Day 43 • April 13, 2012 • Seeley to Glamis, CA • 48 miles
Flat, straight roads; big desert skies; mountains all around; wind at our back. Life was good until we noticed the wind picking up, and picking up sand. We watched a cloud of sand far to our left slowly track toward us, mostly parallel to our track. By this time we were near the Imperial Sand Dunes area that seemed to be managed either by a special set of recreation rules unknown to us or by the military as a bombing range, neither of which seemed like a good bet for stealth camping. We pressed on to a BLM campground called Gecko. I was pretty excited about checking out the campground—my experience with BLM campgrounds is that they tend to be nicely integrated into geographically interesting portions of the desert.
As we were congratulating ourselves on reaching Gecko Rd—only three miles to go!—a cloud of sand engulfed us. When we made the right turn onto Gecko our tail wind turned into a searing cross wind. Zoe tried to cover her face while I frantically pedaled the couple of hundred yards to a BLM ranger station, spitting sand and barely able to see. It was late afternoon but the station was still open so we parked on the lee side of the building and went inside. When we inquired about camping options we were told we can’t stay here, even though we were at an RV village in the sand, because they feared we’d be run over by an ATV in the night. The campground we were seeking was still three miles down the road, was nothing more than a sand dune where RVs park, and would cost us a $40 recreation permit to camp there. Their suggestion was to back track a mile directly into the sand storm and camp near a canal on the north side of the road. The land was owned by the canal company so wouldn’t cost us anything and offered some protection from the ATVs and dune buggies. “… but whatever you do don’t camp on the south side of the road– that’s a bombing range. And we’re closing soon but feel free to use our bathroom to clean up.” We thanked them for the help but were in a pretty lousy mood contemplating these horrible options as we entered the bathroom.
Perhaps we didn’t hide our mood well, or maybe Zoe gave them the look of longing and expectation only a 9-year-old can give, but when we returned from the bathroom they’d worked out another option—just stay here. They pointed us to a huge bush behind the building that offered protection from both wind and crazed ATV operators and told us to pitch our tent there, right next to the no camping sign. They gave us bottled water, helped me move the trike through the soft sand so it would be nearer the tent, and told us to call 911 (we had good cell coverage here) if we ran into any trouble. And then they were gone.
The wind was still howling as we pitched the tent, and even though the bush provided a huge wind break we couldn’t get the tent to stay put in the soft sand. I ended up using the flag poles for stakes, which were long enough to get some purchase in the sand, and tethered the fly to the bush. This arrangement seemed secure enough so we hunkered down for the night.
Today was my birthday and Zoe had purchased a hostess cake (and I some beer) to celebrate. Zoe arranged the tent with a special birthday corner and we had a great evening with no more drama from weather or ATV operators. Hunkered down with Zoe in the middle of nowhere on an epic bike ride– I can’t think of a better way to turn 50.