Big turnout expected at dunes this weekend
It's not your imagination — the dunes really are busy over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
In fact, according to David C. Briery, a spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management, the four-day Thanksgiving holiday, while not the most popular, does typically bring in some of the largest crowds.
“We are expecting a large turnout this year. The weather should be good. The economy is also a little better this year so perhaps more people will be into the holiday spirit.”
Last year 185,000 people visited the dunes, and Briery said the agency expects anywhere between 175,000 and 200,000 this Thanksgiving.
If you plan on visiting the dunes, it's a good idea to buy a pass ahead of time. Briery said a pass purchased in Yuma will cost $25; for a listing of places to buy them, visit Imperialsanddunes.net. Those who wait until getting to the dunes will pay $40.
A big part of going to the Imperial Sand Dunes for many duners has always included getting together and watching each other in action in what are known as “sand drags.”
Some of the popular areas where this happens are Buttercup Valley, Test Hill, Patton Valley, Oldsmobile Hill, Comp Hill and, of course, The Drags.
According to a news release issued by the American Sand Association (ASA), there has been increased scrutiny on the drags by the public, politicians, land managers and the off-roaders/duner community, due to some of the tragic events that have happened on public lands.
“We, as the dune community, must address the issues ourselves or they will be addressed for us,” the press release stated.
The Bureau of Land Management is responsible for public safety at the dunes and it is a responsibility the agency takes very seriously, according to the press release. The safety of their personnel is also a concern that will drive their actions. “We must be proactive to protect this activity!” the press release stated.
With safety in mind, the ASA board recommended the following be observed for any location where a gathering of people and vehicles occurs, such as sand drags:
• The law everywhere in the dunes is 15 mph within 50 feet of people or camp.
• As a spectator, you must stay back a safe distance from the action.
• Spectator lines must be at least 200 feet apart — 100 feet for the drag strip and 50 feet on each side for the required safety zone.
• Do not narrow the distance between the spectator lines to see better. This places you in the path of the drag vehicles when they are at their highest speed.
• Do not rely on spectator vehicles for your sole protection. Out-of-control vehicles can flip over parked vehicles.
• Plan escape paths and always be on the alert to get out of the way of an out-of-control vehicle.
• Keep children out of harm's way, behind barriers and as protected as possible.
• Don't encroach into the run-out or return lanes.
• Pay attention to your surroundings.
• Encourage others to act as responsible spectators. Don't be afraid to ask someone to act appropriately.
• As drivers, it is your ultimate responsibility to control speed and distance.
• If the crowd is too close, or you can't see the end of the course ... don't launch the vehicle.
• Keep the racing short. Competitive drags are 100 yards ... not a 1/4 mile long.
• Use run-out area for slow down ... not for show-off.
• Return-lane speed must also obey the 15 mph/50-foot rule.
• Be sober. DUI laws always apply.
• Flying starts at the drags are a recipe for disaster.
• Responsible duners never approach a jump without a spotter.
• Wheelies limit the driver's vehicle control.
• Take your driving responsibilities deadly serious.
• Respect BLM and other enforcement personnel.
James Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6854.