singing sand

Sand falling from the crest of a dune can produce sounds that have haunted desert travelers for millennia. In the past, the sound was likened to the strumming of a lute, the muttering of immensely deep voices, or the crashing of waves on an invisible shore. Later, the sound was compared to cannon fire or armies in battle. Today, the loudest booming is said to sound like the passage overhead of a squadron of propeller-driven aircraft. All of these sounds are caused by an incompletely understood interaction of wind, humidity, and the geometry of individual grains when a sheet of sand with the right properties slumps from a dune’s crest. Booming sands, a type of singing sand, are relatively uncommon, but they can be heard at Sand Mountain near Fallon and Big Dune near Beatty, both in Nevada; and at the Kelso Dunes near Kelso, California. Unique barking sands can be found on the west coast of Kaua‘i, Hawai‘i. Unlike booming sands, which produce a range of low-frequency sounds, some sands produce a single tone that has been variously described as squeaking or whistling. Walking on or shifting these musical sands produces a very short, high-frequency sound. Squeaking sand can be found at many beaches, lakeshores, and riverbanks around the United States.

D. J. Waldie

The deserts that spawned religions, that drove men to rain songs, that resounded from singing sands with their twang like a monster harp, these places and things are little known or considered by modern systems of exploitation based on mining fossil fuels and fossil water.

— Charles Bowden, Killing the Hidden Waters

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