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Thousands of Visitors Head to Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area for Annual Tierra Del Sol Desert Safari

Story from: Jeff Price, Ocotillo Wells District

Once again, tens of thousands of off-highway vehicle enthusiasts traveled to Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA) from all over the United States for the 56th Annual Tierra Del Sol Desert Safari. This two-day event brings together visitors from diverse backgrounds, OHV preferences and age groups. One thing they all seem to have in common is a love for their families, their desert and their sport.

As you can imagine, an event like this requires teamwork and cooperation. From the event coordinators and core staff, to the ranger and the maintenance crews on the front lines. All the departments working together this year (and in years past) have made the 56th iteration of this event a clear success.

In the run-up to the start of the event, our maintenance team worked on several projects to make the park ready and welcoming to our visitors. Fire pits were cleaned out, restrooms were painted and ramadas were in tiptop shape for the attendees to enjoy. The housekeeping team provided clean restroom facilities, made sure that refuse made it to the provided dumpsters and answered many visitors’ questions as they went about their duties during the event.

Our trails team worked with the ranger staff and interpretation staff to make sure that all of the signage was in great shape for the event. This allowed visitors to know where they were and what they were looking at several locations. The trails team also partnered with our natural and cultural resources staff to pinpoint sensitive resources and provide barriers for their protection during the event. Resources staff was also instrumental in the approval of this year’s route that the TDS Safari followed, pre-running the entire course and providing their valuable insight to protect our park’s resources.

Our park interpretive staff gave just over 2,600 visitors a peek into the secret life of the desert. Programs included a timeline of desert denizens, past to present and a flash flood safety display. The OHMVR Division Outreach Team came from Sacramento to offer support and host a Tread Lightly!® RC Jeep obstacle course that enthralled over 1,300 visitors of all ages. The outreach staff guided the participants over challenging obstacles while learning about OHV safety and Tread Lightly! principals, having fun and becoming more responsible recreationists at the same time! In total, approximately 3,900 visitors attended programs, forging new connections with their favorite place to play. 

Finally, overseeing the event from their perch on the Badlands Overlook, our public safety team kept a close eye on the event, with visitor safety as their ultimate goal. The public safety team used a Unified Command Structure as well as our newly finished Incident Command trailer to more effectively make use of our own and allied agency resources. Law enforcement rangers, desert lifeguards and officers from the multi-agency effort were able to professionally handle any situation that arose. With an increase in the number of law enforcement personnel this year, there were more minor citations issued. But due to the deterrent of more visible patrols, there were fewer serious incidents to report.

At the end of a long weekend, everyone was exhausted but happy with their efforts to make our visitor’s experience at this event a memorable one. We look forward to hosting this event and many others in the years to come. [3/2018]

Public safety team and allied agencies taking time for a photo after their morning briefing.
Photo by Miguel Rocha, Ocotillo Wells District

Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Commission Held Meeting and Tour in Southern California

Story from: Katie Metraux, OHMVR Divisio

The Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Commission (Commission) held a public meeting in Holtville and toured Heber Dunes and Ocotillo Wells state vehicular recreation areas (SVRAs) last week. Off-highway vehicle (OHV) recreation groups, stakeholders, the public and elected officials, attended both the tour, held on March 1 and meeting on March 2.

The first stop on the tour was Heber Dunes SVRA. This small, community-oriented park is a favorite destination for family gatherings and for people to enjoy both motorized and non-motorized recreation. Heber Dunes Sector Superintendent Kent Miller discussed how the park turned the 2012 General Plan into reality with dramatic improvements to facilities and the visitor experience.

The commissioners were thrilled to see a new campfire center, restrooms, picnic areas, a youth track and training area, administration building, maintenance yard and related infrastructure. Representatives from the National Youth Project Utilizing Minibikes presented an update on a statewide partnership to utilize facilities like Heber’s for their youth programs. The partnership includes California State Parks, Honda, the National Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and other organizations.

The Commission then stopped at Tectonic Gorge overlook at Ocotillo Wells SVRA, where they could see most of the vast 86,000-acre park. There, Sector Superintendent Andrew Ahlberg discussed revenue generation, special event cost recovery and the public safety program. The incident command trailer and the desert lifeguard program were highlighted as key components in providing public safety services and inter-agency coordination throughout the year.

Resources Manager Steve Quartieri also highlighted the resource management programs, which includes annual natural and cultural surveys, habitat restoration, and protective measures for cultural resources. The last stops on the tour included an exciting drive up Devil’s Slide, the new Main Street group event facility and the ever-popular Discovery Center. [3/2/18]

OHMVR Commissioners, Ocotillo Wells District staff, OHMVR Division staff, and interested stakeholders at Devils Slide, Ocotillo Wells SVRA

OHMVR Division Helps Staff the 'King of Hammers' Off-Road Race

Story from: Steve Schory, Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division

Recently, the Off Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation (OHMVR) Division and Rangers from across the State came together to help support the King of the Hammers off-road race.

