A Journey of Sorts Was Completed...
After almost ten years of traveling thousands of miles to explore all of the major Western United States sand dune areas, our little group of Central Valley Californians, I like to call the DuneChasers, finally experienced Glamis for the first time. And I don’t use the word “experienced” lightly. As we found out, Glamis is not just a weekend destination but an experience of a lifetime that one won’t ever forget.
The journey started like most, if you’re a Central Valley Duner, at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area or “Pismo” as most still call it. Being only a 2 ½ hour drive for most of us, Pismo has always been our local spot. To us Comp Hill was huge and the ocean breeze was unbeatable when summer valley temps soared past 100°. Then came a trip to the Oregon Coast and we were just blown away by the “legendary” Banshee Hill! After this trip, Pismo would never be the same. Next came Dumont followed by Little Sahara in Utah and the St. Anthony dunes in Idaho. Each place became bigger and better than the previous and the question in the back of everyone’s mind lingered: Would Glamis measure up and when will we ever find out?
Glamis has been on the trip list for years but getting everyone to agree on a date has just been tough. This year would be different. We chose the spring break week between St. Patrick’s Day weekend and Easter weekend because we heard it was the least attended holiday week of the year. As luck would have it, our editor and publisher of the magazine, Terry Gluckman and Pat Brady, were already planning on going at the same time. It was really nice to have these two veterans show us how it’s done, Glamis style.
The first thing you notice about Glamis as you drive up on the dunes is how huge the area is. Being almost 45 miles long, the Algodones dune complex dominate the landscape for as far as the eye can see. Unfortunately for us, though, environmentalists have been successful at closing most of it. But that’s a whole other story so don’t get me started.
The dunes are separated into two halves. The southern dunes, which start at the Mexican Border and cross Hwy 8, have camping areas such as Buttercup, Gordon’s Well, and Olgilby. The northern dunes, which include the so-called town of Glamis, seem to be more popular with the younger crowd than its southern counterpart. The northern dunes are bordered on the north by Hwy 78, on the west side by Gecko Road and on the east side by the sand washes alongside the railroad tracks. The washes are numbered 1 to 20-something and are named for the runoff that flows under each train trestle. Camping here is circle-the-wagons style. Gecko Road has plenty of camps such as Cement Flats, Gecko, Keyhole, Roadrunner, and our chosen spot, the pads.
The pads are numbered 1 through 5 and basically consist of about 50 ft of cement slab that runs along the road every so often. This is really nice for motorhomes and heavy trailers who don’t want to get stuck. But be careful: when the winds pick up, the sand can get pretty deep on the pads, too. We camped on pad 4, the only pad with small dunes on the west side of the road that you can view from camp. This is nice if you have young kids in your group you want to keep an eye on.
After setting up camp, Terry took us on a fast-paced tour of the dunes to the east of camp. I was immediately blown away at how rideable these dunes are. Smooth transitions and bowl after bowl after bowl in a very soft, dry sand. They are just endless! We were definitely not in Pismo anymore!
The next day he took us out to the bigger dunes and China Wall. China Wall is a wide, steep and very tall dune that is popular for hill shooting, so consequently it’s pretty whooped out at the bottom. Kyle, our young gun of the group, riding a YFZ450, was having his way with the locals until Terry decided to come out of retirement and proceed to clean all their clocks with his sleeper 100 hp Banshee! Yes, Terry can dune!
The big dunes directly behind China Wall are deep and steep and are also fun to ride. On the way back, we rode by the flagpole, a monument complete with a huge American flag erected as a memorial to local legend Chuck Boardman, the ornery owner of the popular Boardmanville Bar, which is a must-see as well. This spot is also the meeting place for the annual Veterans Day gathering.
Next we explored the northern part of the dunes and saw Osbourne Overlook, a camp spot and parking lot overlooking Competition Hill—which, by the way, is a misnomer nowadays and a real disappointment. It seems the years of overuse and abuse have taken their toll on this spot and most of the competition going on has moved over to Oldsmobile Hill. The close proximity to the highway made it too easy for the local non-duning crowd to come out and rave all night long. This type of activity, which has since died down, is what gave Glamis a negative reputation in the past and what subsequently closed down the area for nighttime use. The trash and bottles that still litter the area is a grim reminder of what could happen to all off-road areas if we’re not careful.
Next, we moved on to the Glamis store and the vendor area. The Glamis store has just about everything you might have forgotten, but expect to pay for it, they’re the only game in town. There is also a bar upstairs and a little tasty pizza joint that every hungry duner will appreciate.
The vendor area is by far the biggest you will see this side of the annual Super Sand Sports Show in Southern California. My favorite is the Got Sand? booth, I just love that logo! After wolfing down the pizza, we picked up a couple of T-shirts, got back on our horses and headed back out to the dunes. This time, we headed towards Oldsmobile Hill.
Oldsmobile is the place to hang out and be seen at Glamis. And if horsepower is your thing, this is the place to show what you got. The crowds here can get insanely large on big holiday weekends but don’t let that turn you off--that is just part of the Glamis experience. As far as hill shooting goes, China Wall is steeper and taller but Olds has the crowds and is close to the Glamis Store. Both are fun and worth a look. We spent a few hours here watching hundreds of drags rip up the hill. The sounds and smells were intoxicating.
Although the popular spots I’ve mentioned were all a blast, in the end it was the endless miles of unnamed dunes and bowls that you ride to get there that were the highlight for me. In fact, this place is so big it’s probably the first place I’ve ever been to where the GPS was a necessity, if you know what I mean. We spent five days exploring these dunes and I don’t think I followed the same line twice. At the end of each ride we’d open a cold one, kick up our feet, and forget about the outside world for awhile. Glamis is the complete package; it has it all. But equally important to the sand is the camaraderie among friends and spending quality time with family that makes this lifestyle what it is. And that you can have anywhere you ride!
My first trip to Glamis was one I won’t soon forget. We had mostly good weather, no major mechanical problems, no injuries, and no drama! Hopefully this group will do it again next year. One other thing I’m grateful for is that I saved Glamis for last because I don’t think I would’ve had as much fun at Oregon, St Anthony, and Dumont if I had rode the best dunes first. And that’s all I have to say about that . . .
Yes, a personal journey of sorts was completed last month, or just maybe, perhaps, it’s just beginning . . .
You’re welcome to visit www.dunechasers.com for more photos.