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Unearthing Idaho - Bruneau Dunes state park

Dunes Lake at Bruneau Dunes state park, Idaho sits at the base of a 470-foot mountain of sand. At 4,800 acres, the park has plenty of space for hiking, camping and even horseback riding. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Connor J. Marth)

Dunes Lake at Bruneau Dunes state park, Idaho sits at the base of a 470-foot mountain of sand. At 4,800 acres, the park has plenty of space for hiking, camping and even horseback riding. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Connor J. Marth)

The largest single structure dune in North America, the Bruneau Dunes offer everything from swimming to sandboarding. There are attractions for all age groups to include camping, hiking and an observatory. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Connor J. Marth)

The largest single structure dune in North America, the Bruneau Dunes offer everything from swimming to sandboarding. There are attractions for all age groups to include camping, hiking and an observatory. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Connor J. Marth)

A Red-Eared Slider beds down to lay her eggs at the Bruneau Dunes state park, Idaho, 7 July 2015. Not native to the area, this species of turtle has been introduced to most freshwater habitats in the western hemisphere. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Connor J. Marth)

A Red-Eared Slider beds down to lay her eggs at the Bruneau Dunes state park, Idaho, 7 July 2015. Not native to the area, this species of turtle has been introduced to most freshwater habitats in the western hemisphere. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Connor J. Marth)

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- After living in Idaho for even a few days, it's easy to expect nothing more than sagebrush and distant mountains for scenery. The Bruneau Dunes state park however, is a perfect example of the unexpected beauty the Gem State has to offer.

I took a trip to the park expecting to find a bit of sand and the desolate plains I'm used to. I wasn't anticipating this sparse landscape to produce the largest single-structure sand dune in the nation. Not to mention, an oasis like the ones seen in movies and mirages.

The largest single structure dune in North America, the Bruneau Dunes offer everything from swimming to sandboarding. There are attractions for all age groups to include camping, hiking and an observatory. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Connor J. Marth) The massive pile of sand that towered in front of my feet inspired me to make it to its peak.

The trip was brutal. The sun beat down on me and the hot summer day was far from forgiving. Every time I looked up it seemed as if I had been going backwards. I thought I would never make it to the top, but those last few steps before I looked over the other side were more rewarding than I can describe.

The view was astounding. I could see for miles and nothing else in the area even resembled what I had just climbed. It was a unique feeling to be standing on such a distinct and out-of-place landmark and that's what made this area so special to me.

As I made my way across the crest of the largest dune, it was easy to feel as if I were in the movies, stranded in the sand. It felt like I was deep in the Sahara Desert. It definitely provides an authentic desert experience.

You can have some fun once at the top. The visitor's center at the entrance to the park offers sandboards for rent to carve down the dune. It's very similar to snowboarding at a slower pace.

It's not all about hiking in the heat. A pair of lakes sit at the foot of the dune.

No mirages here, this oasis is called Dunes Lake and believe me, after a long hike through the sand, you're going to want to jump in. And you can! Swimming, boating, and fishing are encouraged!

Don't expect to catch any big game fish. The lakes are mostly filled with a variety of pan fish, largemouth bass and a turtle or two. Kids should have some fun plucking bluegill from the lakes' docks though.
The largest single structure dune in North America, the Bruneau Dunes offer everything from swimming to sandboarding. There are attractions for all age groups to include camping, hiking and an observatory. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Connor J. Marth)
Campers can enjoy the fully functioning restrooms, Wi-Fi and showers offered by the park.

If sand and lakes aren't your cup of tea, you might want to check out the park's observatory. Bruneau Dunes offers tours and star gazing using their high-powered telescope.

Bruneau Dunes is a diverse and activity packed state park offering something for all age groups. At less than 30 minutes from Mountain Home Air Force Base, it's a quick way to leave behind some of the stresses of military life.

Editor's note: This is the third installment of a weekly blog highlighting attractions and activities around Idaho. Stay tuned to learn more!

Download the top photo at this link.