by Ben Small
On the way home from an especially fun book signing in San Diego, my wife and I stopped off at the Imperial Dunes, a sea of massive sand dunes just twenty miles west of the California/Arizona line.
These dunes stretch for over fifty miles, from Sonora, Mexico well into the California interior just east of the Salton Sea. It’s a spectacular stretch of shifting yellow, reminiscent of some of the harsher areas of the Sahara. Dunes three hundred feet tall are common; they’re formidable, with bladed edges, curving crescents, and plunging cliffs off the leeward side. The sand dune scenes of the original Star Wars trilogy were shot here. One half expects R2D2 or maybe a camel to make an appearance.
There’s no fence across the border here. And until Interstate 8, there were no roads here either, unless one counts the wooden planks dropped down in the early 1900s. You may encounter illegals on ATVs or even Humvees. Maybe that’s why one sees green-striped Border Patrol vehicles everywhere.
Luckily, we didn’t see any news reports about shoot outs with drug runners in the Imperial Dunes Recreational Area until we got home. Seems it’s not an unusual occurrence, although night battles are most common.
We rented ATVs, and for old farts, did a credible job attacking these powdery monsters and laying our tracks. (Relax, tree-huggers, there were no fragile plants to trample or rip, and blowing sand soon covered our passage.) With just a little practice, I was soon ripping across wind-blown speed bumps, using my legs to absorb the pounding as I built up speed to challenge a nearly vertical three hundred foot climb.
Too little speed and one learns the hard way how to turn around a five hundred pound vehicle on a vertical face in knee deep sand. Too much speed, and you fly over the crescent and drop thirty or more feet, screaming because you know this is not good news. Ostriches do face plants; people tend to break their necks. Just a few weeks ago, the Border Patrol had to helicopter out a woman who’d tried to play ostrich.
Needless to say, my wife was a bit more cautious than me, but then, she’s got some common sense. I’m a guy; guys do stupid things, it's in our genetic structure. I thought I'd lost my stupid guy trick-bag sometime during my fifties, when my wife was re-ordering my priorities and forcing me to grow up, but put me on an ATV and Wa-Hoo, testosterone and idiocy blossom once again.
Watch out Poncho. The Cisco Kid is back.
We sandblasted our exposed body parts for an hour-and-a-half. Enough for a first taste. But we’ll be back. Fun like that doesn’t come every day. Next time we’ll plan a weekend, and maybe rent more powerful machines.
In the meantime, we’re struggling to figure out how get the sand out. Two showers later, and we’re still finding sand: in our mouths, our eyelashes, our hair ― even under our nails.
You see some strange things in places like this. Like some guy in a late model SUV, flying an enormous Italian flag, backing up a quarter mile, and then roaring forward, getting a head of steam as he charges up a three hundred foot vertical face. He gets to the top and turns around, charges down the face again. He gets out and waves the flag, then climbs back in and does it all over again.
Don’cha just love Italians?
I’m so sore, I may not move for a week. Pass the Naproxen, please.