Sand Mountain: A different culture, a different experience (w/video)
With temperatures rising, the sun staying in the sky longer and snow melting, signs of spring are everywhere. But that doesn’t mean when the resorts shut down that it’s time to put away the skis and snowboards.
While there will be superb backcountry conditions into the summer, there is an alternative just two hours east of Lake Tahoe on Highway 50 that promises fresh tracks 365 days a year. Sand Mountain, a golden bump in a sea of chocolate-brown hills about 25 miles east of Fallon, Nev., long has attracted sandboarders and skiers seeking a different way to slide down a mountain.
Sand Mountain, though, remains a work in progress. Even today, it changes shape depending on the winds, which can send plumes of sand across its ridges.
According to the Bureau of Land Management, which manages the Sand Mountain Recreation Area, the origins of the mountain go back about 10,000 years.
At that time, the Sierra Nevada and its surrounding valleys were filled with glaciers. As the glaciers slowly melted, the ensuing drainage created a large inland lake that covered most of what now is Western Nevada.
Once the climate grew warmer and the glaciers retreated, the lake slowly dried up. Remnants of this prehistoric lake include Walker and Pyramid lakes, as well as dry lake beds such as the Black Rock Desert outside Gerlach, Nev.
When the massive lake began drying up, quartz particles, which the glaciers stripped away from the Sierra Nevada’s granite, washed down into the surrounding watersheds. Over time, wind blew across this area, and sand was tossed into the air and deposited where Sand Mountain now rests.
Enveloped by higher mountain ridges, Sand Mountain continues to collect sand, resulting in a 600-foot-high dune sprouting above the Nevada desert. Recreational enthusiasts, though, couldn’t be more happy about the process.
It takes about 45 minutes to hike from the base to the summit. If you’re lucky enough to befriend someone with an offroad vehicle, the “Dune Buggy Express” takes less than a minute.
When nobody else is around, it’s a surreal environment. The faint white outline of the Sierra can be seen in the distance, and a salt flat displaying various colors is contrasted against a brown expanse.
The incessant wind often causes a humming sound, which is the reason why Sand Mountain has earned the nickname “Singing Mountain.” If you’re surrounded by offroad vehicles and the party-type atmosphere that is prevalent during fall and spring, there is only the buzz of four-wheelers, motorcycles and dune buggies.
On holiday weekends, several thousand people visit the area. Tents, trailers and campers dot the landscape, and serenity isn’t a theme. But during the week, there might be only be a handful of people, and chances are you’ll be the only one holding a snowboard.
Experiencing a different culture than our own in Lake Tahoe isn’t such a bad thing. Desert folk are just as into their activities as we are about skiing and snowboarding. Michael Decker, owner of the Dent Doctor auto-body shop in Reno, has invested more than $100,000 into his high-performance, offroad vehicle that’s designed to tear it up on Sand Mountain.
“The throttle therapy is amazing when you are out here driving, because you’re pretty focused,” Decker said. “It’s like a powder day on a snowboard. Not much else is entering your mind. That’s what throttle therapy is all about – enjoying life.”