A Memorial Day Trip to the Christmas Valley Sand Dunes

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday: 

Lynette and I wanted to go camping. Usually, we have had several good camping adventures by Memorial Day of any given year, but this year has been different, to say the least. With some time off, we decided on going fishing and quadding in central Idaho. 

However, the rain and snow put a damper on that plan. The weather forecast showed rain the entire week before and most of the weekend. It is always a little muddy and marshy where we camp on Silver Creek, so we decided to back away from this plan. But where shall we go?

Ready to head west (Photo by author)

During this time, I discovered a leak in the motor home. It is usually stored undercover, so getting it our early and letting it sit in the rain was a good use of time. The front window seal over the cab was bad and letting in water. Luckily, the service center at Nelson’ RV got it right in, sealed it, and let it sit overnight in their warm, dry shop to seal up correctly. It was good as new the next day. 

After many discussions, Lynette and I decided to join some friends at the Christmas Valley Sand Dunes for camping and Jeeping. This is awesome because this is what I wanted to do from the start, but I wasn’t looking forward to the almost five-hour drive. However, the weather report had both us saying “Head west, young man. Head west.”

Having been to the dunes before, I knew there were night runs. I also knew that one of my LED pod lights wasn’t working on the Fire Jeep. I went out to the garage for a five-minute job of wiring up one ground wire that had come loose. Two hours later, and one bad toggle switch replaced with a new one later, and I was done. It always seems to go that way when you go to work on a rig: the simple jobs end up being a pain in the butt and taking three times as long and once it’s done, you wonder how the heck it took that long to get one little job done. 

My new tie-downs! (Photo by author)

On my last adventure, I broke a tie-down on my trailer. I had to wait patiently for my new Mac’s Tie Downs to show up so I could load my Jeep and head out. If you tow a rig on a trailer, I recommend their axle tie-downs for the job. They are the best. I finally broke one after eight years of towing multiple Jeeps all around Idaho, Oregon, Utah, and Nevada. Plus, they are a local, Idaho company. They showed up at 4:00 PM on Wednesday, just beating the buzzer to leave. 

After throwing some clothes, some food, some beer, and a couple of dogs into the motorhome, we were ready to hit the road. 

Thursday: 

Lynette and I left the house four times to actually leave the house. We had to deliver some fancy fingernails to somebody in Nampa, I went to the gas station and gassed everything up, I forgot my red toolbox and had to spin around and get it, and then after the nails, we had to run home again to meet my step-daughter and get Lynette’s favorite coozie. I drove 19 miles to end up back at the house, but finally left at 10:45 — after hitting our goal and leaving at 10:00 AM. 

The first leg of the trip on I-84 went by without a hitch. We stopped and bought groceries in Ontario and headed out past Vale. About the time we hit the river between Vale and Juntura, the big wind started. Gusts shoved the motorhome and Jeep all over the road and any speed over 55 just wasn’t in the cards. 

Wind, rain, sun, gray — all in one drive (Photo by author)

The drive gave us everything from bright blue skies to rain to wind to gray. We had an entire year’s worth of seasons in a four-hour drive. 

Sand blowing around the dunes (photo by author)

The wind was wreaking havoc on the sand dunes when we turned and saw them. At about dinner time, we pulled under a big Yellow Pine tree, heated up some leftover spaghetti, and got settled in for the evening. 

About dusk, the wind finally started to die down and I heard a V8 engine start. People were headed out for a night run on the dunes! 

Lynette looked at me like I was crazy, but I was in the Jeep and headed out in about 30 seconds.

Running sand dunes is so much fun. There really any trails; you just head wherever you want to head. After five minutes of chasing tail lights, I was finally remembering how to drive and what gear I wanted to be in: note to self, two-wheel drive, second gear, with lots of wheel speed for those types of cruises.

About the time I was remembering how to sidehill, I heard Mona over the radio: “Papa Duck, I broke something.” Drake is their last name, hence the radio name.

Mona had caught some air starting up a dune. There was a double bump and she had been on the gas when her front end jumped up in the air. The casualty was a broken front driveline u-joint. Randy quickly disconnected the other end, I taped it to the control arm, and we headed back to camp, the night run over. 

Friday: 

Friday morning was crisp, cool, and clear (Photo by author)

It got down to 29 degrees this morning, but the sun came out bright, the sky was blue, and the wind was gone. I got up and took the dogs out and took in all I was thankful for. Christmas Valley has a special allure to it: especially if you like sagebrush, wind, cold, and sand. It is isolated from towns and population, so people that end up at Christmas Valley are there on purpose. I think that’s why people have so much fun there. 

My motorhome workspace (photo by author)

I had to attend an online meeting for my school at 10:00 AM. It’s crazy to me that I can be here isolated in Christmas Valley, Oregon, poke a button on my phone, turn on my laptop, and attend a meeting in Eagle, Idaho. It worked flawlessly, and I was able to run my office hours for students the same way. Lynette is also a teacher, and was able to attend meetings and work with students, as well. Sometimes, technology is pretty impressive. 

My dad showed up today and slept in his pickup Friday night. It got down to 22 degrees overnight and he was ready for a cup of coffee when I handed it to him Saturday morning. 

Saturday:

After coffee, Saturday started with a 9:00 AM work-party meeting with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The sand dunes and the public camping around them are managed by the BLM and they have a working relationship with the Region 6 Pacific Northwest Four Wheel Drive Association. Every Saturday of Memorial Day, the PNW4WDA participates in this work party.

