(BGM: "Tea In The Sahara" by The Police)
|Wind ripples in the Tottori Dunes. (c) 2014 Genkilee, Gen. All Rights Reserved.|
But with all this green, the very (and I mean very) last thing you'd ever expect to see out here is a huge series of rolling sand dunes. The fact that these strange landforms even exist in Japan is the key to their massive appeal as a natural phenomenon. And for this exact reason, the Sand Dunes of Tottori (鳥取砂丘, Tottori Sakyu) have been on my bucket list since I was a kid. I was overjoyed to hear Hubby's interest in checking them out!
|Tottori Sand Dunes: a HOT travel destination!|
Heat stroke was something I knew how to fight, but for walking on the equivalent of molten tar, I needed some expert advice. I asked my worldly-wise Grandparents, who spent years on the desert sands of northern Africa, just what to wear for hot sand dunes. "Comfortable shoes," was all Grandpa said, and a horrifying image of blistery, charred stumps for ankles flashed across my mind. Could I handle this?
Emerging from our economy hotel in Tottori City, my husband and I were delighted to feel the cool morning breeze blowing in from the remnants of Nakri as it finished its course over the Japan Sea. Good fortune was ours! "You'll be fine," the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed hotel attendant chirped. "It's a cloudy day today and you're smart to go to the Dunes early. You'll have fun!" Immediately I switched into my Teva sandals, mentally begging my feet to forgive any abuse they were about to incur. But happy in their Tevas, my feet were indeed comfortable! (In a way, I took Grandpere's advice).
We drove ten minutes north out of downtown, over terrain that reminded Hubby of the Han River in Seoul. Entering a small forested area of unidentifiable structures covered in kudzu, we turned a corner and could see a patch of grayish-ochre sand littered with long expanses of crabgrass.
We stepped out of the car and were about to grab our walking sticks when this sweating, heaving man in his late fifties wearing nothing but white underwear came stumbling out from the bushes, obviously over-heated and heading straight for his car's air conditioner. Bright red skin radioactive and glowing, he sweat so hard he couldn't see us well as my husband stopped him for some directions. How long had he been out there? It wasn't even sunny!
|Access to the western dunes via a free parking lot.|
|The chair lifts connecting the visitor's center to the main dunes.|
|Funds go towards preserving the dunes, which are shrinking from the effects of crabgrass and seawall construction.|
|The sign begs visitors to drink plenty of water and avoid heat exhaustion.|
|Windblown and weary in Japan's largest sandbox!|
|A camel utterly ruining my shot of some beautiful crabgrass. What nerve! 邪魔だ!|
|Almost at the top! (c) 2014 Genkilee, Gen. All Rights Reserved.|
The Tottori dunes aren't a desert at all; the area receives far too much precipitation to qualify. But these sands still possess the magical ability to disorient and hypnotize, curving and bronzed like sun-kissed skin, the stuff of fantasies. Lost in a flight of fancy, I decided to strap my Tevas to my bag and simply enjoy the rest of this exotic journey barefoot. It was still only 28 degrees Celsius and I had yet to break into a sweat. The weightless sand enveloped my toes in pillowy comfort like the skilled hands of a professional masseuse. What a sensual delight!
|The sand of the Tottori Dunes is a mix of volcanic ash from Mt. Daisen and sediment deposits from the Sendai River, powdered fine by Sea of Japan winds. These dunes took over 100,000 years to form!|
|"Sea, Sand & Sun" (c) 2014 Genkilee, Gen. All Rights Reserved.|
|God's Fingerprints (c) 2014 Genkilee, Gen. All Rights Reserved.|
|"Dune Dude" (c) 2014 Genkilee, Gen. All Rights Reserved.|
|Evil, wicked, naughty crabgrass...|
|The sands will cover any traces that I was here. (c) 2014 Genkilee, Gen. All Rights Reserved.|
|Thank you, Tottori Sakyu. We'll be back soon!|
|A very welcome way to cool down from a hot day at the dunes.|
|梨ソフトクリーム (nashi sofuto kureemu). Well worth the 300 yen!|
Open Hours: Open 365 days a year, 24/7.
