Evocative symbols of deserts everywhere, sand dunes figure prominently in the Southwest. Scouring desert valley and mountains, winds gather fine sand grains into shifting mountains hundreds of feet high in several great sand seas in the Mohave Desert. Covering miles of desert south of Tecopa, Calif., the complex of Dumont Dunes and nearby Little Dumont remains one of a handful of dunes near Las Vegas open to use by off-road vehicles.
Dumont Dunes lie about 100 miles from Las Vegas off Highway 127, the road south from Death Valley National Park to Baker, Calif. The shortest route from Las Vegas uses Interstate 15 south to Highway 160, the road to Pahrump. After you climb over Mountain Springs Summit and drop down into Pahrump Valley, watch for the turnoff onto the Old Spanish Trail Highway, a good paved road running southwest through Tecopa to Highway 127. Turn south at the junction. Drive about 13 miles to a graded road on the left. Turn east there for a rough side road about three miles long to the main Dumont Dunes. Many people continue another mile to Little Dumont Dunes just off the highway, an easy staging area for off-road vehicles.
Dumont Dunes Road crosses the Amargosa River at the bottom of a shallow wash on a recently improved water crossing. When the road climbs out of the wash, visitors get their first good look at the main dunes. Glimpses from a distance do not prepare you for the immense sand mountains — a sandbox for giants. Because of the terrain, trucks or four-wheel drive vehicles negotiate this road better than passenger cars, particularly for visitors towing trailers with off-highway vehicles. The established roadway leads to an off-loading point for dune buggies, all-terrain vehicles or motorcycles.
At the end of the road visitors find minimal development — pit toilets like several others scattered strategically among the dunes and informal fire circles traditionally used for cooking fires or bonfires. Most visitors camp at this site or one at Little Dumont, although visitors may camp anywhere in the riding area, as long as they do not block travel routes. Campers may stay 14 days.
They find no formal camping amenities — no water, firewood, hookups or trash containers.
Visitors must bring everything from home and pack out their camp refuse for disposal at home. For safety’s sake, burn firewood with no nails or other metal scrap. Since broken glass poses special danger in this area, bring only unbreakable vessels for liquids and camp supplies.
Visitors on foot should be wary of the off-highway vehicles, which can roar over the top of a dune without warning. Traffic in this popular off-road area gets heavy on weekends and holidays during the cooler months of the year, when hundreds of off-roaders flock to the 8,150-acre recreation site. Holidays like the upcoming President’s Day weekend usually attract large crowds for special events like sand drags.
Regulations require that machines be equipped with flags atop long, flexible poles that show above the dunes before the vehicles come into view.
Vehicles should have mufflers and spark arrestors.
Machines ridden after dark must have headlights and taillights. All vehicles should have street-legal licenses or be licensed as off-highway vehicles.
All-terrain vehicle riders should wear helmets.
Use permits apply in the Dumont Dunes Off-Highway Vehicle Area administered by the Bureau of Land Management. Purchase one pass for each primary (towing) vehicle. A regular seven-day pass costs $30. Add $10 more if that week includes a holiday.
Frequent users may purchase an annual pass for $90 or $120 for five holiday upgrades. Southern Nevada sites where Dumont Dunes passes are sold include Johnnie Walker RV at 4784 Boulder Highway and Carter Power Sports at 6775 S. Decatur Blvd. in Las Vegas, and Dog House Repair at 1371 W. Basin Ave. in Pahrump. Certain passes may be available at the dunes from a vendor. For more information about the dunes, activities and fees, contact the BLM at their Barstow Field Office at (760) 252-6000.
Margo Bartlett Pesek’s column appears on Sundays.