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Off-Road Adventures - Want To Go To Glamis?

Posted in Ultimate Adventure on February 20, 2007
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Photographers: Kristin Van Horne

"Want to go to Glamis?"

The voice on the phone was my friend Landon's.

"We're going out there with a bunch of the ESB [Fabrications] people. Mike and them."

He gave me the general schedule for the weekend trip. I had never been to Glamis but I had heard many stories which were fueling the picture show in my head: fiery riots, deadly accidents, scantily clad girls prancing around, frat guys hopped up on Nyquil and vodka, flying bug-eyed over blind hills at five million mph in lifted trucks, screaming out the window about how their fathers never loved them as the body count flopping in the dust behind them kept rising.

I was born and raised in San Diego and always assumed that Glamis was our version of Mardi Gras and was virtually a labyrinth of soul-eating, baby-killing monsters. In truth, not enough people know that Glamis has some of the most picturesque landscape and untouched natural beauty in all of California and, not to mention, much of best off-roading in the world. So I decided to go because I felt I had to and also because I would be going with Landon and our friends from ESB whom I trusted (for the most part) and felt were professionals. I would go to find out for myself if Glamis really was a giant frat party or if these rumors were perpetuated by a small group of idiots and that there were still people out there who wanted to experience the sublime beauty of the desert and the rush of pushing your equipment and yourself to the limit.

"Sure. I'll go," I said.


"Yeah. I'll come, have a few beers, some laughs, ride in the trucks. Sounds like fun."

"Awesome. And then you can write that article we've been telling you to do about how the desert scene is being ruined by a few bad seeds."

"Yeah. Totally."

"Cool. You'll be riding out with me. I'll pick you up tomorrow," he said.


"But just to warn you, we probably will be doing a lot of sitting around listening to Mike [Clark] and Ryan [Lewis] and all the other fabricators try to one-up each other."

"Wow. That'll be a good time," I said.

"All right. Later."

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We left the next evening and went out past Palomar Mountain and Lake Henshaw where at night the hills looked like mounds of charcoal and the charred bushes and pine trees still hung on after all the fires like reluctant skeleton fingers backlit by the full moon. Foul omens, I thought, or somehow symbolic of the hearts of the crazed heathens with whom I was about to spend two days and nights in a barren wasteland. Instantly, I had a chilling realization that I was actually traveling to meet the devils whom legend had it overturned cars at whim and set them ablaze amid barbaric yelps and cheers. I lit another cigarette and talked more with Landon of trucks, fabricating, and dirt bikes: all of which I was relatively new to.

"Well, really I think it's a fantastic idea," I said. "You should tell that jackhole to shift the uniball mount over a couple inches to make way for the sway bar."

I was really reaching, pulling out any and all phrases I had picked up around the ESB shop - utter nonsense.

He stared blankly at me. "Uh huh. You're stupid. But just make sure that you compliment them on their 'piping.' They hate that, and it'd be real funny."

We came to Ocotillo Wells. The Chocolate Mountains (I didn't even know there was such a mountainous formation in California) looked liked chocolate that had been crushed up then piled in the freezer. We crossed the New River just before Brawley. The New River is the most polluted river in North America, and it flows up from Mexico into the Salton Sea. We passed a sign that told me we were at 235 feet below sea level. That much closer to hell, I thought. The plants on the far shore of the sea sent up dim smoke lines, and their lights stretched over the water.

We pulled into a Jack in the Box in Brawley. The lady at the counter was very strange. She glanced around nervously, misspelled my name, and then fondled my soda cup and receipt like she had just rolled a load of E. I wiped both of them on my shirt and asked her if she had been to any fiestas earlier. She said she hadn't because she was a "good girl now."I told her to lay off the drugs and went outside with my food. I found Landon and our two friends standing next to a trailer carrying the "Grasshopper." It appeared to be the cab of a stock Toyota truck with a cube welded onto the front, eight triangles attached to the back, four wheels, and eight sets of shock absorbers.

"Nice piping," I said.

