SUPERSTITION MOUNTAIN — As they packed up the RV and trailer for the drive back home, Randy Long, 59, of Santee reflected on the weekend his family spent in the dunes, riding the sand on a dune buggy and quads.
“It’s a cool little place,” he said, praising the off-road area his group has stayed at for the past four or five years.
There’s a different breed of people at Superstition Mountain as compared to other off-road areas within the Imperial Sand Dune Recreation Area, he said. They come out to enjoy the ride, and it’s possible to rope off an area for the kids and still feel safe.
“We came out here because it’s the best of all worlds,” he said. “We have sand, we have hard pack, we have mud.”
It’s everything they need to enjoy the desert, he said.
Long, his wife, daughter and their dogs were among the crowds that flocked to the dunes for the largest weekend of the dunes season.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend 142,289 people visited sand dunes in the area, down only slightly from last year, said Park Ranger Michelle Puckett with the Bureau of Land Management. While estimates were originally about 170,000, those numbers were based on data from years ago, not last year.
This year’s turnout was only down about 2 percent, she said. The numbers, though, have dropped quite a bit from previous years that had more than 200,000 visitors on Thanksgiving weekend. Visitation throughout the season starting Sept. 30 is still up by 8 percent as compared to last year.
Overall this weekend the bureau fielded 86 medical calls, not including those from the different law enforcement groups like the Sheriff’s Office, she said. That included one fatality on Thursday.
“Last year we had three, so it’s down on the number of fatalities from years past,” she said. “We’re very excited about that. It was a very safe weekend.”
Some did notice the smaller crowds this Thanksgiving weekend as compared to last year. Javier Rodriguez with Sand Syndicate, an off-road apparel and accessories store in the area said it went well considering the economy, but not great. It seems like it’s slowly been going down through the past few years.
“Hopefully it will swing back around,” he said.
Thanksgiving is always a big weekend, but New Year’s at Superstition Mountain can be bigger, Rodriguez said. Without the Mojave Desert Racing race that used to be held New Year’s weekend though, attendance is going down then.
“But we still have fun,” he said.
Many were having fun as dune buggies, all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles whizzed by throughout the area on Sunday, flags waving in the background.
Eddie Rivera from City Heights was among those in the area with a dozen family members. The group was yelling “eso” to those on the all-terrain vehicles. They use it to mean good riding, he said.
The group, which included many from Imperial Valley, was out there to enjoy the last day of the Thanksgiving weekend, he said. It’s a real family atmosphere with the group, as people joke and play around.
“That’s what feeds the soul, being with family out here,” he said. “And the soul was hungry.”
Staff Writer Elizabeth Varin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 760-337-3441.