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May 2009 cover image eastern screech-owl

Park Pick: Sand Surfer

Ride the dunes at Monahans Sandhills.
By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Some folks jog. Others play tennis, swim laps or practice yoga. As for Tom Rodman, an Odessa attorney, he rides the dunes at Monahans Sandhills State Park in West Texas. "Sand surfing is wonderful exercise," enthuses Rodman, who at 78 may be the world’s oldest sand-rider. "It’s very aerobic when you climb up the hills. Low impact, too, because of the sand. I also find the sport challenging. Of course, it’s challenging just to stay upright!"

Once a week or so, Rodman hits the slopes with his laminated board, a pro model that includes foot straps for optimal steering and control. His advice to newbies: "Lean forward and stay low. Keep your weight forward. Otherwise, if you go too fast and get scared, you’re going to fall back." Rodman also waxes his board and never goes barefoot (shoes and socks a must, he says).

Want to sand surf, too? Give it a try at Monahans Sandhills, where you can rent sand disks for a mere buck an hour and boards for $2. Slopes range from gentle grades to steep inclines that reach 60 feet or higher. The park’s 3,840 acres of dunes — which peak at 70 feet high — lie within a massive dune field that stretches some 200 miles from south of Monahans and north into New Mexico.

Though most visitors come to check out the dunes, the park offers other activities, too. For instance, horses are welcome in the 600-acre equestrian day-use area (hitching posts and water available). Campers can book a site with water, electricity and a shade shelter. Numerous bird species, including pyrrhuloxias, western meadowlarks, black-throated sparrows, Harris’s hawks and curve-billed thrashers abound in the park. In early morning and late evening, watch for coyotes, javelina and mule deer. Also, note the park’s native stands of Harvard shin oak, which reach only 3 to 4 feet high.

Inside the Dunagan Visitor Center, interactive exhibits tell about the area’s oil production, native flora and fauna, and the constantly changing dunes. "They’re spectacular when the sun’s setting, and the wind’s blowing, and you’re walking toward the sun," Rodman says. "The sunlight reflecting off the sand looks like a silver river running over the dunes."

To reach Monahans Sandhills State Park, travel I-20 and take Exit 86 to Park Road 41. For more information, call 432-943-2092 or visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/monahanssandhills.

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