Desert dunes provide opportunity to play in the sand

Desert winds scouring arid landscapes gather crystalline grains to create vast expanses of sand and mountainous dunes. Evocative of deserts everywhere, the sandy seas of the West provide splendid scenery and opportunities for hikers, off-road adventurers, horseback explorers, photographers and thrill-seeking sand sliders.

Although development long ago claimed most of the sand dunes in the Las Vegas Valley, one nearby sandy area remains: Nellis Dunes Recreation Area, east of Interstate 15 and north of Nellis Air Force Base. The Clark County facility encourages legal off-roading by enthusiasts using dune buggies, quads, motorcycles and other rugged vehicles. To reach Nellis Dunes, drive north on I-15 to the Apex exit. Head south on a side road to a pipeline road with several access points near the dunes.

Another nearby sandy region, the Logandale Trails System, is about 65 miles from Las Vegas. Drive north on I-15 to the Logandale-Overton turnoff and then south into Logandale. Turn on Liston Avenue and head west across the railroad tracks. The road runs north and then west into the trails area. This beautiful preserve of red sand dunes and high sandstone cliffs is just north of Valley of Fire State Park, where off-roading is prohibited. Logandale Trails attracts campers, picnickers, hikers, rock climbers and horseback riders as well as off-roaders.

The use of motorized vehicles is prohibited on some public lands such as the Mojave National Preserve and Death Valley National Park, primarily because of endangered plants and animals among the dunes. But these dunes invite activities such as hiking and photography.

The Kelso Dunes in the Mojave National Preserve comprise the most extensive sand sea and dunes system in the West. The sands cover 70 square miles east of Baker, Calif., along I-15. Reaching 500 feet in elevation, the dunes emit sighs, hums, moans or booms when sand slides down the lee sides from the crests.

Death Valley National Park contains many sandy regions, including the beautiful star-shaped dune system near Stovepipe Wells and the remote Eureka Dunes, which tower as high as 700 feet.

A couple of dunes systems located near Death Valley, but outside the park boundaries, are open to motorized and nonmotorized uses. The Amargosa Dunes lie within sight of U.S. Highway 95 on the drive toward Beatty. Look for a turnoff eight miles beyond Lathrop Wells on Valley View Road for the closest approach to these dunes popular for hiking, sliding and off-roading. Frequented since pioneer times, these sand peaks generated legends involving lost loads of gold or whiskey.

Located south of Death Valley off California Route 127, the extensive Dumont Dunes sit 22 miles south of Shoshone, Calif., near the course of the Amargosa River. A main approach road lies about 13 miles south of the Old Spanish Trail Highway junction with Route 127. This often rough three-mile route crosses the river bed to reach the foot of the dunes.

Facilities at Dumont Dunes are rudimentary, including a few privies and fire circles. Visitors must bring everything for camping or picnicking, including water and firewood. The lack of development does not discourage use of the area. On winter weekends and holidays, Dumont Dunes attracts crowds. Many visitors will bring something suitable for sliding down the face of the sugary, white dunes away from motorized traffic.

Margo Bartlett Pesek's Trip of the Week column appears on Sundays.