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#31: Navigation in the dunes at the Imperial Sand Dunes (Glamis)

#31: Navigation in the dunes at the Imperial Sand Dunes (Glamis)

| Vince Brunasso

The ISDRA dunes can be intimidating because of their sheer size but more importantly, the vast acreage that they cover. It is easy to get lost or disoriented if you are new to the dunes. Even dune veterans can have a problem on a moonless night or in the fog. Yes, fog happens in the dunes.

Nonetheless, it is the acreage that makes “The Dunes” so attractive. The size gives sand enthusiasts room to spread out away from each other and the opportunity to roam freely. The large area creates a very real sense of adventure.

There are landmarks you can use to find your way back to camp.  The Cargo Muchacho Mountains are to the East. The Coachella Canal and flat lands are to the West. If late in the day and you are deep in the dunes, head for the sun and you will end up at Roadrunner Campground or, at least, headed for Gecko Road. If you are camped on Wash Road, keep the sun on your left shoulder (almost behind you) and you’ll end up on Wash Road. If you are at Ogilby, head away from the sun. Much of it depends on from where you are starting in the dunes. With cell coverage just about everywhere now in the dunes, you can save your campsite with a map app so that you can return to it later in the day.

Experience plays a big role in finding your way back to camp before the sun goes down. It is best to familiarize yourself with the “lay of the land” before you head out. Here is a map. The ranger station on Gecko Road will have a hard copy for you.

BLM map of Imperial Sand Dunes in California

But what if you want to be more precise or are not camped in the above mentioned areas? What if you want to know how close you are to the closures – are you in it? What if you need to call in help?

There are digital solutions. Cell coverage at the ISDRA is fairly good throughout the dunes and all modern smartphones include a GPS chip, which does not depend on cell service to determine your location.  Check out the Avenza Maps App and download the app and the ISRDA map.  It is very intuitive and best of all, FREE. This app shows your position in the dunes and highlights the closures. You can easily tell if you are close to or in the closure by mistake.  You can download other maps for other areas as well. The ASA has also partnered up with onX Offroad for their subscription-based app.  Much like Avenza, you can download maps for areas you plan to visit, and in addition, they have an abundance of trail guides with user ratings and points of interest.  Use code ASA20 for a 20% discount on a subscription.

There are some websites that offer GPS coordinates that you can use. A quick Google search will turn those up for you (we can’t endorse any here). A side benefit is that GPS coordinates are included that will take you to the “Flag Pole” or the “Swing” or “Hill 6” among other “must see” places. A GPS is highly recommended. If for no other reason, should you need to call for help, you can tell them where you are.

Why are the closures are marked the way they are and the boundaries sometimes confusing? I get asked this over and over.

It is because of Transects and where the Peirson’s Milkvetch (PMV) is found.  PMV is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act – this is a key fact.

When surveys are conducted for plants, transects are used. Transects are known and plotted rectangles that run from East to West with the side running North and South. Because the ISDRA dunes line up from NW to SE, the transects are not exactly lined up; they are staggered. See the picture below.

 peirsons milk vetch map

When the critical habitat (acreage deemed critical and necessary for the recovery of any endangered species) for the PMV was finally decided upon by the 9th Circuit Court, it was based on the transects where the highest densities of PMV live. The critical habitat then became the current closure with the same staggered boundaries as the transects. The BLM marked the closure precisely because the BLM, not wanting any further lawsuits, decided that neither party (ASA vs. anti-access groups) would gain nor lose any acreage.

What we are left with today is a zigzag fence line in many areas. That is why GPS is so useful.

Here’s a screen shot of the Avenza app with the ISDRA in view.

 avenza isdra screenshot

The onX map is similar, and also shows all of the trails available east of the railroad tracks.

onx isdra screenshot

However you choose to navigate in the dunes, modern technology has provided some amazing tools to make your visit safer and more enjoyable.

Vincent Brunasso – ASA Co-Founder

Desert rat since early 60's - duner since 1980. Self employed from age 20 on -- focus on real estate. Started Glamis On Line website in 1998 to bring awareness of rules, safety, and land closure issues pertaining to ISDRA.