Sunday, March 24, 2013

Killpecker Sand Dunes

Located North of Rock Springs about 18 or 20 miles off of U.S. 191 you find the Killpecker Sand Dunes. This is the largest active dune field in the U.S. because it is still moving and changing, and it encompasses about 170 square miles. These dunes seem to appear out of nowhere on the Northwest side of the Red Desert, and move eastward across the continental divide into the Great Divide Basin. The view of this place on Google Earth is pretty interesting because it is easy to see the direction that the sand is going.

The sand dunes offer endless opportunities for many of the same activities that are enjoyed elsewhere around Southwest Wyoming but with some variation in the terrain. The dunes are fun to explore just by hiking around, although because of the nature of walking in fine sand this is not something for those that are out of shape.

The sand is a tremendous amount of fun to play in with your bare feet. The adventure kids love going to the sand dunes in the spring or fall when the sand is not too hot for bare feet. Running and jumping and rolling down the larger dunes is fun even for adults. Adventure Man’s no nonsense wife has even been known to let go of all inhibitions while playing in the sand at the Killpecker sand dunes.

In the spring and early summer large pools of water form from snow melt that creates active centers for ever manner of wildlife. These pools are very scenic and seemingly endless after a winter of heavy snow. The animals that are common are the usual assortment for Wyoming. Deer, pronghorn antelope, coyotes, horses, and the usual desert elk are common in the Red Dessert. Adventure man has run into large flocks of sage grouse around the sand dunes as well.

These are the most controversial animals in the Red Dessert because they are supposedly threatened. Considering how many of these sage chickens seem to be in the way while exploring the desert it seems hard to believe they are all that threatened. The biggest threat to the sage chickens is that they are exceptionally stupid and usually lack the sense it takes to get out of the road when cars are coming.

Heading out into the Killpecker Sand Dunes very early in the morning is a great time to do some animal tracking. With the nature of the sand it is easy to imagine how animals very easily leave foot prints everywhere they go. Even large beetles and other insects leave a trail of tracks behind them as they scurry across the dunes.
These ponds made of snow melt linger in the summer and are replenished with rain water.
They attract wildlife from all over the area.

In the winter time snow falls and blows all across the dunes. The snow and the blowing sand create small pockets of subterranean blue ice. These buried ice deposits form when blowing sand covers large portions of snow on the dunes during the winter. The sand blanket is such a good insulator that the ice can survive well into the summer. Supposedly with some training and practice you can spot the bulge in the sand dune that indicated buried ice. Once the ice is exposed it appears with an icy blue color. Adventure Man has only heard the stories of the blue ice and has spoken with those that say they have seen it but Adventure Man himself has never seen it.

An ORV staging area can be found at the dunes that offers a huge area open to four-wheelers and dune buggies. This is a very popular spot for locals who own such vehicles. Adventure Man usually prefers to walk so he tends to stay away from the OHV area in favor of the solitude of the multiple wilderness study areas that encompass the sand dunes.

Several other interesting sites are very near the Killpecker Sand Dunes. This makes for a nice day of adventure if you were to swing by a few of the other sites. These include the White Mountain Petroglyphs, a large sandstone cliff face with all sorts of interesting Indian writings. The Boar’s Tusk is an interesting peak shooting out of the desert floor which is the remnants of an old volcano. Some compare the Boar’s Tusk to Devil’s Tower in the other corner of Wyoming. They were both formed in a similar manner but Devil’s Tower is much bigger. North and South Table Mountains are also nearby located on the continental divide. They are two flat top mesas that provide interesting hiking and spectacular views. Many other sites are near the sand dunes so anyone who ventures out can easily see a few of these other places.
The Boar's Tusk from the dunes.

To get to the Killpecker Sand dunes drive north out of Rock Springs on U.S. 191 for about 9 miles. This is nine miles from the Elk Street exit of I80. Turn right onto a well maintained county road with BLM signage at the entrance. This is the Chilton road. You will see mileage signs indicating how far away it is to the sand dunes. Follow this road for about 14.8 miles until you reach a fork. You will see many other roads turning off but ignore them until you hit the 14.8 mile mark. Take the right hand fork.

Since the dune field is so vast there are several different places you could go to explore them. To get to the nearest spot you will drive for few more miles past the fork until you have gone 18 miles total. Turn left at this point and drive about 3 more miles. You will see the dunes all around you and you will know you are there. The total distance from highway 191 to this spot is 21 miles. This is an area where you can go to be away from the four wheelers. If you want to go to the OHV staging area then you would skip the last left hand turn and keep going about another mile before turning left.
Sunset at the Killpecker Sand Dunes.

This route can easily be driven in dry weather without 4WD. If you venture into the sand dunes themselves be very careful even if you have four wheel drive. In fact, don’t try to drive through the sand no how good you think your 4x4 is. Getting stuck in sand is very easy and once you are stuck the more you struggle the more stuck you become. If you have a four wheeler or a side by side they travel very well over the sand because they are light weight and have very wide tires that help the vehicle stay on top of the sand.

As always make sure that you are prepared for adventure in the desert by bringing plenty of extra water, even in the winter. Snacks, clothing, good shoes, sunscreen, a hat, GPS, and a shovel and tow rope in case you get stuck.
Adventure Man has a little brother that likes to run with the wild horses

People packing sand into all of their bodily crevices. At least they are having fun.

Adventure Man himself jumping off the dunes.


  1. Why did you stop writing? Your articles are interesting. Thanks

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