What is King of the Hammers you ask? King of the Hammers is an event so large and complex, that it requires the coordination of multiple Federal, State, and local entities to ensure its success. The centerpiece of the King of the Hammers race event is “Hammertown”. Hammertown is a maze of racers, pit crews, fans, vendors, concessionaires, security and emergency services, and all manner of support services that go along with a small city. Surrounding Hammertown you will find a sea of RVs, campers, tents, and any manner of campsite as far as the eye can see. This “city”, with a population of roughly 30,000, pops up virtually overnight. Picture this and you will begin to imagine the magnitude of this spectacle.

This happens every year in the high desert region of the Johnson Valley. This is the perfect place for what is considered the toughest one-day off road race in the world. It is the largest off-road race event in North America in terms of both competitors and spectators. It combines desert racing and rock crawling, and has expanded from one race to a series of 5 races held throughout the week. These races include the Every Man Challenge , the King of the Hammers UTV Race, King of The Motos, the Shootout and culminates with the actual King of the Hammers race on Friday.

The race is held primarily on lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), but also extends in to the Shared Use Area, where Means Dry Lake is located. The Shared Use Area is jointly operated by BLM and the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) Twenty nine Palms. For 10 months out of the year, it falls under BLM jurisdiction, with two months allocated to the Marine Corps for training. In order to successfully manage an event of this size, BLM partners with the USMC Twenty nine Palms Provost Marshal’s office, USMC Conservation Law Enforcement Officers, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office, San Bernardino County Fire Department, California Highway Patrol, and California State Parks OHMVR Division to provide law enforcement and emergency services.

To that end, the OHMVR Division assisted with Law Enforcement support by providing six off-road capable motorcycle patrol officers and three support staff for the week. The focus of the deployment was to provide patrols in order to prevent incursions onto the racecourse and into the MCAGCC that is not open to use by the public (Exclusive Use Area). Rangers from across the State came together from Hollister Hills SVRA, Hungry Valley SVRA, Eastern Kern County Onyx Ranch SVRA, Ocotillo Wells SVRA, Angeles Sector, and OHMVR Division Headquarters just to support this event. The extreme desert riding conditions requires all Rangers on this deployment to have off-road motorcycle skills well above the norm and the immense crowds and non-stop nature of the event will test even the best Officer’s skills. [Revised 4/4/18]

King of the Hammers deployment team. Left to right: Ranger Jon Brandt (OHMVR Division), Ranger John Cunningham (Hungry Valley), Ranger Luke Ware (Ocotillo Wells), Ranger Cameron O’Quinn (Onyx Ranch), Ranger Scott Struckman (OHMVR Division), Ranger Anne Lewis (Angeles Sector), Superintendent Steve Schory (OHMVR Division), Ranger Eric “Rick” Hanson (Hollister Hills), and Ed Patrovsky (OHV Commissioner). Not pictured – Superintendent Callan McLaughlin (OHMVR Division).
Photo by Steve Schory, OHMVR Headquarters

Newest Park Eastern Kern County Onyx Ranch SVRA Offers Recreation for Off-RoadersĀ and Much More

Story from: Dennis Weber, Communications Office; Photos by: Patricia Farmer, San Andreas District

The newest addition to California State Parks is designated as an off-highway motor vehicle recreation park, but it offers much more. Eastern Kern County Onyx Ranch State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA) is the second largest unit in the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division. The park was acquired in 2014.

Located in Eastern Kern County and adjacent to State Route 14 on the western edge of the Mojave Desert, this SVRA park offers over 26,000 acres of scenic and challenging terrain for all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), motorcycles, recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs) and 4x4 vehicles. Laid out in a checkerboard fashion, Eastern Kern County Onyx Ranch is surrounded by mostly Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land that also offers visitors varied and exciting off-highway vehicle (OHV) recreation opportunities. The SVRA provides many miles of trails and open riding areas that traverse across BLM, State Parks, and private land. Open riding is also available at both Jawbone Canyon and Dove Springs. The road and trail system also provides for hiking, birding, wildlife viewing, rock hounding, mountain biking, and horseback riding. A portion of the Pacific Crest Trail traverses the park.

