Date of visit: Thursday November 12th, 2015
Attractions/Places of Interest:
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is a one of a kind destination in Kanab, Utah not to be missed. The 3,730 acre park sits at 6,000 feet elevation and is located just one mile North of the Arizona/Utah border, or 310 miles South of Salt Lake City, Utah. Entrance fees are $8 per vehicle as of August 2016 and is open 365 days a year during daylight hours. Check the official website before you visit for the most up to date information.
Extremely unique to North American terrain, the geology of the sand dunes that make up the park certainly arouses some curiosity. The sand dunes that make up the entirety of the park were created over the last 10-15,000 years from eroding Navajo sandstone which was shaped by high winds influenced by the Venturi Effect.
As explained by the official Coral Pink Sand Dunes website of Utah, there is a notch between the Moquith and Moccasin mountains which create the necessary constricted path that the winds take. As winds enter the notch their speed increases causing the sandstone to erode. The winds drastically decrease in velocity once they pass through the opening, dispersing the sand into dune shaped behemoths.
This location is so unique and beautiful it is almost a shame what we ended up doing to the landscape…As you can imagine walking around such a large sandy area by foot is no easy task (although many visitors do opt for this and there are no restrictions). With the growing popularity of exploring this park by ATV we could not resist that option. About 90% of the park allows ATV and OHV vehicles.
Our company of choice for ATV rentals was Southern Utah Adventure Center. They offered reasonable half day rental rates and delivered them to us at the park ($650 total for four ATV’s after a $200 refund explained later). They have a good selection of models to choose from ranging from automatic Yamaha Grizzly’s which are great for beginner to powerful 700cc Yamaha Raptors for more seasoned riders. Make sure you ask for the special sand/paddle tires which give much better grip.
For a group of 6 of us we rented two Grizzly 550’s, a YFZ450 R, and a 700 Raptor R and had two people switch every so often. Personally I never rode an ATV before this day but got the hang of it very quickly; I even learned to ride the powerful 700c Raptor which requires manual shifting.
This was a very fun experience that I would love to repeat one day. Some tips to consider: make sure you watch the clock and get what you pay for. While the staff that came out with the ATV’s was friendly and helpful in showing us the basics, we were nearly duped for an hour of riding that was already paid for. That hour was later pro-rated and refunded after we inquired about it over the phone once we completed our road trip several days later. Since this issue was addressed and corrected by the company I am still willing to recommend them.
Also be careful around the exhaust areas of the vehicles – I accidentally burned a small hole in my Prana hiking pants around my ankle (I love these by the way!)
While riding around at excess speeds was a lot of fun, as you can tell by the photos we left a bit of a mess in the sand with our tire tracks which ruin the atmosphere a bit. My plan was to wait till the end of our adventure to shoot this location as the sun started to set. I did not think ahead of time what the ATV’s would do to the sand dunes. My recommendation would be to come early for sunrise for photos, and then ride around to your heart’s content. Don’t worry…the winds will clean up after you.
Photo and Travel Gear:
All of the photos were shot with my Nikon D600 and Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 or Nikon 24-70 f/2.8. I am also guilty of some selfies taken with my LG G4 which came out great after a quick edit with SnapSeed. There are tons of great compositions everywhere you look, and if you have a telephoto like the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 feel free to bring it, although I prefered to stick to the wider angles as I do with most landscape shots. While the location itself is beautiful, it’s the lighting (dependant on the time of day) and atmospheric conditions that will ultimately make or break the shot here. As always I recommend shooting around sunrise or sunset hour for the best quality of light.
Keep in mind you are surrounded by sand everywhere – take extra precautions if you are changing lenses or if it is windy. If you do get sand inside your camera or on the front lens element I would advise going back to the car and using an air blower to get it out. If it is still sitting on your front lens element continue by using a special lens cleaning brush followed by some lens wipes. Be very gentle as sand can very easily scratch your glass. Do not press down on the wipe if you still see grains of sand on your lens. If you have sand that got onto your sensor that the blower won’t get out you will need to be extremely careful and at that point I would probably recommend using the services of a professional sensor cleaning service (good luck finding one around Kanab).
I own my gear with the intentions of using it so in situations like this I do not let my fear of damaging it get in the way of getting the shot I want. If you are careful you will be fine. Consider changing lenses inside your camera bag or car if necessary.
Other gear that was helpful here was my 2L Dakine hydration bladder that I kept in the flat outer pocket of my Lowepro Photo Hatchback 22L AW camera backpack along with my gear. It saved a lot of time in not having to take my bag and helmet off each time I was thirsty.
We stayed about 40 miles West of Coral Pink Sand Dunes at Holiday Inn Express in Springdale, Utah. The hotel was beautiful and didn’t break the bank. A breakfast was included in our stay which is always great as it speeds things up in the morning. While there was a pool, we unfortunately had no time to take advantage of it the next day since we spent the entire day hiking in Zion National Park. I highly recommend this accommodation!