The Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area is the place to be if you want to ride in one of the biggest sandboxes you can find in America. Located in the southeast corner of California, Glamis, as it’s referred to locally, features sand dunes that stretch for more than 40 miles in length in a band that averages five miles in width. It’s infamous in SoCal culture for being a popular host to off-road-riding desert rats of every sort, from mild family getaways to wild, all-night partying. There’s simply no other place quite like it.
Recently, we sent contributor John Burns to investigate what it’s like to brave the 300-foot dunes and the riding culture that inhabits this unique area. We’ll be posting his story next week, but in the meantime, here are the top 10 tips he learned during his experience he described as “Like nothing else I’ve ever done on a motorcycle.” –Kevin Duke, Editor-in-Chief
Buy your camping permit before you get there. It’s $50 at the ranger station but much cheaper in Brawley or online. Visit the blm website.
Get a sandpaddle rear tire on Craigslist or someplace. A sand front is nice too but not as critical.
Don’t stop on an uphill you idiot! To get started anytime, here is the $600 Jimmy Lewis tip: Treat the clutch as an on/off switch. Dump it and roll on and off the throttle to gain traction. And if you’re still digging a hole, stop. Get off your bike and walk it out of there. (Jimmy also says the guy on the XR400 customarily brings the weed. I don’t know what that means.)
You can get a flag and a mount at “Tent City,” Glamis’ on-site vendor row, for about $10. You must have one. Smiley faces are way cheaper than jolly rogers and Mexican flags. And don’t be thinking you’re going to ride around after dark without a head or taillight. Bicycle ones work in a pinch. Rangers have itchy ticket fingers.
Riding in sand is way cleaner than riding in dirt, and the heat is dry so you actually stay relatively unfunky. There are no sinks in the latrines, though. Baby wipes are the hot setup.
Winter days are awesome and in the 80s, but chilly and into the 40s at night. Bring warm clothes. Wine instead of beer around the campfire is no longer frowned upon. Alternatively, there’s an actual bar and restaurant where you can hang out like this homeless person.
The little mom and pop grocery stores in towns like Ramona and Brawley often serve amazing tacos.
There’s other stuff to see around here, including the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge. Look at birds. Catch a three-pound tilapia.
[Photo by USFWS Pacific Southwest Region (Flickr)]
There’s no shame in riding an ATV or side-by-side, in fact it’s a great way to get the whole crew out into the dunes for the first time, or just yourself if you don’t enjoy falling off motorcycles. Rent one at Glamis, on vendor row.
Just do it. Everybody there seems very experienced and ready and willing to help out a rookie with tools, advice, or a push out of the sand if you get stuck. I drove out in a Jaguar XJ-6, no worries.