Discover the Diversity of Sand Dunes

Whether you live near the ocean or the desert, if you live near a majestic mountain of sand, you live near a sand dune. Sand dunes are massive, wind-sculpted piles of sand that are simultaneously sturdy and fragile. They often exist in truly inhospitable landscapes, yet provide shelter for wildlife and plants. Whole ecosystems rely on sand dunes, with some species living their whole lives on a single sand dune.

Sand dunes are often protected or extremely difficult to access, so many people go their entire lives without seeing one in person. There are many different kinds of sand dunes, each type with its own special characteristics.

Types of Dunes

Sand dunes take a number of different shapes. The five main types are star, linear, parabolic, barchan, and reversing sand dunes.

Star sand dunes are tall, pyramid-shaped dunes that have curved ridges radiating from a central point. These dunes are massive and require a great deal of sand. They are the tallest type of sand dune, and relatively rare; only 8.5% of all of the world’s sand dunes are star dunes.


A star dune can be seen in the midground of Relentless, Max Foster's limited edition photography print taken in Death Valley National Park.

Linear dunes are the longest type of dune. These dunes often appear to be long, individual peaks and have distinctive ripple patterns, like the dune in the foreground of Desert Nomad.

Desert Nomad

Desert Nomad, Max Foster's limited edition photography print taken in White Sands National Park.

Parabolic dunes have a reverse U-shape, with peaks anchored by vegetation. These are frequently found in coastal deserts and on lake shores.


Joshua trees anchor a parabolic dune in Overtaken, Max Foster's limited edition photography print of sand dunes taken in the Mojave Desert of California.

Most of the world’s dunes are barchans, also called crescentic dunes. Crescentic dunes have an undulating shape and are relatively shallow. Frequently, these dunes form in inland deserts where the winds blow consistently from one direction. These dunes are not only the most common dune type on Earth but also on Mars.

Magic Carpet

Barchans stretch into the distance in Magic Carpet, Max Foster's limited edition photography print taken in Death Valley National Park.

Reversing sand dunes are fairly rare in the United States. These dunes form when the wind direction frequently reverses, hence the name. These dunes are known for the wall-like ridges that can form along their crests.

Additionally, not all dunes are made of the familiar quartz and silica sand that you typically think of. Volcanic ash forms tall black dunes in Hawaii, while the white dunes found at places like the White Sands National Park in New Mexico are made of gypsum crystals deposited during the evaporation of ancient lakes.

Barren Beauty

Barren Beauty, Max Foster's limited edition photography print taken in White Sands National Park in New Mexico.

Where Can You See Sand Dunes?

In the United States, there are several places to see sand dunes. The National Park System's newest national park, Indiana Dunes, is home to numerous dunes on the shores of Lake Michigan. Death Valley National Park is also home to many impressive dunes. Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado is home to the tallest dunes in North America.

The dunes of Death Valley include linear dunes, barchans, and star dunes. One of the best places to see them is the Mesquite Flats area of the park. The Mesquite Flats dunes are known for their dramatic shadows at sunrise and sunset. They are also a great place for stargazing.

Desert Impressions

Desert Impressions, Max Foster’s limited edition photography print of the Mesquite Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park, features the impressive, dramatic stretch and scale of Death Valley barchan dunes.

White Sands National Park is another amazing place to see dunes. Here, the dunes are made of bone-white gypsum, creating an otherworldly landscape. These powdery white dunes not only look like snow; the slippery gypsum means that they act like snow, too. Dune sledding is a popular activity within the park.

Sands of Time

White sand captured in Sands Of Time, Max Foster's limited edition photography print of sand patterns at White Sands National Park.

We hope you enjoyed this look at the diversity and beauty of sand dunes! Whether you live near or far from them, it’s never been easier to bring the majesty of sand dunes into your home as a piece of photographic fine art. With one of Max Foster’s luxury fine art prints, you can experience the wonder of the dunes every day.