Nope, itâ€™s not Africa.
Tucked away seven miles west of Kanab and surrounded by southern Utahâ€™s famous rock formations and low elevation junipers, the aptly named Coral Pink Sand Dunes almost look as if they were blown overseas from the Sahara Desert.
So dubbed for their soft reddish hue, the rolling sands occupy approximately 13 square kilometers of area alongside Highway 89 and southwest of Zion National Park.
They are the result of millennia of wind erosion on the surrounding Navajo Sandstone cliffs. A natural phenomenon known as the Venturi Effect causes frequent windflows to lose velocity as they pass through a bottleneck between the Moquith and Moccasin Mountains, depositing the sand particles in the valley floor below. Their formation is estimated to have taken place 10,000 to 15,000 years ago.
Consistent winds through the area continually shape the mounds and wisp sand away in real time. You may find footprints you left near the start of a hike have been blown away by the time you return.
The largest mounds are often scarred â€“ though temporarily - with the tracks of off-highway vehicles. Wind flow into the area can quickly heal these, too. Hike far enough north or south, and you will easily find pristine waves in the sand alongside prime photography opportunities.
Visitor traffic is often dictated by season and many guests choose the area for its top-notch off-roading opportunities. Roughly 90 percent of the park is open to vehicles, which is also shared by foot traffic; so if you have hiking and photography in mind, always keep an eye and ear out for flying objects.
One potential activity not mentioned enough in tour guides of the area is the potential for sand boarding and sand sledding.
You may find footprints you left near the start of a hike have been blown away by the time you return.
Bare skateboard decks or generic plastic sleds from hardware stores can fill that need for speed for those without the means or budget for OHVs.
Also, be on the lookout for the Coral Pink tiger beetle â€“ a species of beetle found nowhere else on earth except within the park. The little guys are about half an inch long with tannish and green reflective coloration. Often feeding on smaller endemic insects and arthropods, the beetles hold their title well and sport a set of very discernible and powerful jaws.
The 10 percent, or 370 acres, of area inaccessible to off-road vehicles is a marked conservation refuge intended for the beetles and the numerous species of plants susceptible to damage from OFV activity. Approximately 87 percent of the beetles are believed to live within its boundaries and entomologists predict populations have been on the rise since 2011.
Rain patterns are the biggest factor for the beetlesâ€™ survival as they thrive most during monsoon seasons. Melted snowpack in the spring months can also leave large puddles around the area that attract amphibians and other wildlife.
To get to the dunes, travel northwest along US Highway 89 until reaching Kanab. Continue northwest on 89 towards Mount Caramel Junction and Zion. Hang a left on Hancock Road when you approach a sign marking the dunes. After approximately 10 miles, take another left onto Coral Pink Sand Dunes Road until you see the parkâ€™s official building.
As it is an official state park, daily rates of $8 per non-commercial vehicle apply. Campsites are also available at varying rates and can be booked ahead of time. For more information on the park, reservations, and other state parks in Utah, visit http://utahstateparks.reserveamerica.com.