Landlocked and located far from existing coastlines, some sandhills are the remains of dune fields and beaches once amassed along the shores of ancient oceans; others are the windblown products of erosion. Like present-day coastal dunes, sandhills are eolian landforms, shaped by winds acting on plentiful supplies of sand. Their various locations— southwest from the Texas Panhandle; miles inland from the Carolina and Georgia coasts; in the heartland of Nebraska—are a geological timepiece, marking these notably dry regions as former marine and riverine habitats. The Carolina Sandhills, for instance, indicate that the Atlantic Ocean was once much higher than today, its waves anciently crashing near the present-day Piedmont fall line. The extensive 24,000square-mile sandhill region of Nebraska has a more complex history: blown sand from ancient river deposits eroded from the sandstones of the Rocky Mountains, which were, in turn, the former seabed of an ancient inland sea that vanished as the North American continent and mountains were uplifted. In time the sandstone of the newly formed mountains began to erode; the resulting sand (along with silt and gravel) was transported across the plains by braided rivers, blanketing the plains east of the mountains. Then, over the last several million years, new rivers dissected the mass of sand, carrying some away, and exposing som to wind. Through differential wind-generated erosion, the finest particles were blown eastward to form loess deposits in Iowa; the heavier sand-sized particles remained behind and were moved only a short distance, forming the Nebraska Sandhills. Vast and undulating, ranging up to six hundred feet high, sandhills are majestic, serene, and elemental places. For many of the Plains Indians, they were sacred, the final home for departed spirits. The term has been applied to towns (Sandhill, Texas); entertainment facilities (Sandhills Drive-In Theater, Box Butte, Nebraska); a magnificent bird (the sandhill crane); and historically, to inhabitants of the pinelands of South Carolina and Georgia, who were known as sand-hillers.

Emily Hiestand