The Infamous Sand Dunes of Glamis
25 miles outside the small town of Brawley, near the border of Arizona and Mexico’s Baja California lay the infamous Glamis Sand Dunes. With over 118,000 acres of land, they’re the largest mass of sand dunes in California. Just over 50% are federally protected, but on a holiday weekend, these dunes can attract up 150,000 people.
For years, I’d been hearing my friends talk about this amazing place, where they could take their ATV’s, go riding at all hours of the day and night, camp, and ride some more. Pictures and videos of these trips only confirmed what I was missing, so way back in 1998, a friend of mine had an extra ATV and asked me to come along on a trip. And let me tell you, we’ve come a long way from those primitive days of bikes and camping!
Upon arriving at the Dunes, whether you have a 4×4 will determine where you set up camp. For my first trip, most of the vehicles traveling with us were 2wd, so we set up camp in the Flats area or somewhere close where the sand is very compact and 2wd’s won’t get stuck!
Off the main entrance of the Flats is “Vendors Row.” Booths full of apparel, replacement parts, mechanics, and pretty much anything you need out in the Dunes line these sandy streets. On a long weekend there are almost three full rows of folks hawking their wares. Trucks, Sand Rails, ATV’s, dirt bikes and quads will cruise up and down these paths, and just seeing all the people and vehicles is super cool. But the real center of Glamis is Oldsmobile Hill.
Oldsmobile Hill is the Mecca of all desert gathering spots. Everyone makes at least one appearance here—and why wouldn’t you? This is where droves of weekenders come to see bikes, custom sand rails, and crazy 4WD contraptions. Just being on Oldsmobile Hill is an event in itself.
On a long holiday weekend, it’s not uncommon to see a couple thousand people and 500 ATVs and/or vehicles in this spot alone. Since there a few knuckleheads in any bunch, Sheriffs from neighboring counties are on hand to make sure nobody gets too crazy. And this is during the day. The crowd is so big, that rows of people and machinery are lined up like street blocks. And from a high vantage point on the “Hill”, it actually looks like a “neighborhood track.”
Taking it all in upon arrival, can take a few moments. The shear sights and sounds of ATV’s, Sand Rails, bikes, buggies and anything else you can imagine heading up the hill or just being on display, is quite a spectacle. You just pick a spot and soak it all in.
The first time you think of tackling the “Hill”, it’s mind over matter. At its base, you’re really just in awe, and it’s easy to see why many people don’t even try to attempt it. My first time, I took a few minutes to gather my nerve. Once you’ve decided to go for it, the launching point leads you slightly downward, allowing you to gather some speed and much-needed adrenaline. My friend’s advice? “Make sure you’re up off the pegs and positioned back, so the bike doesn’t buck you off.” I was like, “buck me off…”
As you initiate the climb, you should be in second or third gear. From the start, there are deep-rutted whoops which will kick the bike around, just as my buddy said, but as you progress upward, the terrain becomes a bit smoother.
Once you’re finished fighting the whoops, you should be leaning forward over the tank, as the 25-degree angle will quickly turn toward 40 as you ascend. For me, climbing fast, with only the sky visible through my goggles, this “white knuckle” moment was surreal. I just hung on waiting for the crest of the dune so I’d know I’d reached the top. Here’s the photo from one our most recent climbs to the top of Oldsmobile Hill.
I know—insert Terminator voice here—I’ll be back. If you can possibly make it out to Glamis, do it. This place is what riding ATVs is all about. Head over to the forum to check out my gallery of pics!