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The Arctic's Sand Box Story and photos by Patrick Endres

Welcome to Kobuk Valley National Park

Kobuk Valley National Park is one of the nation’s least visited parks due to its remote location and limited access by air or river, yet it’s home to an anomaly of sorts—one well worth a visit despite the challenges in getting there.

The Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, an expanse of undulating sandy ridges, which rise upwards of 100 feet and fall in golden patterned folds across 32 square miles, originated from ancient glacial movement that pulverized rock into fine sand and blew from the mountains into a sheltered region of the Kobuk Valley.Like a misplaced geological feature accidentally inserted into the landscape, the place feels more like Namibia than Alaska’s Arctic.

Situated just south of the Kobuk River, the constantly changing dunes are surrounded by a slowly encroaching boreal forest. Ahnewetut Creek transects the dunes, winding through its amber shoals in serpentine lines. e creek is a vital water resource and a pleasant reminder that not all is dry in this sandy wilderness. As a veteran hiker of the tundra, I found the dunes a bit exotic and surprisingly easy to walk upon. I spent a few days hiking and photographing in this bizarre but beautiful landscape, while the wind etched patterns in the sand below my feet, and the ever-changing clouds drew shapes in the sky above.

The dunes are a landscape under endless change. Blowing sand continually reshapes them, creating some ridges that rise more than 100 feet, covering footprints and animal tracks with a variety of patterns. It is a dry place, receiving on average 10 inches of precipitation a year. Temperatures can soar to 100 degrees during the hottest summer months, but during our visit in August the temperatures were in the upper 50s during the day
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Alaska Magazine MMN
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Credits:

Words and Images by Patrick Endres

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