Holidays: Open every day of the year.
Parking: Free parking exists around the far ends of the dunes, but to be close to the vending machines, bathrooms and other facilities, it's worth paying 500 yen near the Visitor's Center.
Access By City Bus and Taxi: Comprehensible directions can be found here.
Access By Car:
(Out of Kyoto): Follow Route 27 to get on The San'in Road (Route 9). Follow it all the way up to the Tottori Dunes. Too convenient! (Toll fees may apply).
(Out of Hiroshima): There are brand-spanking-new toll-free roads from Onomichi and Shobara all the way up to Izumo, Shimane. From there, it's another couple of hours along Route 9 to the Dunes. (Toll fees apply along Route 9).
Admission Fee: No fee to access the dunes.
Available Facilities: Public restrooms (Western and J-style), gift shops (along the main strip, specializing in pear-flavored and camel-shaped goods), chikuwa (fish cake) shop, ice cream vendors, drink machines (in front of the visitors center and elsewhere), chair lift (ideal for those with walking issues), rubber boot rentals, sandboarding rentals, paragliding lessons, camel rides, horse and cart rides.
Other Points of Interest in the Area: The Suna-No-Bijitsukan sand museum (specializing in internationally-themed sand sculptures by the nation's most talented sand artists, located about a 10-minute walk up the hill from the main dune access), rakkyo (shallot) fields, nashi (Asian pear) orchards, cafes, a few restaurants and a campground. The Tottori Sand Dunes are part of the San'in Geopark, a stretch of coastline that holds many cultural and geological points of interest. Follow the coastline down Geopark Road towards Uradome Kaigan to see some spectacular beaches and seascapes!
(For Fun) Bring your own sled! We totally regret not bringing one!
(For Safety & Comfort) Even on a hazy day, wear a hat and breathable clothes in pale colors that reflect light. (Everyone I saw wearing black looked exhausted and miserable). Put on sunscreen, even if it's cloudy out. Reflected sunlight from the sands can easily burn skin. Wear shoes (or boots) and socks that completely cover your feet if attempting to climb the dunes in anything hotter than 31 degrees Celsius. One hotel staff worker described the hot sands as "molten lava." (Eek!) Like other touristy spots in Japan, you'll see some local girls actually coming to these places in high heels. Use common sense. The tops of the dunes are easier to walk on than their bases. If traveling to the dunes in summer, avoid the hottest times of the day (between 12 noon and 4pm), especially if bringing kids. (They're lower to the ground and will get more heat exposure than you, so have mercy). Bring lots of water to drink. The tides and undercurrent are very strong out there so try to resist the urge to swim. (Two tourists drowned to death while swimming near the dunes a few years back).
(For Unique Photos) For wind ripples and other sand designs, try hitting the dunes first thing in the morning (before 10am), while the sand is still free of footprints! Most tourists stick to the one big dune, but it's well worth your time to wander away from the crowd and explore the dunes from original perspectives. The dunes shift and change all the time, so your shots will be the only ones like that, ever. :-) You'll notice when you upload your digital pics that they won't look the same as you remember them. Much as the sea changes color with daylight, the same thing happens to sand. I use photo apps to bring out what I want. There are many options available.
(For Smartphone Care) Smart photographers have plastic bag covers to keep the sand out of their expensive gear. We don't have any of that. But we can say that if sand enters your phone it could destroy it, so be sure to keep it in a clean place while hiking (your feet will kick up the sand), and vacuum your phone ports, speaker holes and buttons really good when you get the chance. Your phone will thank you!
(Pour mes Grands Parents: Vous me manquez tous les deux et je vous aime beaucoup!)
|A Pair of Footprints (c) 2014 Genkilee, Gen. All Rights Reserved.|