Bruneau Dunes Rd., Mountain Home, Idaho
The two enormous mountains of sand that form this park’s centerpiece are in striking contrast to the high, flat plateaus that dominate the landscape here. Covering some 600 acres of the 4,800-acre park, the picturesque dunes give way at their base to lakes and marshland, creating an ecological anomaly.
Eagle Cove, where the dunes stand, was formed by the meandering Snake River about 15,000 years ago. The sand was blown in from the surrounding plateau and trapped by opposing winds, which still keep the dunes from moving far or dramatically changing their shape. The lakes and marsh began to form in 1950, when a nearby reservoir caused the underground water table to rise.
Climbing the dunes is the park’s chief attraction. At first glimpse the tallest dune, which is 470 feet high, does not seem particularly challenging. But the hike through shifting sand with no firm footholds and no well-trod trail is surprisingly strenuous, but the crest offers rewarding views. Sand skiers will find the dunes especially inviting. In summer the sand can be extremely hot, and it’s best to climb in the early morning or late afternoon. The climb can be predictably gritty, so be sure to pack cameras and food in well-sealed plastic bags.
The park also offers a public observatory, featuring the Obsession telescope, a custom-made 25-inch reflector that allows the viewer to see the rings of Saturn or the Owl Nebula.
Open year-round. Observatory presentations given at dusk Fri. and Sat., mid-Mar.– mid-Oct. Admission charged.