We left Brawley and made it to camp several minutes later. Our camp was about 100 yards from the aqueduct. We pulled up and I saw the beast I had been told about: Householder Motorsports' 600-hp Chevy. It was magnificent: excrescent and luminous on the trailer, proud and aloof to the host of gawkers around it. I was supposed to ride in it the next day. Other than the Grasshopper and Householder's truck, the only other truck worth mentioning was ESB Fabrications' Toyota - the cleanest-handling and -looking truck I saw out there, owned and driven by Ryan Lewis of Bonzen Productions. I had seen footage and pictures of this truck from the videos that Ryan has produced.

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After a short discussion of the next day's plans and a long barrage of insults, we went to bed. I found a somewhat flat patch of sand to put my tent that was out of the way of the incongruous roads or paths that ran erratically through the place, and after checking my sleeping bag several times over for snakes, spiders, and scorpions, I fell asleep.

I awoke covered in a refreshing film of sweat and tore off my sleeping bag and fumbled for the zipper. I fell out into the gray morning air and looked around to find that everything, appearing last night as only black blobs in the distance, took on a vibrant color and texture. It was amazing: The rolling clay-like dunes stretched for miles and miles and were dotted with sagebrush and camel grass. All this bowed down before the bleeding sunrise. I stood in shock and surveyed the area. There were campers and trailers parked everywhere. Somewhere off in the distance a two-stroke motor whined and wailed.

Several minutes later, the Grasshopper team woke up and began preparing their vehicle. Then the Householder team got up and started moving the mammoth off its trailer. I was enjoying my cup of coffee and the glorious sunrise when the leviathan roared to life like some doomsday machine and startled me out of my artistic humor.

Landon stumbled out of the trailer and demanded coffee. After my breakfast of an energy drink and donuts, I was excited and ready for anything. I figured that these people, being professionals, would hit the sand as soon as possible. But we proceeded to sit for five hours. There was some cloud cover and a nice breeze, so we weren't roasting. But like I was told, it is fairly normal for truck owners and fabricators to build these trucks for the sole purpose of driving them in the desert then just sit and talk for hours and hours comparing shocks, compression ratios, and pretty much everything else. After two hours, the Grasshopper team got fed up with the filibusters and took off into the dunes. Landon had a stock Tundra and a dirt bike. He told me he would have been out riding his motorcycle the whole time but he didn't want to leave me alone with the prolix off-road philosophers, and he had had his appendix out several weeks before so he was taking it easy while waiting for Mike to get there. We sat and watched the fabricators crouching under their trucks, making hand gestures, nodding, standing up, and folding their arms. More gestures. I thought of the great gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson and wondered what he would do in this situation. I had no illegal hallucinogenic drugs or hard alcohol, so I made do with what I had. I started guzzling Red Bull.

I was five deep when the Grasshopper team came back and I couldn't hold my hands still. Landon jumped up and asked them if they would take me out in their truck. Chris, the driver, was ecstatic. I hopped in and fastened myself to the seat with some archaic five-point harnessing system and put on a pair of ski goggles (it did not have a windshield). He threw it into First gear and tore out of camp like a bat out of hell, drifting into each turn and rocketing deftly over every bump he could find. I was comforted knowing that he had not been in camp drinking with me because this sort of driving took much more skill, sound judgment, and perception than I had thought. The engine screamed into the high rpm, and I yelled at Chris that I was scared. He laughed, shifted into Second gear, and launched us off a 10-foot ledge. It felt like we landed on a down pillow and the front of the truck tossed a load of sand into our faces, but immediately he gunned the truck down a section of small bumps back toward camp. Air and dirt whipped through the cab, and I watched the tires bouncing next to me.

"How was it?" Landon asked.

I twisted my way out of the rollcage. "Yeah it was awesome. I can't believe that - it's insane."

"Oh yeah. This stuff in here by camp is pretty weak. Wait till you go out to Olds."

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After another hour of talking, we were ready to leave. Adam, the pilot and creator of the Householder monster, waved me over.

I climbed into one of the back seats and strapped myself in with a jet airplane seatbelt. From inside, the voice of the beast was not much tamed - wild and loud but precise. We took off down the Sand Highway that runs parallel to Highway 78, and as Adam pushed the creature over the rolling sand I looked up into the front for the speedometer and found only a round piece of paper duct-taped to the dash with numbers and the word "speed" written in Sharpie and a large arrow drawn pointing to "115." The motorcycles chose a route through the larger sand dunes, and our three trucks stayed close together, cautiously passing many ATVs, smaller trucks, and slower motorcycles.

