Imperial Valley College Journalism

This website features student projects produced through the Imperial Valley College journalism program

Dusty, Dirty Dunes: The Glamis Culture of the Imperial Valley


The Glamis dunes in the Imperial Valley: a slice of dirty, dusty heaven

The Glamis dunes in the Imperial Valley: a slice of dirty heaven

By Josh Schiebelhut and Erin Pate

GLAMIS, Calif.- If there’s anything the Imperial Valley is known for besides its sprawling agriculture, it is dirt. Lots and lots of dirt. And with that much dirt, comes mountains of devotion.

A group of riders on all-terrain vehicles and a buggy leave Sweet Marie’s on the corner of Highway 78 and Gecko Road at the entrance to the Glamis dunes.

A group of riders on all-terrain vehicles and a buggy leave Sweet Marie’s on the corner of Highway 78 and Gecko Road at the entrance to the Glamis dunes.

“My husband and I started coming to the dunes when we were dating,” said Adrienne Rocha, 37, a Riverside, California resident. “He loved bikes and quads. I came to love it.” And the Rocha family has incorporated the desert culture into their kids’ lives as well. “I’ve been out here pregnant, breast-feeding, chasing toddlers, and taking pictures of their first rides,” she said.

For thousands of big-city dwellers, coming to the sand dunes is an escape from everyday stress and eventually becomes a way of life. Rocha and her family of four spend every Thanksgiving in Glamis. “I just love it here, our lives revolve around it five months out of the year,” Rocha said.

And the other seven months?

“We’re just aching to get back here.” When asked if she serves turkey out here in the dirt, Rocha said, “Of course! The past few years we’ve been frying it, but one year we didn’t want the hassle and I made turkey sandwiches with sliced turkey from the store.”

The Imperial Valley is situated on Southern California’s southeastern border with Mexico. It has within its borders some of the most expansive sand dunes in the U.S. at roughly 200 square miles.

The United Desert Gateway, an organization that sponsors dune cleanups and also puts together numbers from local businesses, says that in 2006 the Imperial Valley generated anywhere from $170 million to $304 million as a result of sand dunes visitors. Up to 140 million people visit here yearly, with the bulk of them arriving between October and May.

Mike Mostrong, 55, sits in front of all the wares he sells for repairing desert toys. "I've been out here 12 hours a day for the past five years," says Mostrong.

Mike Mostrong, 55, sits in front of all the wares he sells for repairing desert toys. "I've been out here 12 hours a day for the past five years," says Mostrong.

One of the businesses to benefit from the “duners” is the parts shop Sweet Marie’s, located at the entrance to the Glamis dunes. Owner Mike Mostrong, has seen the dunes change over the past few years. “Back in the day, that’s when things used to be really crazy. But now the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) has calmed things down a lot around here.”

Mostrong, 55, was born and raised in El Centro, and recalls the atmosphere of the Glamis dunes years ago. “People really got into it back in the day, even if they have never been here before, they’d get all caught up in things. Nowadays, we still have our

Rosie Ramos, 17, takes her Chihuahua, Chamoy, for a ride on her quad. "Everyone can find a little fun out here, even my little Chamoy."

Rosie Ramos, 17, takes her Chihuahua, Chamoy, for a ride on her quad. "Everyone can find a little fun out here, even my little Chamoy."

diehards, but you see less of the random people coming out here.”

Rosie Ramos, 17, of the San Fernando Valley, has been coming out here for 10 years. She says she occasionally sees some of the “crazies.”

“I’ve seen people being pulled on a couch down there, they must’ve been going 20 (mph). It was insane,” Ramos said about “The Drags,” a part of the dunes where people go as fast as possible down an alley of dips and hard dirt.

Imperial Valley residents are also among the dune enthusiasts who frequent Glamis.

“I love every bit of it, I mean, I was born to ride,” says Brandon Coyne, 25, of El Centro. His father, Marty Coyne, started Imperial Valley Cycle Center when Brandon was only two years old. Brandon first rode a three-wheeled all-terrain vehicle when he was four, and by the time he turned six, his family moved out of their home in San Diego to be closer to their family business in the Imperial Valley.

Brandon Coyne, 25, sits in the showroom of Imperial Valley Cycle Center in El Centro, Calif. "I spend a lot of my time selling bikes, but I'd much rather be riding."

Brandon Coyne, 25, sits in the showroom of Imperial Valley Cycle Center in El Centro, Calif. "I spend a lot of my time selling bikes, but I'd much rather be riding."

They started out small, selling a handful of desert toys, but mostly concentrating on building bicycle motorcross tracks, with dirt ramps and curves. Now the IV Cycle Center is the largest motorcycle/offroad vehicle dealership in the Imperial Valley, and the Coynes participate in huge offroad racing events, such as the Reno to Vegas desert race in the Baja 500.

Two years ago the younger Coyne got Monster Energy Drinks to sponsor a New Years party in the desert by Plaster City about 30 miles southwest of Glamis, and to this day he still works with Monster and other sponsors to bring events to the Imperial Valley. “This place will always be my hometown, even if I was born in San Diego,” Coyne said.

During the desert season nearly every aspect of local life is affected, especially at local hospitals. Carly Zamora, a nurse at Pioneers Memorial Hospital in Brawley, said, “On busy weekends in the desert we see at least 30 more people in a day than if people weren’t riding out in the dunes.”

Zamora, who has been a nurse at PMH for five years, has at times questioned why people endanger themselves out in the dunes.

“Sometimes I can’t help but think they’re putting themselves in these situations and it’s frustrating.” Zamora said she’s even seen a man with a broken neck say to his wife, “As soon as I’m out of this brace we’re getting me a new bike and taking it out there.”

Notwithstanding the dangers, the costly toys and long drives, year after year people come to enjoy everything the Imperial Sand Dunes have to offer. The dunes are a small hunk of land that has put the Imperial Valley on the map as a popular attraction. The picturesque dunes have been the backdrop for movies such as Star Wars, Independence Day, The Scorpion King, and Jarhead.

But stardom like that hasn’t swayed the locals. To Imperial Valley residents the dunes are just a slice of dirty heaven in their own backyard.

One Reply

  1. Teri Friend forever Mar 1st 2010

    Just looking for people whom love the life of the dunes looking for new friends just moved to kingman az


Leave a Reply