It’s never the same park twice. With an ever-shifting landscape that is always at the mercy of the West Texas winds, Monahans Sandhills State Park transforms itself almost daily. And that’s just the beginning of why one of the most unique geological areas of Texas is worth a visit.
Monahans is a remarkable geographic formation dating back tens of thousands of years. Erosion from as far away as the Rocky Mountains was blown south and east, eventually trapped by higher elevations surrounding the Permian Basin. It’s really only a small fraction (although, at nearly 4,000 acres, small is relative) of a much larger sand dune field that stretches across state lines, yet it is totally unique within Texas.
Indigenous people lived — and thrived — on this land as far back as 12,000 years all the way up until the late 1800s. That’s when the town of Monahans was created as a water stop for steam engines on the Texas and Pacific Railway. Not long after, the area’s oil boom began. The park was created in 1957 to preserve this stunning landscape and its unique and diverse ecosystem.
A Park for Everyone
Monahans is a park that delivers no matter why you venture here. With dunes that can rise as high as 70-plus ft., it’s an excellent hiking destination. Trekking up hill after hill of soft sand that your shoes sink into can also make it a challenging one. But its beauty and serenity are your reward. Many of the best spots in the park are more than a mile off the highway, offering a peaceful, wide-open view to soak in.
Due to its ever-changing nature, the park does not have marked trails. And with hills that often look alike, it can be easy to lose your way, so take plenty of water when heading out. On the flip side, exploring almost anywhere in the park offers the chance to encounter myriad plant and wildlife species that thrive in this tough environment. One of the largest oak forests in the world is found here. Shin oaks cover stabilized dunes (those that don’t change with the winds) across the park, yet only grow 3-4 ft. tall at maturity. Explorations of active dunes can reveal all kinds of tracks, from jackrabbits to lizards to snakes; it’s even exciting to explore the unique characteristics of insect tracks.
Another unique feature of the park is the 800-acre horseback riding section. The brush is thicker in this area, but you’ll love exploring on horseback. The park even has a dedicated trailer parking area.
Monahans is a great place to camp out under the stars. There are 26 campsites in the park, each with water and electricity. And come sunrise, the windswept dunes may even look slightly different than the afternoon before, which allows eagle-eyed campers the opportunity to spot the changes.
But of course, one of the most popular draws at Monahans is the sandboarding. Kids of all ages love surfing, sliding or tumbling down the sandhills, hiking back up and doing it all over again. You can bring your own board or rent sand discs at the park headquarters. There aren’t a lot of slopes in Texas, but the hills at Monahans just may be the next best thing.
Monahans Sandhills State Park truly is unlike any other destination in Texas. Its landscape may seem uninviting from the outside, but its beauty, history and diversity of life, along with all the activities and excitement you can handle once you’re here, make it a Texas gem you don’t want to miss. So come see for yourself and surf the dunes at Monahans.