Imperial Sand Dunes 2/28/02-3/3/02

I have been wanting to visit the Imperial sand dunes for several years now. The equipment necessary to sucessfully negotiate the dunes on the truck would be some kind of locking differential on both ends, and a pullpal incase I get stuck. Neither of which I have. Last Sunday, I had to come to work to finish up some testing. My manager allowed me to take Friday off. The weather is too nice to stay home all day. Figure it takes about 13 hours to drive down there, I could leave Thursday night, drive half way to LA, then stop for the night, and drive the rest of the way on Friday, then see the dunes on Saturday and come back on Sunday. The next decision was whether to take my truck on the dunes. If I get stuck, it would be a hassle to get unstuck without a winch or a pull-pal. With open diff, the chances of getting stuck would be quite high especially if I go explore for any distance. The decision was made to take my Suzuki DR350S dual sport bike on the dunes. Is light enough that I can lift it out of the sand if I have to. Of course, it would be tedious to bike that kind of distance, so I would tow it behind the Sprint. The reason for the Sprint is purely economy. The Sprint gets 40mpg versus 19mpg for the truck. The back seat was removed from the Sprit so the passenger seat could be reclined all the way for sleeping. That combination would be perfect for a one person economical trip. Wednesday night, I worked till 12pm at night to repack the old trailer bearing. That $150 trailer with 8" wheels is not very reliable. It is certainly a good idea to spend some time on some carefull maintainance on the wheels. Also changed to motorcycle fork oil. Has not been changed for 7k miles. I can almost feel the wear on the fork from the dirty oil each time I ride that bike. It does not feel comfortable to ride that bike without a change of oil. The bike had a street front tire, and knobby rear tire. On sand, the front tire should be fine. Knobby on the rear is not ideal, but it should be ok. The worst that could happen is the bike would have to be pushed up the hills.


Drove down from Palo Alto for about 2 hours. It was 11:00 pm. I was too tired to drive anymore. I simply got off at Paris Valley exit, and slep in the car along that farm road.


Half way to LA in San Luis Obispo, the rear fender on the trailer began to rattle. Examination found that the mounting point is cracked. One rear runing light was broken also. An ovresized washer made a temporary fix to the fender. It might be illegal to run a trailer without a fender. Bought a new running light at San Luis Obispo, and some larger size washer for the fender. After about another 100 miles, the fender rattle came back again. Guess the reinforcement caused another crack in the steel fender. Had the fender came off, and got caught in front of the small 8" trailer wheels at 65mph, it would have flipped the trailer over. Instead, I just took off the broken fender. The other one was still holding up fine. Got down to hwy 8 in San Diego at around 11:00 pm, and slept at a rest stop. I get better sleep feeling safer at a rest stop than a farm road.


Got up at 5:30am in the morning. Called Barbara to wake her up since she wanted to drive down to Lake San Antonio that day for her training. Drove hour and a half to hwy111, then to hwy 78 towards Glamis.

Arrived at Glamis at around 10:00.

Met some guys at the gas station with dirt bikes. They told me without sand paddle tires, you won't go any where in the dunes. Everyone there had sand paddle tires. I wasn't going to turn around at this point. I got my bike into the sand, and to my surprise, the rear tire dug itself into the sand hardly moving the bike in first gear. I almost fell from going so slow. It was hard to control. Front street tires were not too responsive in the sand. After some determined gasing of the throttle, I barely made it up a small hill. There were kids around me who made it up the same hill with ease with their 4 wheel ATV. I felt silly to have so much trouble doing the same thing on my bike. Things got better when the bike is in second and third gear going at about 30mph. It took two hours to get the hang of riding in the dunes. It took a while to learn to read the terrain too. There are many drop-off that I am afraid to go down on because I would have to drag the bike backup one foot at a time when I get to the bottom. The place I wanted to get to was Oldsmobile hill. The GPS said it was 3 miles due East. No problem I thought. It was a flat ride after the first initial hill, then I came upon a series of hills that I had to take the long way and go around. After that was another long series of hills. After that, it was random hills everywhere with steep dropoffs, and no one else around. It got quite difficult to find the right path through the dunes without getting stuck at the bottom of a big dip. There was no end to the hill. Soon, I did not even know the way that I came in, and had to find new ways to get out. It was just sand dunes 360 degrees all around with no sights for orientation. I had to turn around, and get back to the car. After 5 more tries, I gave up. I came back to the car for lunch.

Next to my car was a van that looked more like a museum piece than a functioning vehicle. It must have been a good vehicle to take to the dunes. It was tall enough to carry all the gears in it.

After lunch, I went on the pavement East for 3 miles, then tried to go in about 1 mile. On the pavement, I found that eveyone else were taking the easy way to Oldsmobile hill. Even 2WD could probably have made it there. There was a back way that goes along the hwy about 2 miles East pass the Oldsmobile hill, then it goes into the dunes from the highway for about quarter of a mile and back track towards the Oldsmobile hill again. That path was quite flat. A 2WD could probably have made it.

Oldsmobile hill is quite impressive. Is a large open bowl. Is not that steep, is just long. I tried to make it up on my knobby tire. Only got a third of the way before the bike lost momentum. There was not much more other places my bike could go in the dunes with the knobby tires. All around were steep dunes. It was also not very safe to venture too far on your own in the dunes with inadequate equipment. At around 2:00pm. I left the dunes to head back to LA. and home. Made it to Carpenteria outside of Ventura at 11:00pm. There was a strip of road that parallel 101 next to the beach. That is an ideal place to stay for the night. Unfortunately, there was no parking signs posted all along the road. People still did not care, and parked there anyway. I knew there would be trouble when some street racers showed up in their modified car and raced down the road. Within 15 minutes, the police came. Everyone scattered. I figured it was not a good place to get a peacefull rest there for the night. Much further down the road was a quiet deadend with only one other car. I stayed there for the night. There was a no parking sign there too. The police came by at around 2:00 am, saw us there, but did not care. Think they only worry about the street racers.


It was quite a pretty sight to wake up next to the ocean. There was a sofa that someone placed along the beach front. It made for an interesting sight. I got back to Palo Alto Sunday at around 2:00 pm. On the way I passed Prismo Beach. I debated whether to try those dunes or not, but decided not to. The last time at Prismo beach, I took my bike with my brother, and made it up all the dunes there. Guess not all dunes are created equal. The Prismo dunes are much easier than the Imperial dunes. Someday, I will go back to Imperial, but this time, I will take the truck with locking differential, winch etc.


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