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Shifting Sands of Monahans

Written by Mike Cox.

Known for its sand hills, this West Texas town offfers desert surprises. (Photo by J. Griffis Smith)

When a friend told me that the largest oak forest in North America covers some 40,000 acres near Monahans, it sounded like a setup. Yeah, right.

The next time I traveled to that part of Texas on business, I left a day open on my calendar for a little pleasure—a visit to Monahans and environs, with particular emphasis on looking into the county’s supposed sprawling forest.

Not many people know it, but the region does indeed have the United States’ largest concentration of a species called the Havard oak. But don’t go envisioning a primordial Hansel-and-Gretel-like forest in far West Texas only occasionally penetrated by shafts of sunshine.

Unlikely as it may seem, given all the sand around Monahans, it even has a good fishing hole called Perch Pond. (Photo by J. Griffis Smith)

The tallest Havard oak makes it to only four feet, but even though short, it can live up to 300 years. To survive in the arid landscape of this part of Texas, it sinks its roots as deep as 70 to 90 feet in the silica dunes that give Monahans Sandhills State Park its name.

Though most visitors come to the 3,840-acre state park to play on the Sahara-like sand dunes rising as high as 70 feet, the Havard oak “forest” is readily accessible from the two-mile, paved roadway winding through the park. Though too small for climbing, swings, or tree houses, these little-known trees play a vital part in the park’s ecosystem, adding stability to the sand dunes that attract thousands of visitors annually.

The park’s interesting Dunagan Visitor Center has more information on Havard oaks and other natural features and cultural aspects that make this spot special, but what really sets the park apart is the fun you can have on sand. For $1 an hour, you can rent a person-sized plastic sand disc and some wax to make your downhill slide even faster. Though I didn’t try it, the sand surfers (kids and adults) I saw seemed to be having a great time, whooping as the discs hit full speed, and laughing if they became stuck in the sand.

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