However, this year due to the COVID-19 craziness, it was decided that we would do a dune trash cleanup. Alan, my dad, Larry, and I decided to head out to the Lost Forest and pick up garbage. 

A drone’s eye view of our camp (Photo by Denver Fredlund)

We made a great big loop out to the north of the dunes, and then swung way back and tied into the farthest edge of the dunes. It was a great drive through some awesome, huge Juniper trees, which make up the Lost Forest. We picked up some garbage and had a nice drive. We ran into two other large groups of ATVs and UTVs and each group wanted to know if we were doing the poker run again this year.

At 3:00 PM, everyone was back for a Region 6 business meeting. While club meetings aren’t usually the highlight of people’s weekend, this one was fine, short, and to the point. The last point of business was planning the Poker Run for Sunday morning, and I volunteered to run a morning checkpoint. I have written before about my strong feelings that people who enjoy off-roading should be in four-wheel drive clubs, so working the poker run was a logical way for me to fulfill an obligation bigger than me. 

I am powerless to NOT take a sunset picture (Photo by the author)

At 7:00 PM, we went out like most nights to run the dunes and watch the sunset. Every year I am in Christmas Valley, I take some beautiful pictures of the sunset. Then, I do it the next night. I have so many sunset pictures, I don’t know what to do with all of them, but I am powerless to not take one. The sunsets are always incredible, along with the line of Jeeps watching the sunset. 

I am also powerless to NOT take Jeep lineup pictures (photo by the author)

Sunday:

After a warmer night but the same cup of coffee delivered to my dad in his pickup, we met Randy at 8:30 to find out our Poker Run jobs. Organizations like this are volunteer-run, so if there aren’t enough people willing to give to a good cause, we can’t accomplish anything. Luckily, we had enough people to volunteer that the five checkpoints could be staffed in two shifts: 9:00–11:30 and 11:30–2:00. Many hands make light work.

My dad, Doc, saying hi from Checkpoint #1 (Photo by the author)

My dad, Lynette, and I took two Jeeps out to Checkpoint #1. We snuggled up against a big towhead of sagebrush piles beneath a sand dune, doing our best to be hard-to-find. We got out our chairs, drank our coffee, enjoyed the view and the sun, and waited. 

After about 30 minutes of silence, the air began to drone to the sound of two-strokes and turbo side-by-sides. There were about 300 poker hands total sold, and once the first group found us, we were intermittently busy for the rest of the morning. Lynette punched tickets, I drew cards for people, and my dad was comedy control and unofficial sand dune greater. We all agreed it was fun manning the checkpoint, and that we would do it again in the future. 

Alan was my relief at Checkpoint #1, and when he found us, our job was done. We drew our hands and headed out. Alan hadn’t found #3 and #4, so his son took his cards, my dad stayed to irritate Alan, and Lynette and I were off to make a poker hand. 

We quickly found #2, #3, the rover station, #4, and then had a long drive to #5. After talking to everybody all morning, we had a fairly good idea of where to find the stationary stations. Hey, if you volunteer, you have to make it work for you. Lynette ran into a pretty good hand, three Queens, but we had already seen a guy with four Aces. We knew we weren’t going to win.

We made it back to camp, turned in our cards, and sat around in a circle solving the world’s problems, BSing, and learning about Snorkel shots. We ate, talked, drank, and enjoyed everybody’s company, six feet apart. It was one of the best Sunday Funday afternoons in history.

Per the usual, at 7:00 PM, people started their engines and headed out for a sunset run. Lynette does not like to go out at night as it gets cold, so she was staying in the motorhome. Andrew’s friend, Morgan, asked if he could ride with me, so I had a new copilot and off we went.

Showing Morgan the joy of sidehilling sand dunes (Photo by Lynette White)

Morgan is now ruined for Jeeps and sand dunes. Morgan is young, in his 20s, with a large un-kept mullet that was not quite as big as his smile after running the sand dunes with me. I put him up high on sidehills, made some big hill climbs for him, and spun some donuts in two-wheel drive. After two days of riding in a street pickup on the sand dunes, his experience riding in a Jeep with no top and doors — and a V8 pushing him along — was new. 

He loved it. He just kept smiling. Again, he is now ruined for Jeeps and sand dunes. I know how addiction begins. I’ve seen it. I saw it Sunday night. 

Monday:

After a fairly early night and a nice sleep-in until 7:45 AM, I got up, took my dad his coffee in his pickup, and we cooked a large breakfast on the outdoor Coleman stove. Hash browns, eggs, and kielbasa sausage were fried up into breakfast burritos and topped with salsa and cheese. 

After that began the work: loading Jeeps on trailers, coolers and gas cans stowed away, stoves broken down and stored. The inside of the motorhome needed to be made travel-ready so nothing fell and broke. Lynette and I are veterans of this process, and with a five-hour pavement drive ahead of us, we didn’t want to waste time. By 10:00 AM, we had said our good byes and were heading down the long, gravel, washboard road towards home. 


I have spent the last four years at the Christmas Valley Sand Dunes for Memorial Day. I assume I will be there next year. I am glad we decided to go over there and spend the weekend working, playing, and driving the sand dunes. Driving sand dunes might be the most fun you can have off-road, so if you ever get a chance, stop by Christmas Valley and watch a sunset. 

Written by: Nathan White