Before the pandemic, Glamis Dunes was synonymous with ATV culture. A (mostly) family-friendly destination about 230 miles east of Los Angeles and the same distance west of Phoenix, Arizona, Glamis Dunes, technically known as the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, operates under the loose restrictions of the Bureau of Land Management. Much of it is open to off-highway vehicle use. In fact, The dunes here are the largest sand dunes open for OHV use in the United States.
On an average winter weekend, more than 150,000 people visit the dunes along with their dirt bikes, ATVs, quads, 4x4s, tents, campers, RVs and every imaginable byproduct of their presence. The first campers pull in Friday morning and the last leave early Monday morning. Winds and weather repair the damage in between times, and the cycle begins again.
But 2020 has been different. While Glamis Dunes never officially closed, the crowds stopped coming. Wildlife, previously scared away by the campers and off-roading, have returned to newly regrown desert buckwheat, witchgrass, silver-leaved dune sunflowers and more. The scarred dunes here were nearly healed—no sign of the tire tracks and fire pits dug deeply in the coarse sand and dirt. Glamis Dunes appears to be born again.
Pierson visited Glamis Dunes in mid-May. Normally the crowds would have tapered off as the punishing heat would begin to make the area uninhabitable. “We expected some other people here, but the place was completely empty. Usually this place is covered with ATVs making lots of tire tracks, and people on bikes. We were caught in a 25- to 30-mile-per-hour sandstorm. But the photo turned out really well.
“I’ve shot more during the pandemic than ever before. Places are empty, but the land is healing, and it was super special to see these places untouched for a bit.”