Elevations at Eastern Kern County Onyx Ranch range from 2,200 to over 6,400 feet spanning multiple habitats. While much of the SVRA is desert, it certainly is not deserted. Sharp-eyed visitors can spot many of its residents. More than 200 bird species inhabit the SVRA. Butterbredt Spring is designated a Globally Important Bird Area. Bird species include thrashers, sage sparrows, golden eagles, American kestrel, flycatchers, Cooper’s hawks, burrowing owls and the speedy road runner. More grounded residents include bear, bobcat, coyote, and mountain lions. More than a dozen species of rats and mice can be found here including three kinds of kangaroo rats hopping about. Representing reptiles, nearly a dozen types of lizards scamper about the park along with sidewinders, Mohave rattlesnakes and the desert icon, the Desert tortoise. [3/23/18]

Much of the SVRA is sage and scrub but trees vary from the spiky Joshua to pinyon pines. When winter rains cooperate, the spring wildflower bloom can be spectacular especially California golden poppy displays. Eastern Kern County Onyx Ranch has inspiring geological formations to view or explore. According the California Geological Survey the park sits on the western edge of the Basin and Geomorphic Providence.

If you love camping, there are self-contained camping sites and additional primitive camping available at nearby Red Rock Canyon State Park.

Weather can be wild with occasional snowfalls occurring in the winter months. Summers are mostly hot and dry. It only rains about 8 inches a year, but flash flooding can result. The most pleasant times of the year for recreation occurs between October and April when temperatures are cool and occasional rains provide for reduced dust and improved traction. [3/23/18]

Onyx Ranch photos


Hollister Hills SVRA Participates in National Reading Month Celebration

Hollister Hills SVRA staffStory and photos from: Julio Ortiz, Monterey District

Known as National Reading Month, March also celebrates the National Education Association (NEA) month long reading celebration called “Read Across America”. Locally, two schools participated in this celebration by hosting their own “Read All Day” event honoring Dr. Seuss and his March birthday.

Both Cerra Vista and Sunnyslope Elementary schools invited Hollister Hills SVRA and numerous other agencies, organizations, and individuals from the community to read to students of all grades. For the second year, park staff happily participated at Cerra Vista on March 2 and for the first time participated at Sunnyslope on March 15. Both events were organized by school staff and allowed all reading participants the opportunity to read to one or more classrooms.

This year, park staff enjoyed reading to eleven different classroom totaling about 280 students. Grades varied from second to fifth, with books chosen to accommodate the grade. Some of the books read included “The Barn Owls” by Tony Johnston, “The Barefoot Book of Earth Tales” by Dawn Casey and Anne Wilson, “The Day the Crayons Quit” by Drew Daywalt, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss and “A Log’s Life” by Wendy Pfeffer. [3/23/18]

Communications Team Learns About Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation at Prairie City SVRA

Communications Team member riding in an ROV (side-by-side)Story from: Jorge Moreno, Communications Office

It’s quite exhilarating to ride a side-by-side off-highway vehicle, especially if it’s your first time. The gravity of the full force pushes your body back into the seat as you take off on the unpaved road. As you make your way through the winding hills and dips full of mud, the wind and excitement rushes through your body. When you finish, you have a big smile on your face and clothes full of mud.

The Communications Team recently visited Prairie City State Vehicular Recreation Area to learn more about the Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) recreation in our California state parks and rode on an off-highway vehicle with State Park Interpreter I Peter Ostroskie.

Located on the base of the Sierra Nevada foothills about 25-miles east of Sacramento, Prairie City SVRA is an urban off-highway vehicle park with rolling hills, open grasslands and a unique habitat for wildlife such as hawks, wild turkeys and coyotes. The 1,300-acre park offers off-highway enthusiast a variety of terrains and trails for motorcycles, all-terrain and 4-wheel drive vehicles.

“Because Prairie City is near Sacramento and other cities, it makes the park one of the best places for urban folks to come out and learn how to ride and to really love the sport of off-highway vehicles,” said Ostroskie.

Ostroskie showed us around the Environmental Training Center (ETC) where he and others provide weekly classes to OHV recreationist. He educates them on the importance of environmental responsibility and safe vehicle operation. He said part of the training is to educate the public that in order to have a sustainable future you have to have sustainable recreation.

“Environmental concerns are huge for us because we want to provide a place that people can recreate but also protect the natural resources,” he added.

The ETC building has a trail system that features examples of different California ecosystems such as the desert, sand dunes and forest. This trail system teaches participants riding ethics to minimize their impact on the environment by emphasizing the importance of staying on designated trails.

Aside from having fun while you ride, riding safely is also important. Using the proper equipment, riding within your limits, knowing the laws and wearing a proper helmet helps protect you and others from possible accidents.

Although you might get distracted by the mud on your goggles, the park has amazing views and a unique habitat like the vernal pool. Flowers were blooming when Ostroskie talked about how these vernal pools are home to some of the last remnants of native grassland plants in the Central Valley. The seasonal wetlands are also home to some endangered species like the vernal pool tadpole shrimp and fairy shrimp.

If you haven't been riding off-highway vehicles, Prairie City SVRA or any of the other eight OHV parks is a great way to see the beauty and grandeur of our state parks, while riding with friends and family.[4/20/18]

California State Parks Communications Team photo