing sand is damaging ecosystems. Like most things we do, we need to be thoughtful in how we extract it.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

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.

"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