There are few things as fun as tossing rooster tails and sliding turns in the sand. In southern California, not far from the borders of Arizona and Mexico, is the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, near Glamis. Miles of sand dunes open to the public for riding ATVs, UTVs, and all-terrain vehicles are found here. And every year, Polaris fans gather for an event called Camp RZR.
We attended Camp RZR 2022, courtesy of Polaris, and saw it all firsthand. In the flattest part of the edge of the park, right next to the highway, hundreds of caravans of motorhomes were laid out and thousands of people (and their machines) gathered for this event. In an unusual partnership, Polaris and chief rival Can-Am are working together to create Camp RZR in the California desert.
At the center of the set is a large bazaar surrounding a huge Ferris wheel adorned with Polaris’ North Star logo. Food trucks, vendor stands, custom outfitters, and informative exhibits about the technology inside the off-road machines make up this party. At one end of it, accessible from the “sand highway” that leads into the dunes from the entrance road, is a group of tents that act as repair shops. At the other end is a huge stage and general admission area where bands play to crowds every night before those crowds head to the largest of the nearby dunes to do a ‘light show’ of the sign posts adorned with LEDs from their machines. There they can watch the fireworks display which takes place right next to the camp.
Held every fall over a long weekend, Camp RZR is one of the largest gatherings of off-road UTV enthusiasts in the world. Two-, four-, and sometimes six-seat machines are seen crisscrossing the dunes with the occasional four-wheeled ATV and two-wheeled motorcycle hitting the sand as well. The range of machines and customizations is amazing. While professional tuners like the Diesel Bros create custom designs like an upgraded RZR Turbo beast or an ice cream truck-themed Polaris, the amount of creativity displayed by everyday off-road side-by-side owners is impressive.
Driving through the dunes, of course, has its dangers. Machines break down, accidents happen and safety equipment can be tested. For the most part, however, most years of Camp RZR produce few serious injuries or crashes on the dunes. And when a machine breaks down, Polaris offers free repairs at its on-site tent shops — often sacrificing corporate machinery brought to the event for display in order to salvage the parts needed to get an attendee back on the job. sand.
On the dunes, there is an awesome camaraderie between the riders. When someone is stuck, it’s not uncommon to see three or four strangers converge on them to help them out. Breakdown? Someone nearby will almost certainly pull over and tow you back to camp for repairs. And if anyone is injured, all it takes is a radio or phone call and Polaris’ off-road ambulance crew is out in the sand.
Ride in the desert
The Camp RZR event and organization was pretty amazing. Rolling in the dunes, though? Much better. Polaris took us two- and four-seater side-by-side to criss-cross the sand. Having some experience with this sort of thing, I got a two-seater so I could try to squeeze in some airtime and use the smaller wheelbase to carve harder. During the day I tried both the RZR TurboR and the standard RZR in the sand. I also took a more organized group through a predefined course with a “demonstration” machine open to the public. The latter option is a great introduction to sand, while racing with Polaris-supplied machines was much more entertaining. Almost as entertaining as racing with a professional racer in one of their machines. More on that later.
In the sand, there are several things to keep in mind. First of all, a proper full face helmet, goggles and scarf are essential. The first two have obvious security points. The latter is to prevent sand from getting back up into your helmet or onto your shirt, which is uncomfortable. A long-sleeved shirt or jacket is also essential for the same reason. I also prefer to wear gloves to protect my hands from wind and sand and recommend wearing hard knuckle gloves as you will inevitably get your knuckles banged on the dash, roll cage or whatever while driving . Finally, long pants and closed-toed shoes complete the safety equipment. These things don’t guarantee you won’t get hurt, but they do greatly minimize the chances of that happening and reduce distractions that can cause silly maneuvers. Nothing makes you flinch and hijack the vehicle like sand running down your pants and making you itch, if you know what I mean – never mind sand in your eyes or in your throat.
Off-roading in the sand is unique. It has nothing to do with running on the beach, climbing or skidding. It’s more like driving on fresh, deep snow or piloting a boat on really thick water. There’s not so much cornering as sliding in the right direction and stopping is a kind of meandering slide if done with the vehicle’s brakes. Simple rules like don’t stop on a climb, always turn downhill if things aren’t going well, and be aware of surroundings and other cyclists apply. It is otherwise a free pleasure for all.
Side-by-side machines like the Polaris RZR are hard to flip or tip over, easy to pull into recovery if they start to tip over, and incredibly good at finding a way through obstacles ahead. There’s a button on the steering wheel that stiffens the suspension for about five seconds. It’s instinctive to try to use it to make an impact, but that’s not really why. Instead, it’s best used when more traction is needed to accelerate or turn. I didn’t learn this until I rode with a professional Baja racer in his rig and watched how he rode.
Multiple Baja 1000 and 500 winner Casey Currie took me out in one of his machines for a run in the sands of Glamis. His machine, modified to accommodate a navigator with a large GPS screen, also underwent several other changes: tubes for an additional air intake, a support for a tire and a spare wheel, and other modifications. made ready for the race. Casey didn’t get too crazy on our run through the dunes but instead let me watch his hands and feet as he rode the machine and did his thing while explaining the history of Glamis itself, highlighting the landmarks and highlights of what was then or is now.
It wasn’t so much a thrill ride as it was an hour of insider instruction and commentary. While riding a dune, for example, Casey explained that people don’t go over it because the other side is where Jeeps and other larger vehicles often go, so it’s not safe for those little machines. . In another, he pointed out where people don’t drive often because the dunes there are more sheltered from the wind, so they also don’t recover from sandblasting from UTVs.
I learned a lot just by watching Casey navigate and control his machine. His expert (and long-practiced) use of controls was fascinating.
The RZR camp at Glamis is huge
The whole Camp RZR experience is amazing and way more fun than I expected. It is also family-friendly, with small tracks allowing young children to drive small machines while being instructed and supervised by experts. Children, from toddlers to teenagers, will have a great time here. Even before you factor in the inflatables, ferris wheel, and other fun camp games happening everywhere.
There is an atmosphere of camaraderie and fun throughout Camp RZR. We were certainly surprised by the number of enthusiasts present and the quality of the organization and the fun.