MONAHANS SAND HILLS STATE PARK
Monahans Sandhills State Park consists of 3840 acres of sand dunes, some up to 70 feet high, in Ward and Winkler Counties, about a half-hour's drive west of Odessa. A majority of the land was leased in 1956 by the state from a private foundation (Sealy-Smith Foundation) until 2056 and was opened in 1957. The Williams family of Monahans, Texas, also leased to the state approximately 900 acres for the park.
More than 400 years ago, Spanish explorers were the first Europeans to report the vast hills of sand. Man was present in this area as far back as 12,000 years ago. Later, various Indian tribes used the area for temporary campgrounds and a meeting place, finding game, abundant fresh water beneath the sands, acorns, and mesquite beans available for grinding into paste with their stone tools. The area remained a favorable environment for Indians until the 1880s, when the Texas and Pacific Railroad selected Monahans as a water stop between the Pecos River and the town of Big Spring. In the late 1920s, oil production began in the area, now commonly known as the Permian Basin, and today Monahans is a marketing center for more than 800 square miles of oil and cattle country.
The park is only a small portion of a dune field that extends about 200 miles from south of Monahans westward and north into New Mexico. Most of these dunes are stabilized by vegetation, but the park is one area where many dunes are still active. Active dunes grow and change shape in response to seasonal, prevailing winds, so the visitor may experience a dynamic landscape.
Fresh water occurs at shallow depths within the dunefield and sometimes stands in shallow ponds in low areas between dunes. A quiet vigil near such ponds at dusk or dawn is the best way to observe wildlife such as mule deer, gray fox, coyote, bobcat, opossum, wild hog, porcupine, skunk, ground squirrel, jack rabbit, and cottontail.
Shinoak (Quercus havardii), one of the plants which stabilize the dunes, is not a stunted or dwarfed form of a larger tree but a fully mature plant which bears an abundance of large acorns and usually stands less than four feet tall.