Sand Dunes in the Arctic

June 29, 2016 Posted by: Ranger Cait
Last weekend, rangers Masaki, Emily and Cait flew to Onion Portage on the Kobuk River near the eastern boundary of Kobuk Valley National Park. Onion Portage has played an important role in the archeology of the Arctic and the annual caribou migration.

Weather was cloudy and windy in Kotzebue and our “runway” (the lagoon in Kotzebue) was pretty choppy. It was certainly the bumpiest take-off I’ve experienced. Once we were in the air, however, the clouds lifted and we were treated to an amazing view of the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes. I had heard the sand dunes described as a scene out of the Sahara, but I’ve seen the sand dunes of the Sahara and they are nothing like this. The great dunes of the Sahara gradually rise above of the parched, ochre desert; a natural progression of that sparse, arid environment. The Kobuk sand dunes, however, rise suddenly – unexpectedly – like a mirage in the midst of the last great forest. Instead of the rare stunted date palm, a dense forest of green spruce that stretches as far as the eye can see lines the edge of the sand, slowly encroaching onto the dunes themselves and reclaiming the land. Trees, tundra, river and sand dunes come together to create a sight that defies comparison, a landscape that is uniquely its own.

sand dunes surrounded by forest with plane wing in the corner
NPS Photo/Emily Mesner

Kobuk Valley’s sand dunes – the largest active sand dunes in the Arctic – are a relic of the last Ice Age. Sand and silt created by the grinding movement of the glaciers were blown by the wind into the sheltered, ice free Kobuk Valley where they formed enormous sand dunes. Once the Ice Age ended, plants began slowly reclaiming the dunes until only 30 square miles are left.

The Great Kobuk Sand Dunes are certainly Kobuk Valley National Park's most iconic sight. Check out our website to learn more about how you can visit them.

Kobuk Valley National Park




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Last updated: July 7, 2016

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