Bruneau Dunes State Park offers more than meets the eye

A family climbs a sand dune at Bruneau Dunes State Park, Idaho, June 7, 2012. The state park includes desert, dune, prairie, lake and marsh habitat. Some popular activities include fishing, bird watching, camping, hiking, swimming and viewing the stars at one of only two public observatories in Idaho. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Heather Hayward)

A family climbs a sand dune at Bruneau Dunes State Park, Idaho, June 7, 2012. The state park includes desert, dune, prairie, lake and marsh habitat. Some popular activities include fishing, bird watching, camping, hiking, swimming and viewing the stars at one of only two public observatories in Idaho. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Heather Hayward)

The Lowe family fishes off a dock at Bruneau Dunes State Park, Idaho, June 7, 2012. The family, from Kuna, Idaho, went to the park for a family fun day, starting with climbing the dunes followed by fishing and a picnic. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Heather Hayward)

The Lowe family fishes off a dock at Bruneau Dunes State Park, Idaho, June 7, 2012. The family, from Kuna, Idaho, went to the park for a family fun day, starting with climbing the dunes followed by fishing and a picnic. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Heather Hayward)

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- This is part one of a four-part series highlighting activities in the local area -

Nestled in the high desert of southern Idaho lies what is commonly known as "Idaho's Sahara" -- Bruneau Dunes State Park. The park boasts features such as a 470-foot sand dune, two lakes and an observatory. Nine miles from the base, the park offers family-friendly, safe and easily accessible ways for servicemembers to spend their time.

"We are really close to the base, so it's a great opportunity for members of the base to come out and enjoy the park," said Steve Russell, assistant park manager.

Leadership for the base outdoor adventure program is no stranger to what the park has to offer as well.

"It's a great place for people just getting into exploring because it has a lot to offer and is easily accessible," said Josh Brown, assistant director outdoor adventure program.

Established in 1968, the 4,800 acre grounds provide educational opportunities as well as outdoors activities. The observatory, for example, boasts a 25-inch telescope -- one of the largest public accessible telescopes in the Northwestern United States.

"Anyone interested in the sciences will have a great time here with the education center and the observatory," exclaimed Mary Bybee, seasonal interpretive aid for the park.

For many people the pinnacle of their visit is the 470-foot sand dune, the tallest single-structured dune in North America.

"My favorite attraction is the big dune itself," said Russell. "It's a great place to hike and get a good workout while enjoying the outdoors."

Standing far above the desert floor, the dune possesses qualities even more unique than initially meets the eye.

"From a scientific perspective this is an interesting dune because it's a very tall reversing dune," explained Dr. Stephen Scheidt, Geologist with the Smithsonian Institution. I'm actually going to build a three-dimensional model of the dune from photographs, in support of Smithsonian research determining the shape and form of the dune to see how much it might be like other dune formations on other planets like Mars."

The park requires a minimal entrance fee and is open year-round. For more information, contact the visitor center at (208) 366-7919.