Lights from off-road vehicles, fireworks, and camping trailers at the Oceano Dunes, July 1976
Early-morning Oceano Dunes, March 2014
When I was a teenager back in the 1970s, I used to go out to the Oceano Dunes
on Memorial Day weekend, the Fourth of July, or Labor Day weekend for some four-wheeling fun with my extended family.
That was back in the good old days when the entire dunes was open to off-road vehicles: from Grover Beach
in the north all the way south through the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes
to Mussel Point,
and from the western shoreline all the way east to Oso Flaco Lake.
A couple of times I even got to drive in the sand a bit. But I had never driven there since.
Over the years heavy-handed environmentalists
have closed down most of the dunes to off-road vehicles, leaving only a small fraction of the dunes open for the public to enjoy in that way. I discovered that first hand when I drove my four wheel drive 2009 Toyota Tacoma
down from Oregon in March 2014 specifically for going out to the dunes. Every direction we tried to go, we kept running into fences blocking our way. It was most definitely a disappointing, caged-in feeling and experience.
Nevertheless, we were still able to drive around the dunes within those constricted boundaries. Because we were pretty much the only ones out there — it being early morning during the off-season of March — we were able to walk around, explore, and take pictures. And because it was early morning, the light from the low-hanging sun was absolutely gorgeous. You definitely will NOT get those kinds of shadows at midday!
My Toyota truck and my 12-year-old daughter Olivia appear in many of the photos, giving the vast scenery a sense of scale. Out of the 124 pictures I took during a one-hour period that morning, I've chosen my favorite 32 to share with you.