The Imperial Sand Dunes, also dubbed “Sand Toy Capital of the World,” are the largest off-road recreational area for sand dunes in the entire United States.
This dune system stretches 40 miles long by 5 miles wide of nothing but golden sand. The dunes can reach heights of 300ft above the desert floor. It’s quite a sight to see.
And the weirdest part of it all? They’re smack-dab in the middle of the rocky desert! The sand dunes are thought to have originated from the beach sands of ancient lake called ‘Lake Cahuilla,’ which was a body of water created by episodic diversions of the Colorado River into the Imperial Valley (instead of into the Gulf of California). The Imperial Dunes have formed primarily as a result of opposing seasonal winds. Winter winds come from the northwest, but often reverse to the southeast in summer. The stronger winter winds are slowly pushing the dune system southeastward, about a foot per year. This article goes more into detail on that theory.
We stayed off of American Girl Mine Rd at first but shortly after settling in, we met some fellow dune-ers that have been riding the dunes for 35 years! So, we moved on over to Sidewinder Rd (a whopping 5 miles away) near their spot because it was literally right next to the dunes. Again, we were about 5 miles away & trust me, it makes a difference in a RZR.
We were thrilled to have our very own tour guides showing us around these notorious dunes!! 😀 They are VERY intimidating if you’ve never done anything like this before (& we hadn’t). So, we are thanking the man upstairs for our new friends!
We primarily hit a bunch of the dunes referred to as the “Gordon Wells Sand Dunes”. And let me tell you what! It was some intense stuff! The berms were super high and stretched what seemed like forever. We were practically horizontal to the ground at times! Blake followed what our friends did and it almost seemed effortless. When when he went to try it by himself… forget about it!!!! It takes years to learn this sport and to “learn the dunes.”
However, in my rookie opinion I do believe the Gordon Wells Sand Dunes are a bit more difficult than the Glamis Sand Dunes. To me, Glamis seems like the place to be for beginners and people still learning the sport. We could do the Glamis Dunes with little difficulty compared to the dunes we did with our group of friends who had been riding since they were tots.
Their skill level was unbelievable. We are sooooo grateful we met them while we are here. They taught us some valuable things that we just couldn’t learn on our own. The interwebs has very little on how to properly ‘dune.’ 😛 What do they say? Everything happens for a reason, right?
Some interesting facts & stories we’ve heard since arriving:
– Several big movies have been filmed in the dunes including Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Jarhead and Scorpion King.
– Remnants of the plank road that first crossed the tricky terrain in 1915 are still here (we saw these). They were made from lumber spiked to wooden crosspieces that “floated” on the shifting sands, the original was improved the next year and used until 1926. The plank road remnant is at the west end of Grays Well Road, south of Interstate 8.
– Some of the dunes in the middle are REALLY old… between 15,000 – 18,000 years old!!
– Some say there is an entire convoy of military vehicles buried in the sand. Others say there are even ships buried somewhere out there (not too sure I believe that one).
– The famous Flag Pole in Glamis is placed on a large metal box and has become the place to be for Veteran’s Day in the dunes. The box is one of 4 or 5 that were supposedly dropped in the dunes and used for target practice for the military. The flag pole was placed around 2000 by an off-road group and now has a solar light up top to keep it lit up at night.
– There are stories that Patton trained his men in these dunes to prepare them for the harsh desert conditions that would be faced when fighting the German Army in North Africa.
We learned most of those from the locals – they have all the good stories.
So, if you’re ever in this part of the country make sure you visit the sea of sand AND if you’re lucky enough to talk a local into give you a ride, pick a destination to go see! Or better yet… bring your own dune buggy & go adventure! 😀