Let’s Get Sandy: Dunes

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A windy day at the beach can mean collecting sand in interesting places—your shoes, your ears and in your, ahem, crevices. But in locations where the wind doesn’t stop, all that swirling sand tends to collect in another interesting place—sand dunes.

Most of these sandy hills grow only a few meters high; occasionally, however, some dunes can stretch hundreds of miles long and rise thousands of feet upwards. Others can even move, sometimes the length of a football field each year. Here are three of the most mind-blowing dunes out there:

The Skyscraper
At 3,860 feet, Cerro Blanco in Peru is the world’s tallest dune, at more than three times the height of the Empire State Building. A hike to the top of this behemoth can take three calf-muscle killing hours. And on the off-chance you’re not sick of the sand by then, sandboarding tours are held on the smaller dunes near the summit. Remember, you have to get down somehow.

The Traveling Dune
The Great Dune of Pilat, Europe’s tallest sand dune at 377 feet, doesn’t like to stay put. Located along the coast of the Bordeaux region of France, each year the dune is pushed about 16 feet off the beach into the forest behind it by high onshore winds. Over time, this highly mobile sand monster has swallowed all types of unlucky infrastructure on its slow trek inland—roads, houses and even sections of the Atlantic Wall.

The Dunes of Outer Space
Earth doesn’t have a monopoly on sand dunes. Venus, the second planet from the sun, and Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, were recently discovered to have large fields of dunes as well. Mars is also famous for its sweeping, wind-whipped dunes. In the winter, surface temperatures drop to negative 243 degrees Fahrenheit at the poles, covering the dunes with a layer of condensed carbon dioxide fog—perfect for those Martian dance parties.