Ride Spot: Ocotillo Wells, California


We chose to highlight Ocotillo Wells SVRA (Specialty Vehicle Recreation Area) this month for two reasons. First, Ocotillo Wells is one of California’s eight SVRAs and has been featured in early extreme OHV videos, including the “Crusty” series. More importantly, an initiative on California’s November 2 ballot is set to conserve and restore all of the Golden State’s neglected state parks. The State Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act of 2010 is intended to raise $500 million for all parks and recreation areas via an $18 vehicle license fee on cars, light trucks (no commercial vehicles), motorcycles and RVs. Since the recession, there has been a lot of talk of closing many of the neglected parks, which would severely impact the OHV community. The OHV community contributes $3.2 billion per year to the state economy. This initiative would not only keep California’s SVRAs open, it would improve and possibly expand opportunities and services.

Yes, Californians already pay to play via the Green Sticker OHV program to the tune of $26 per year per OHV, but this new $18 fee on street-legal, private vehicles would grant free access to California state parks, including SVRAs. Whether or not this ballot initiative passes, Ocotillo Wells SVRA is free for all visitors, for day use or camping. Make that three reasons for visiting Ocotillo Wells!

Holmes Camp is one of the few areas with shade, so bring your own. There are no hookups or dump stations in the SVRA, but nearby RV parks can hook you up.

On any big weekend you’ll see caravans of campers heading towards Glamis, but many never make it to the Imperial Sand Dunes. Many turn onto Highway 78 and head to Ocotillo Wells, an 80,000-acre lowland desert (between Anza Borrego State Park and the Salton Sea) that’s open to OHV recreation and exploration. Large tracts of BLM land border the SVRA on the south and east, and people can venture into those areas as well. People flock to Ocotillo from San Diego, Palm Springs and greater Los Angeles for its unique riding experiences.
Extreme video fans will recognize the famous Shell Reef, which is a mountain of fossilized oyster and clamshells. There’s even a small sand dune area called Blow Sand Hill and a 200-foot-tall Devil’s Slide made of granite and sand that reportedly has haunted mines. Barrel Springs features mesquite-covered sand dunes, and the Pumpkin Patch is a weird formation where sand gets cemented to various objects and grows, sort of like a snowball but with sand. On nearby BLM land, Gas Dome Trail takes visitors to bubbling mud pots, but the main attractions are riding the lowland desert terrain and camping.

Ocotillo Wells is one of eight SVRAs, and the 80,000-acre OHV park is adjacent to Anza Borrego State Park. But the 500,000-acre ABSP is only accessible to street-legal vehicles.

Visitors can camp free for up to 30 days per calendar year, and facilities include vault toilets, shade ramadas, picnic tables and fire rings. There are no water hookups, but there are pay showers at Holmes Camp and Ranger Station Road. Other camping areas include Quarry, Cove, Hidden Valley and Main streets, but there’s no camping allowed at Shell Reef, Blow Sand Hill or the Slide. Simply pull off one of these roads and set up camp, but be sure to bring plenty of water. Also, bring your own firewood, as gathering wood in the park is illegal (no pallets or boards with nails). The season for Ocotillo Wells is the same as for Glamis—from Labor Day through Easter—which is similar to California’s Red Sticker use-season (October 1 through May 31).

Bring your own firewood and water to Ocotillo, and rules ban wood with nails. All ATVs must have spark arrestors and safety flags, and operators must wear helmets. Also, the speed limit within 50 feet of camps is 15 mph.

This OHV park is so popular that most of the township of Ocotillo Wells and businesses along Highway 78 cater to OHV enthusiasts. There are RV parks, hotels, restaurants, repair and rental shops, fuel and retail stores, and many enthusiasts buy land on the south side of Highway 78 to access the SVRA. Luv 2 Camp and other RV rental companies will deliver to the RV parks or designated camps, and visitors can also rent quads and UTVs (RZRs!). AMA District 38 and other clubs put on events and races in the area during the season. As snowbirds flock to the Salton Sea, OHV enthusiasts swell the population of Ocotillo Wells and Glamis in the cooler months.
So, make plans for visiting this historic and very popular OHV park this fall or winter for some fun in the sun.

• Ocotillo Wells SVRA District Office, (760) 767- 5391, www.parks.ca.gov
• El Centro BLM, (619) 353-1060

Blu In RV Park, (760) 561-1370, www.bluinrvpark.com
Ocotillo Wells Rentals, (951) 445-6447, (877) 562-8941, www.ocotillowellsrentals.com
Luv 2 Camp, (888) 898-CAMP, www.luv2camp.com
Albert’s RV Rental, (858) 598-5829, www.albertsrvrental.com

Burro Bend Motorsports, 6100 Hwy 78, (760) 767-3300
Get-N-Dirty Quad Rentals, (877) 438-6938
San Diego Motorsport Rentals, (760) 767-4020

“Let’s see…goggles on, pin it in third and hit the lip to the left.” Ocotillo Wells SVRA is most famous for Shell Reef and other geographic features unique to the SoCal low desert area west of the Salton Sea.