It wouldn’t be accurate to say Bruneau Dunes State Park is literally out of this world, but you can get there from here.
The park is tucked into a remote corner of Owyhee County about 20 miles southwest of I-84, and 90 minutes from the Magic Valley. In addition to the customary state park fare of picnic tables and fishing spots, Bruneau Dunes offers a public observatory and a collection of portable telescopes used to see everything from the moon’s craters to deep space.
Interpretive Specialist Bob Niemeyer says the park’s main telescope is the largest in the state. The observatory rotates 360 degrees for a peek into far away galaxies.
“Deep sky objects, faint fuzzies, spiral galaxies millions of light years away,” Niemeyer said.
It’s that stellar view that got Twin Falls’ Brizee family hooked on the park.
“It exceeded all expectations,” Jennifer Brizee said. “It’s not something you’ll find anywhere else.”
The sand dunes themselves have out-of-this-world impact. The two most prominent cover about 600 acres and include the largest single structured sand dune in North America. Its peak is 470 feet above the desert floor. The dunes have formed over the past 15,000 years as the natural basin redirected the constantly blowing wind, which in turn, deposited Snake River sand grain by grain to form the sand hills. Unlike many sand dunes, these don’t drift. Two prevailing winds keep the dunes stable, one blowing from the southeast and one from the northwest.
While the dunes offer a breathtaking sample of Snake River geology, they’re not too bad for sledding either. The park rents sleds, but kids-in-the-know say the saucer-type sleds are best for sand sliding – or a good, wax-covered piece of cardboard. “Our kids ditched those and just did cartwheels and summersaults all the way down,” Brizee said.
Motorized vehicles are not allowed on the dunes.
Dolly and Brian Higgins of Boise joined friends at the park in July and stayed in the two camping cabins available. The kids in their party enjoyed some serious sliding as well. The Higgins said the park offers a variety of activities.
“We like everything here,” Dolly Higgins said. “Looking at the sky and the desert landscape – we’ve seen antelope – bird watching. There’s just a lot to do.”
There are several miles of walking paths and an 11-mile equestrian path. Park manager Bryan Cross said that September and October are the best times of the year to visit the park as it’s not too hot and the wildlife viewing is spectacular. The park recently opened a new interpretative hiking trail and the lakes are perfect for bass and bluegill fishing. In the observatory this time of year, the winter sky activity will offer a variety of viewing options – especially when the moon is new and the sky is at its darkest.
There are about 100 campsites available – along with RV hookups, restrooms, showers and picnic areas. Some of the shelters have electric outlets and sinks.
The observatory is open on the weekends, so it’s best to check park schedules before finalizing plans. Online reservations are available.
PLANNING TO GO
Get There: From the Magic Valley, take I-84 west to the
Hammett exit and follow the signs. It is about 20 miles
south of the freeway.
To do: Fishing, swimming, sky watching, sledding,
camping, guided walks, hiking, horseback riding, wildlife
Fees: Day fees, $4. Camping fees, $10-$21.20, depending on required services.
Contact: 208-366-7919; www.idahoparks.org; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reservations: Call 1-866-634-3246 or visit www.parksandrecration.idaho.gov.