Not Exactly a Day at the Beach
The sand of the park comes from Navajo sandstone formed during the Middle Jurassic period. Various cycles of sand to sandstone have occurred over time. Ninety-eight percent of Navajo sandstone consists of grains of quartz crystals that were once part of loose sand dunes. With time, a cement of lime, iron oxides, and clay substances bonded these grains together into a hard material. Weathering and erosion of these sandstones produced sediments carried here by winds to form sand dunes 10,000 to 15,000 years ago.
The same iron oxides and other minerals that color Utah's red rock country are also responsible for these photogenic sand hills, the only major dunefield on the Colorado Plateau today. At 6,000 feet, these 2,000 acres of park dunes are the result of winds funneling through a constricting notch between the Moquith and Moccasin mountains (south of the park). That increases the wind velocity, a phenomenon known as the "Venturi effect." Once the wind reaches the open valley, its velocity decreases, and it deposits sand in this open space. Another wind blowing east between Moccasin and Harris mountains adds to the boiling effect as currents merge and drop sand. Formations found at Coral Pink include barchans, parabolas, and a star dune (caused by winds coming from several directions).
Two vegetation zones lie within the park. At the lower elevation of 6,000 feet is the pinyon-juniper zone, with yucca, cacti, mule ears, sunflowers, and wildflowers. Those interested in nature study should ask a ranger to point them to the place in the dunes where a threatened species of milkweed sprouts on hillsides near a stand of ponderosa pines.
The second life zone is the ponderosa pine zone, found at elevations above 6,900. Small pools of water attract animals to these upper dunes. Bird tracks are visible on the sand, along with the uniform footprints of camel crickets and scurrying beetles. Animals in the area include spadefoot toads, tiger salamanders, ravens, eagles, hummingbirds, rattlesnakes, mule deer, coyotes, bobcats, kit foxes, kangaroo rats, jackrabbits, and other small animals.
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Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication