Sand Mountain Recreation Area
Lat. 39 19'N, Lon. 118 24'W
Sand Mountain Recreation Area is located in the high desert of west central Nevada, 25 miles east of Fallon on Highway 50. Managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the sand dunes of the of 4,795 acre recreation area provide challenge and excitement for many types of off-highway vehicle use. Many people visiting the area also take time to explore the historic 1860 Pony Express station and learn about the plants and animals of the Great Basin at the Sand Springs Desert Study Area.
Singing and Booming Sand Dunes
A characteristic of some desert dune sands is an ability to emit acoustical energy when disturbed. This phenomenon has been reported from the Middle East for more than 1500 years and in Chinese literature from as early as the ninth century. Observations liken the sounds to a foghorn or low-flying, propellor-driven aircraft. Only seven sites in the United States are known to produce booming or barking sounds: (1) Kelso Dunes, California; (2) Sand Mountain, Nevada; (3) Barking Sands at Maria, Kauai, Hawaiian Islands; (4) Eureka Dunes, California; (5) Panamint Dunes, California; (6) Crescent Dunes, California; and (7) Big Dune in Nevada.
Rules and Regulations
- "Whip flag" extending at least eight feet above ground level is mandatory on all OHVs using the recreation area. Lighted whip masts should be used at night.
- Spark arrestors required.
- $20 for 1-7 day pass, $45 for annual pass.
Only 10,000 years ago glaciers filled many of the valleys in the Sierra Nevada mountains to the west. The cool, wet climate and runoff from these glaciers had created an immense inland lake that covered much of what is now western Nevada. But as the climate grew warmer and the glaciers retreated, the lake slowly started to dry up. About 4,000 years ago the lake level
dropped below where Sand Mountain now stands.
Meanwhile, quartz particles, which the glaciers had ground away from the hard Sierra granite, were washed down the Walker River and deposited in the river's delta. As the wind blew across the delta this sand was picked up and carried high into the air. More than thirty miles to the northeast, the wind was slowed by a large basin on the southwest flank of the Stillwater Range. With its force broken by the mountain, the wind's burden of sand would fall into this natural trap. Over the centuries Sand Mountain grew until it reached its present height of almost 600 feet.
The wind is constantly changing the shape of Sand Mountain and sometimes the shifting of the sand will produce a soft rustling, or even an eerie booming sound. This unique characteristic has earned Sand Mountain its nickname of "Singing Mountain".