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Sand Hill Adventure

Joe Lucas

Just west of Odessa, Texas, we discovered the amazing Monahans Sandhills State Park, a majestic 3,840 acres of wind-sculptured living sand dunes some which soar up to 70 feet high.

While this State Park is of a substantial size, it represents only a small part of a huge dune filet that extends westward from about 200 miles south of Monahans Sandhills and then north into New Mexico. Monahans Sandhills is set in one of the areas where the dunes are living which mean that they are still active and being constantly shaped by wind and rain.

Climbing up and over the sand hills is a unique opportunity to experience an extreme aspect of nature. The dunes consist of almost pure quartz grains that form dune types that include coppice, wind-shadow, Ankle, Barchan, and parabolic. No idea what these terms mean, but walking in the dunes is an incredible experience no matter what they are called.

Although the huge sand dunes would make you think you are in the middle of a desert, the Monahans Sandhills are surprisingly not a desert; they are a part of a semi-arid ecosystem with an average rainfall of about 12 inches (300 mm) and characterized by the presence of both groundwater and relatively nutrient-poor windblown sand. Despite the sterility of the landscape, various rodents are relatively common, and there are several packs of Sandhills coyotes that feed upon them.

Because this is a unique location, the local forms of recreation are equally unique at the Monahans Sandhills They include sand boarding, sand football, sand surfing, and sand tobogganing. Other active pursuits include hiking, picnicking, horseback riding, bird, and wildlife watching from the interpretive center windows, which overlook watering stations. For sand adventurers, sand toboggans and surfing disks can be rented at park headquarters. I don’t think long-term camping would work out too well for tender vehicle finishes but a short stay was certainly invigorating.

Monahans Sandhills State Park has 26 well-maintained campsites served with water and electricity and completely surrounded by sand dunes. There are also a day use area with covered picnic tables and grills on the edge of the tallest dunes, a visitors center, a group dining hall, a quarter mile interpretive trail, dump station, showers and bathroom facilities, and a small park store. The excellent Dunagan Visitor Center. features hands-on exhibits of the cultural and natural history of the Sandhills, including Dune Dynamics, Permian Basin Heritage, and Wildlife Habitat. Scenic windows offer spectacular viewing of birds and other wildlife as they come to food and water.

Monahans Sandhills State Park is a strange and exotic camping location that offers a camping experience that will not soon be forgotten.

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