I was looking for something to do on the first day of my four day holiday weekend, and I was reminded of the large sand dunes east of Brawley while checking out Google Maps. I had seen the southern end of the dunes near Yuma on my way into California on I-8, but had never seen this part of them.
One of the compelling reasons to go this afternoon was to capture the full moon rising over the dunes just before sunset. But the closer I got, the more clouds filled the sky, and the likelihood of me capturing a great shot might not be there. I pressed on just to check out the dunes even if the clouds interfered.
On Google Maps, you take California Highway 78 east out of Brawley to reach the dunes. To the north of the highway is the Algodones Dunes Wilderness Area, a federally protected area where no vehicles are allowed. South of CA 78 is an entirely different story. All of the photos in the gallery below were take from the Hugh T. Osborne Lookout Park off of CA 78.
The dunes are open to off-road vehicles: dirt bikes, dune buggies, 4WD vehicles–anything that can gain traction in fine sand. Around the area are campgrounds with hundreds of off-roading enthusiasts with their monster motor homes with toy haulers. I really wasn’t expecting that.
On the one hand, it was fun to watch everyone scurrying about over the dunes; on the other, the noise in such a wonderfully scenic place was more than distracting.
Yes, it was a crazy trip for an afternoon drive in the country, but I learned a lot and I’ll definitely go back, perhaps when the weather cooperates with a clear view of the moonrise.
What You Need to Know:
Getting there: It’s about 160 miles / 260 km from downtown San Diego, so plan on a full 3-hour drive to get there.
Hours: I didn’t see any signs restricting hours to the dunes, however I believe the lookout park may close after sunset.
Cost: Check the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area website below for details.
Tips: Once you leave Brawley, there weren’t any places that I saw to fuel your car, so make sure you have an adequate fuel supply. I visited in November and the weather was cool to chilly after sunset. I imagine it could be blistering hot in the summer. Bring plenty of sunscreen and water.
Click to see full-sized photos.