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(Tom Wharton | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ponderosa Pines guard dunes near Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.
Utah’s Coral Pink Sand Dunes offer variety of recreational experiences
First Published Mar 05 2014 04:52 pm • Last Updated Mar 05 2014 08:58 pm

Coral Pink Sand Dunes • Karen Boe of Salt Lake City and Kayte Lathouwers of Houston probably have never met.

But the two women traveled 22 miles west of Kanab to search out this unique environment of shifting pink sand dunes, towering Ponderosa pines and strange insects for similar reasons.

At a glance

Why are there dunes?

Coral Pink Sand Dunes were created by a combination of sand, high winds and a unique influence upon those high winds. A notch between the Moquith and Moccasin mountains causes this unique influence. Wind is funneled through the notch, increasing wind velocity to a point where it can carry grains of sand from the eroding Navajo sandstone. This phenomenon is known as the Venturi Effect. After the wind passes through the notch and into the open valley, wind velocity decreases, depositing the sand.

Source » Utah State Parks

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Boe came to hike and celebrate Valentine’s weekend with her husband Rob Godfrey. The couple sought something different from the big national parks.

"We were impressed with the beauty of the dunes with their fine grains of pink sand," she said. "We learned much about the formation of the dunes and the natural forces that worked to create them and had fun identifying tracks animals and birds had left behind."

Lathouwers heard about the dunes while dining in Kanab. When she Googled Coral Pink Sand Dunes, she discovered that for $20 a day, she could rent a sandboard, a snowboard-like device for riding the dunes.

"I’ve never done it before," she said. "It’s awesome. This is a little different from Texas."

Boe did have one complaint. And it reflects the fine line managers of the 1,500-acre park and surrounding Bureau of Land Management property meet by providing for a number of different recreational, scientific and preservation missions.

"We were hopeful to have found more hiking opportunities, as the designated area available was fairly compact," she said. "We were also hoping to find a more serene spot, away from the engine sounds from the ATVs."

The dunes, indeed, rank among southern Utah’s most popular all-terrain vehicle and sand buggy riding areas.

State park rangers such as park manager Michael Kendall and assistant manager Dean Anderson work to balance the needs of users who might come with different expectations and recreational desires.

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The park covers 1,500 acres, which is about half of the dunes, and the Bureau of Land Management is in charge of the rest.

"Ninety percent of the park is open to riding. The 300-acre conservation area is closed to vehicles, but people can walk out or take a horse," Anderson said. "It is closed to vehicles, but may be expanding soon."

Of course, the other 90 percent of the park is open to foot traffic, though hikers, sand sledders and boarders such as Lathouwers need to be aware of motorized vehicles they are sharing the dunes with.

This wasn’t a major problem on a recent February Wednesday, when the park’s 22-unit campground was empty and there were no motorized vehicles in sight. The campground contains showers, a covered day-use area and restrooms with running water.

"The campground fills nearly every night from Easter until mid-October," said Anderson. "It’s a good idea to get reservations, though sometimes you can walk in. To avoid people, come in February and March. You can get decent weather, or it can be horrible. April, May and October are the best weather months, though summers are not as hot as you might think. We get a few 100-degree plus days, but it’s not like St. George. It cools off at night."

The park certainly is a haven for off-roaders, especially with a number of BLM trails located nearby.

Managers try to accommodate everyone’s needs. Quiet hours in the campground, for example, run from 10 p.m. to 9 a.m. ATV enthusiasts are allowed to ride to the dunes from the campground, but not to do loops around the area.

While there is a big emphasis on safety, managers have avoided placing signs everywhere.

"Recreation vehicle riding can be a dangerous sport if you don’t pay attention," said Kendall. "You need to look ahead and see what is coming up."

There is a nature trail explaining the dunes and the surrounding area inside the conservation area, which also contains a viewing platform and plenty of sand where kids of all ages can play.

The fenced area is also designed to protect the rare Coral Pink Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle, one of the rarest insects in the U.S.

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