We approached the base of Oldsmobile Hill where people had parked their sand cars, motorcycles, quads, and trucks in two lines. I saw families, children, couples, and a few gray-hairs, all out enjoying the sun and their machines. We made it through the crowd and out into an empty part of the hill base. Without a second thought, Adam gassed the truck, nailing my head to the seat, and sped up the 300-foot hill in about five seconds. We reached the top, and there were several groups of quads and sandrails at the top watching us. He did a U-turn and stopped at the peak facing back down the hill. I looked out into the distance and saw again the Chocolate Mountains like the red, gnarled, scorched earth from a Star Wars movie. He paused for a moment, looking around for other vehicles and then accelerated down the face, through the bumps at the bottom, then off a lip, and launched his truck into the air. The straps on my shoulder tightened against me as I floated up in my seat, and the truck left the ground for what seemed like a few minutes then landed easily. We did this again several times, and he parked his truck next to the Grasshopper.

Then the standing started again. The motorcycles came and parked with the trucks, and the onlookers came to ask Adam about his truck. I took this chance to search for the elusive demons that were in Glamis to cause mischief. I snaked through the trucks, eyeing people, alert for anything suspicious and out of the ordinary. I searched and I sleuthed for any group that looked ready, at any moment, to go assault some poor passersby. I found none. Sure, there were some teenagers and guys with bad tattoos, but mostly everything seemed on the up and up: just people racing up and down the giant hill, driving around and generally having a great time.

Then, off in the distance a brown fog started to form.

"That looks like a sandstorm," Landon said.

"Oh yeah," I said. "It's far away though."

Within one minute, the storm had overtaken the entire base of Olds Hill. From the distance at which we first saw it and the time it took to reach us, we estimated it had to have been traveling at about 60 mph. I tried to look around, but the sand flew into my eyes wherever I turned my head. We all scrambled for the trucks, and the motorcycles took off over the dunes again. Once inside the Householder truck (which did have a windshield), I was able to watch the wind reforming the dunes, whipping off the tops of them like some kind of desert spirits.

"I've never seen it this bad," Adam said. "This is ridiculous."

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We passed quads, bikes, and sand cars All of them were suffering in the sandstorm, as we raced the truck back to save our camp from the wind.

I found my tent blown against the side of the trailer and my sleeping bag full of sand. There was a pleasant layer of dust on my pillowcase, and the book of Shakespeare I brought with me was all gritty. Everyone donned a pair of goggles and huddled away from the wind, talking about how this was the worst they'd ever seen it and that it should die down in an hour or so.

Landon and I decided that the best way to weather the storm was to sit in our car, watch movies on the DVD player, and down a beverage or four, because as it turned out the storm kept on until sunset. When it was manageable we emerged.

As we looked around, we noticed another trailer and two unfamiliar trucks parked with our camp. These vehicles had arrived at our camp during the storm as if blown in with the vile, callous wind. I was immediately told that these were the very individuals who gave the desert scene a bad name. They were the ones who drove drunk, started fights, dealt drugs, and engaged in all the other miscreant activities that have come to be synonymous with Glamis.

The "idiots" stood around the fire drinking several bottles of NyQuil and cheap vodka. Mike was stuck entertaining them. Landon and I moved to the other side of the camp and made merry shooting a pellet gun. People walked by, occasionally offering drugs or asking if we knew where there were any. We told them, not in so many words, to kindly leave.

The next day was pretty much a repeat of the last, except this time we stood around for five hours in the blazing sun at Olds Hill. Landon and I left that night with sunburns and sand in our ears but no worse for wear.

All the rumors that I heard about the hedonism of Glamis I can honestly say are largely unfounded. If you go with the honest intention of enjoying the sport and the natural beauty of the desert, you will find these things. The people who bring the hostility and irresponsibility are not everywhere. There is plenty of room, law enforcement, and a lot of good, clean adrenaline to be enjoyed out in California's most treasured and misunderstood deserts. Don't let the rumors keep you from a fun weekend in Glamis with your family. It is an experience you won't forget.

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