Memorial Day at the Mountain


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Dusty Rhodes
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Memorial Day at the Mountain

Post by Dusty Rhodes »

Was a good time. Pretty packed but it didn't seem as busy as last year. Heavy LEO presence in the camp area but light in the riding area. We couldn't have asked for better weather for a May weekend at the start of summer. Was in the high 80's with a nice breeze coming from the west the whole time. Good times for sure. Next up, Winchester Bay next month, July 4th at Pismo, and Dunefest back at Winchester Bay!
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Jerry Seaver
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Post by Jerry Seaver »

June 3, 2007

There are a few constants when spending a busy weekend at Sand Mountain - the continual buzz of ATVs, sand, thousands of visitors, towering rows of white RVs, sand, oceans of whip flags ... and more sand.

An estimated 4,500 to 5,000 people spent Memorial Day weekend at Sand Mountain, a 4,800-acre mecca for ATV enthusiasts 30 miles east of Fallon that attracts visitors from across the West.

Over the holiday weekend, the area took on the appearance of a small city, complete with roads, stores, residences and the occasional neighborly dispute. Despite the crowds and continual activity, attendees and law enforcement officials said the weekend provided visitors with an enjoyable off-road experience with minimal problems.

They come from everywhere

Amid a small sea of white RVs, four-wheel drive trucks with lifts and countless off-road machines, most license plates read "California," though Nevadans had a strong presence. Other vehicles from Washington, Arizona and Idaho were present. One rusty pickup with Michigan plates pulled into camp Saturday evening.

The majority of attendees were families with children. Some appearing as young as 5 or 6 zipped around the camping areas, while parents and senior citizens tended to base camps, cooking food, washing dishes and hauling trash with their ATVs. Some dogs came along for the ride.

Rows of off-road vehicles, ranging in size from 50cc children's bikes to supercharged, V8-powered dune buggies, to "Mad Max" contraptions, neatly lined the edges of campsites when not in use. Some visitors even drove pickup trucks halfway up the dune.

Willy Sieg, 22, of Sweet Home, Ore., spent part of Saturday night sitting and drinking beer with friends, while buddy Kylan Walker attempted to balance himself on a large tire.

Sieg said a trip to Sand Mountain is worth the 10-hour drive due to fewer permits and rules than in his home state.

Michelle Pierce, a first-time Sand Mountain visitor from Sacramento, traveled to the dune with her family. She said the family was enjoying themselves, but there weren't enough ATVs for everyone to use at once, leading to occasional squabbles.

"It's a family thing if you all have bikes," Pierce said.

Her only complaint - ATVs with small mufflers that emit a piercing sound.

A group of college students from Placerville, Calif., shared breakfast Sunday morning and talked about the day's activities.

Sarah Wilson, a Texas native who was visiting Sand Mountain for just the second time, said she enjoyed the atmosphere despite a lack of sleep while carving chunks of cold roast beef for breakfast.

"It's crazy - crazier than Texas. You go to bed late. You want to sleep in, but you can't," she said.

Chris Raines of Placerville, a Sand Mountain veteran, said law enforcement was too heavy-handed.

"Way over-ridiculous," he said. "They don't need to be here."

Chris Clark complimented the demeanor of those camping at the dune.

"Everyone was really cool last night," he said Sunday morning. "People were partying and picking up trash ... more than the rangers were."

Retailers find a market

Steve Hiebert, owner of Advanced ATV of Jackson, Calif., set up his tent just south of the BLM's outpost off the main road to the dune. He said he travels to Sand Mountain eight times per year to sell a variety of ATV parts and accessories.

Sand Mountain is a great destination because of the variety of riding it offers - from desert to dunes to trails - and because the crowds are cordial, Hiebert said.

"I think the people are a lot friendlier at Sand Mountain," he said, comparing it to other off-road locations.

Despite his prime location at the main entrance to the camping area, Hiebert said competition is fierce among retailers.

The main road leading from U.S. Highway 50 to the base of the dune becomes a marketplace for all things off-road. One trailer specialized in pink riding attire for women. Many sold the whip flags required of ATVs at Sand Mountain. Other items like tires, chains, oil, gears, T-shirts, toy cars and goggles were available along a corridor of storefronts that stretched for 100 yards.

One retailer, the Wet-N-Wild Water Co., sold portable pools. One pool was filled with water provided by an adjacent water truck.

A food stand sold hamburgers for $2.75. Earplugs were 25 cents.

Law enforcement present

Churchill County Sheriff Rich Ingram said two deputies were assigned per shift to patrol near Sand Mountain Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

From noon on Friday on midnight until Monday, Ingram said there were four ambulance pages, two calls to assist the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which manages Sand Mountain, two minors in possession of alcohol, one narcotics arrest for a small amount of marijuana and related paraphernalia and one arrest of an individual on a warrant.

"For the most part, the people who frequent Sand Mountain are law-abiding and are often a lot of families," he said.

A memorandum of understanding between the sheriff's department and the BLM regarding law enforcement at Sand Mountain on certain holiday weekends is now in its second year. Under the agreement, the BLM reimburses the county for the wages of deputies who patrol the area. The agreement gives the flexibility to allow the sheriff's department to pull back its resources if personnel are needed closer to Fallon, he said.

"Both entities feel it's very important to have a presence there. I feel that has contributed significantly to a more reserved environment," Ingram said.

Elayn Briggs, assistant field manager for renewable resources for BLM, characterized the weekend as normal for a holiday and said most attendees were well behaved. Thirteen accidents were reported, most of them with minor injuries.

The BLM appreciates the presence of the sheriff's department to assist with law enforcement, she said. Approximately 20 BLM personnel were stationed at Sand Mountain over Memorial Day weekend.

'Malicious mischief'

The weekend wasn't without a few incidents of what Briggs described as "malicious mischief."

Early in the weekend, valve stems from BLM quads, trucks and dune buggies were removed, causing them all to have flat tires.

On Saturday night, a wet T-shirt contest was broken up at the top of the dune, Briggs said. While a BLM ranger was attending to the incident, members of the crowd flipped over his quad.

Most law enforcement issues consisted of minors in possession of alcohol, driving under the influence, people driving with open containers and fireworks.

A cycle of visitors

Briggs said 4,500 to 5,000 people stayed at Sand Mountain over Memorial Day weekend, a decrease from the past two years that she couldn't explain.

Crowds will continue to drop at Sand Mountain as the hot, summer weather takes hold, Briggs said. Numbers will increase around Labor Day and remain strong until November. Attendees start arriving en masse again in early spring.

Her advice to first-time visitors to Sand Mountain besides being safe?

"Not to come on a busy, holiday weekend."


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