By Jon Crowley
The Imperial Sand Dunes in Southern California s are the largest sand dunes open to off-highway vehicle use in the United States. The dunes begin 10 miles southeast of Niland and stretch all the way into Mexico, over 40 miles away. The Dunes vary in width from about a quarter mile at the top end of the Mammoth Wash area, to about 5 miles in width below Highway 78. The Algodones Sand Dune system covers 1,000 square miles, making it one of the largest dune complexes in North America. There are over 150,000 acres designated as open or having limited use and about 32,000 acres are designated Wilderness (North Algodones Dunes Wilderness Area) and closed to OHVs (mostly north of Hwy. 78 near Glamis).
Glamis is considered the northern part of the OHV area at the Imperial Sand Dunes and attracts the most visitors. The south part, near Interstate-8 and the US/Mexico border include Gordon’s Well, Buttercup and Ogilby.
If you are up in Glamis and are looking for a destination, making the run to the south dunes is a must. The easiest way to get there is down the “Sand Highway” that runs from the end of Gecko Road (at the Roadrunner camping area) down to Gordon’s Well.
On a recent trip, we camped along Gecko Road so we weren’t far from the Sand Highway at the end of Gecko Road.
After breakfast we ventured over Interstate 8 (legal for OHVs) to check out the US/Mexico border and the border fence.
While near the border fence, you can also take some time to check out the dunes in this area – Buttercup Dunes.
The border fence through the Imperial Sand Dunes was completed in 2009. Border Patrol officials say private contractors were initially stumped when asked to design a 13-mile fence for the shifting sands. The answer was what the agency calls a “floating fence.”
The $6 million-a-mile barrier completed in December consists of 16-foot-tall steel tubes filled with concrete and spaced tightly together. Triangular mounts aren’t bolted to the ground, allowing them to rock back and forth with the wind. Small panels are chained together, twisting in different directions. Each panel can be readjusted as shifting sand build up along the fence with a large excavator that lifts panels out of the sand and places them back on top of the dunes.
Be prepared with extra fuel if you venture farther than Duner’s Diner. We had one vehicle run out on the way back right before reaching Road Runner.
If you want to make a day of it, be sure to check out the Buttercup Dunes and also some of the dunes southeast of Road Runner.
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