The Imperial Sand Dunes, 20 miles west of Yuma, AZ, is one of the largest and most popular off-road vehicle recreation areas in the United States. The dunes stretch roughly north to south for 40 miles. The southern-most dunes are in Sonora, Mexico. In some places, they are five to six miles wide. And they attract more than a million annual visitors, most of whom bring their sand buggies and ATV’s to float on the surface of the dunes at high speed. Great fun!
Movie producers have been making films here since before the era of talkies. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi was filmed on the Imperial Dunes.
From the Osborne Overlook on Highway 78 visitors can view both the protected natural area as well as the recreational vehicle area. The Plank Road, an historical site is visible from Interstate 8 near Winterhaven, CA off Grey’s Well Road.
Vehicle camping is permitted in all areas open to vehicle use, with sites available on a first-come, first-served basis. The main camping areas are Buttercup, Midway and Gray’s Well campgrounds along Gray’s Well Road south of Interstate 8 and Gecko and Roadrunner campgrounds along Gecko Road south of Highway 78. All offer parking pads, toilets and trash facilities.
Use permits are required within the recreational area for “primary vehicles” – the street-legal vehicle that gets you there. Permits are available for the season or for a seven-day period. Season permits run from October 1 through September 30 of the next year.
Let’s say you would like to experience the thrill of racing across these dunes, but you don’t have a sand buggy or ATV. No problemo. Just rent them. Jet Rent looks like a good bet. They have the largest ATV rental fleet in the area and are open year-round 24/7. 928-314-4345.
Beware! Accidents on the Dunes are usually associated with alcohol. Surprise, surprise! You may be stone cold sober. But the other guy … ???
Also too. These dunes are dry. Very dry. They typically receive less than 2″ of rain annually. Humidity can be less than 10%. Moreover, in the summer they are HOT. Temperatures on the sand surface are … well … off the charts. Bring and consume copious amounts of water. The penalty for not doing so is severe.