Looking back to the late 70’s and early 80’s, I remember the Mad Max environment of Glamis (Imperial Sand Dune Recreation Area - AKA ISDRA).
There were stripper poles, fire trenches designed to get you off your bike and steal it, there were low-lifes that would force your girlfriend to lift her top for them, and campsites were raided while you were out riding. Old’s Hill was out of control on weekend nights. By no means was it a family atmosphere. We came within a hair’s breadth of full closure. Check out this link if you doubt this.
SO the short answer to “Who needs ‘em”? WE DO. Not only do we need them, we want their presence. If not for ISDRA Law Enforcement Rangers (LEO's), the ISDRA would likely be 100% closed to off-road activity.
The two most basic requirements for civilization are: 1) A code of laws for expected and unacceptable behavior. 2) Someone to enforce those laws. Enter the ISDRA Law Enforcement Rangers (LEO's).
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) operates under a multi-use mandate. Off-road recreation is part of that mandate and the LEO’s help fulfill it. The benefits that the LEO’s provide for our chosen form of off-road recreation go far deeper than might appear on the surface.
They returned the ISDRA from mayhem to a civilized family environment and maintain it so. They are well-trained accomplished professionals that are not to be underestimated. It is also worth mentioning that the Rangers are who you call if you have a medical emergency.
I was very privileged to ride along with the #1 Supervising ISDRA LEO Ranger and his second in command the following day on President’s Day weekend in 2022. What follows below is what I learned.
It takes some 100 dedicated people to operate the ISDRA on a big weekend. Keep in mind that it is usually a holiday weekend. From communications experts to office staff to LEO's on the ground, it is a HUGE operation. Consider the ISDRA to be a city of 100,000 to 150,000 on a big weekend and this begins to make sense.
On the weekend that I rode along, there were 4 local LEO's and 11 on loan from other areas. They came from Colorado, Montana, and many other states; some drove 3 days to get there. On occasion, they fly in from Alaska. It is interesting to note that none of them were “assigned” against their preference: they all volunteered for the assignment. They all wanted to be there and it showed. It doesn’t get better than that.
I asked several why they volunteered: they love the dunes just as we do. More interesting is that most of them have been coming to the ISDRA for upwards of 10 years. I found comfort in that they are very familiar with the area and its many unique issues.
There were 2 newbies this weekend. I asked them what they thought of the ISDRA. Their answer reminded me of newbies I have brought out: stunned by the magnitude and beauty of the dunes… never seen anything like it… can’t put it into words… pictures don’t do it justice. It brought a smile to this old duner’s face. Yep, 2 more hooked…
The obvious question is what kind of training do newbies get before being turned loose at the ISDRA? Quite a bit actually.
On a newbie’s first day, he/she rides with a veteran, shown the lay of the land, made aware of ISDRA-specific rules, what to look for, priorities; etc. He/she is required to download the LEO version of Avenza maps. There is always a pre-shift briefing and a debriefing after a major contact or incident where actions are critiqued and guidance is provided. Rest assured that they are not turned loose with a ticket book and a “Go get ‘em” attitude.
Part of the “indoctrination” is the philosophy of law enforcement at the ISDRA. When it comes to letter of the law vs. spirit of the law, spirit of the law now prevails. Enforcement is now mostly spirit of the law. Many warnings were given this weekend. Gone are the days of a visitor off loading his quad without a helmet or whip and getting a ticket. This appears to be paying large dividends as we got lots of waves and thumbs up as we drove by camps in vehicles marked BLM Law Enforcement.
I want to emphasize attitude. Many warnings were given to parties with a good attitude. If you are given a chance to go buy a pass, go buy the pass. The LEO's will come back to cite you if you did not heed the warning. If you have a bad attitude, there might not be a warning to begin with.
All of the veteran LEO's commented that they now notice the positive waves as they drive around and said that this is opposite of days gone by. In the past, they were greeted almost exclusively by the middle-finger salute. Perhaps this is a result of the enforcement of no saving spots, the 14-day rule, and eliminating ghost camps. It is too difficult to tell for sure.
One camp in particular comes to mind. There was no pass on a truck that was off into the sand. The ranger patrolling on a quad stopped to inquire. There was trash on the ground, wood with metal, and glass bottles on the ground. It was the textbook camp of “what not to do”. Their attitude was not good.
Of particular interest was the quad with no green sticker, no VIN, and no paperwork. The quad got towed; the rangers had no choice on this issue. Had there been just that single pass on that one truck, the ranger would have kept on driving. He could have impounded the truck as well but he did not want to leave the visitors stranded. Considering the amount of verbal abuse the LEO’s endured during this stop, I hold them in the highest regard for the restraint and professionalism they displayed.
One of the biggest questions of the weekend was the discontinued reciprocity of AZ off-road tags and CA green stickers. It is complicated but here’s the bottom line:
If your OHV is registered in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Texas, Utah or Wyoming (street legal or not), your OHV needs a CA off road permit. It does not matter if street legal in the home state because OHV’s are never street legal in CA. You cannot operate them on CA roads even if street legal in the home state. Some states still hold reciprocity with CA, some states don’t register OHV’s, so for $30 at the ranger station, it will save lots of hassle –good for the year in which they are purchased. More details are at this link.
By now you are probably asking yourself, “What are the LEO's looking for”? Here’s a list not in any particular order:
Overall, compliance was very good with the above so I asked about problem areas. The answer was surprising.
Construction on Federal Lands is against the law.
We all know about the Flag Pole and the Swing Set. The Flag Pole is an addition to an artifact that General Patton left behind during WWII so that presents a gray area. The swing set is a clear violation as are other structures that have been erected. The BLM is obligated to remove these structures (South Dunes Swing, Dinosaur, Cabana, Etc.).
Erecting these structures costs all of us because they have to be removed. Removing them wastes scarce resources that would have been better allocated to more productive activities.
In particular, there is a memorial on Sand Highway of someone that died in that spot. Erecting a steel memorial creates an unsafe condition where others may encounter the same fate. There are better, more permanent, ways to commemorate our lost loved ones. Obsborne Overlook has some commemorative benches with plaques as does the Ranger Station. More are needed and would stand the test of time better than in Sand Highway.
Of long-standing concern is the Sand Drags. At the drags with radar, we clocked several buggies topping out at 94+ MPH. The LEO I was with said that he had clocked one at 161 MPH on a different occasion. How can anyone not think that it is just a matter of time before another one goes into the crowd? I cringe to think of the penalty that we, as a community, will pay for the mistake of one.
Having done many ride alongs with several law enforcement agencies over the years, I can vouch that the ISDRA LEO’s are as good as they come. We should value their dedication and professionalism.
The ISDRA LEO’s are not there to ruin anyone’s trip. They are there to enforce the rules so that we can have a civilized experience. We, the sand community, benefit from their mission. If you don’t like them, then please consider the meme that says, “Have you ever noticed that the cops leave you alone when you are not breaking the law?”