By Scott Crain
The Juniper Dunes Wilderness area is a 7000-acre part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, located in southeastern Washington State. It lies just a few miles north of what used to be a quiet part of the state, now exploding with population and development. The Hanford Nuclear Reservation lies a few miles to the southwest, one of the most polluted nuclear waste sites in the country. Just outside the barbed wire fence that surrounds Juniper Dunes lies an off-road vehicle area promoted by the Bureau of Land Management for ORVs and other motorized activities.
I was born and raised a few miles south in Pasco. When I was a kid, the Dunes, as we called them, were a place to go target shooting, driving four wheelers, and doing all sorts of other things that our parents didn't want to know about. I've moved on, but those activities continue unabated right up to the wilderness boundary.
Right after the pandemic hit and leaving your house became socially acceptable, my family took a beeline straight to the Wilderness to spend two nights in the desert. You haul all your water in. There are no trails and no established camps. And, unless you have an ORV, you need to hike at least a mile through the off-road vehicle trails to come near the boundary.
We climbed over the barbed wire to enter the Wilderness and found a large swale to shield some of the ORV and target shooting noise where we set our tent up. From the top of the dune above us we could see ORVs drive right up to the fence, and roar down the dunes with multicolored LED lights flashing on their fenders and roll bars.
We headed north for lunch to a large dune far off in the middle of the wilderness. While the kids played in the sand, I laid in the sage and napped. My older child eventually shouted, "Dad, I found a toad buried in the dune." As usual, he spotted wildlife no one else saw, and as usual, I didn't believe him at first. I should know better by now, but I looked and in his hand was sitting a spadefoot toad that had buried itself in the dunes. He gently set it back in the dune and covered it up again.
I wondered the rest of the day how many toads I'd walked over unseen in these dunes, and how many find the wilderness a refuge from the constant churning created by the ORVs outside the fence. It gave us a respect for the dunes and how we treat them in the future.
I've been on both sides of that fence now, and I definitely know which I prefer and which is sustainable for our planet and our health in the long run.
“Wilderness Experienced” is a platform to share stories of recent experiences in Wilderness. Stories focus on the virtues of Wilderness and/or challenges facing the National Wilderness Preservation System.
We encourage readers to engage the authors and other commenters through the comment feature. Please be respectful and thoughtful in your response, and focus your comments on the issues/experiences presented. Please refrain from personal attacks and harassment, using rude or disruptive language, providing misinformation, or promoting violence or illegal activities. We reserve the right to reject comments. Thank you for your cooperation and support.
Thanks you for trying to protect this special ecosystem. It is people like you who put in the time/effort who will make our planet better for everyone. As a marine biologist who did my field work at Friday Harbor Labs, I feel a kinship with Washington state. Stay strong!
Great article Scott, shows both perspectives which is good. No child should be deigned the out door experience. It's important for their mental development. So no child should be left inside. This is why we need these natural areas undisturbed by motorized vehicles of any kind. They should have their own area to stay in and destroy. The wildlife needs a safe place to live.
Thank you Scott for calling our attention to and helping us reconnect to the Natural World! I advocate for programs that take children on more Wilderness adventures so they can experience themselves in a world without electronics, vehicles, etc. Such programs should be right up there with vaccines and doctor visits!
Good Wishes to You and Yours,
Motorized vehicles do not belong in wild places. Humans are the most destructive species on the planet. We must stop our greed and arrogance and consider our actions that lead to the destruction of living creatures we do not see or yet understand -- their importance to us and to our planet.
In my younger days I subscribed to the need for wilderness buffer theory. But I finally realized that’s just a extension of the Wilderness boundary. Yes that does decrease Wilderness values around the periphery. But that is the case wherever the boundary. In these days of extremes, some people’s minds can switch from one thing to another very quickly while others need three days to unwind. It is nice to have the freedom of choice with the large variety of wildernesses to choose from. Juniper Dunes is an excellent example where we can choose which side of the fence to be. Let’s respect lovers of the outdoors on both sides
I am a very responsible OHV rider and a wilderness and wildlife lover and I say WE NEED MORE QUIET WILDERNESS AREAS AND LESS OHV LANDS. Thanks WW
Beautifully written piece that applies to so many areas of the world. It makes you think about all the things that go unnoticed by us everyday, how we (hopefully) become more wise as we age, and how a line in the sand, or a fence, can mean the difference between protecting creation or offering it up for destruction.
Thank you, Scott, for sharing, and for seeing the light. "Out of the mouths of babes..." will come the saving of the world ...
THESE SAND DUNES MUST BE SAVED-PROTECTED FROM ALL MOTORISED VEHICLES PERIOD. THIS MANDATORY EXCLUSION ZONE WOULD BE POLICED WITH HEAVEY FINES FOR FIRST TIME OFFENDERS & VEHICLE SEIZURE FOR SUBSEQUNT 2-ND &3RD TIME OFFENDERS. THESE SAND DUNES WULD BE OPENFOR WALKING HIKEING & POSSIBILY CAMPING-TENTING. THOSE TENTING-CAMPING AREAS WUOLD BE AUSER FEE TO COVER THE MAINTANCE = ADMINISTRATION =PORTABLE OUTHOUSES. EVERY USER WOULD HAVE TO CARRY OUT EVERTHING THEY BRING IN
[EG] ALL PLASTIC JARS-WRAPPERS-BAGS-BECERAGE CONTAINERS & THE SAME FOR AL METAL CONTAINERS & ALUMINIUM FOIL. NO MEAT BUY PRODUCTS [EG] FAT-SKIN-BONES,;NO VEGETABLE LEFTOVERS; NO PAPPER PLATES -PASTIC CUTLERY. ====MOST IMPORTANTLY NO TOBBACCO PRODUCTS CAN BE USED IN OR THE DUNES PERIOD======THE DUNES MUST BE FREE OFF ALL CIGARREET BUTTS-PACKAGES.
THE ONLY THINGS LEFT BEHIND ARE FOOTPRINTS IN THE SAND. ALL MOST FOREGOT -DOGS CAN BE BROUGHT INTO THE DUNES BUT ALL THE DOG POOP MUST BE PICKED UP IN BIODEGASEABLE PLASTIC BAGS THAT ARE COMMERCIALY AVAILABLE EVERYWHERE. THESE POOP BAGS CAN BE PUT IN THE PORTABLE OUT HUOSES THAT PEOPLE USE
I say keep PEOPLE as well as any vehicles (motorized or not) off these beautiful sand dunes!!! We protect these natural areas, OR we lose them! Thanks!
Motorized vehicles and animals do not go together. People ALWAYS can go somewhere else. To the animals, this is their home.
How is it the BLM, Forestry Division, USDA, NOAA, and USFWS, bend to the will of a few who want to destroy beautiful ecosystems in our nation, both on land and in the ocean, when so many of us are screaming to preserve these places? Off road vehicles already have a ton of trails in every state, ruining untold amounts of wild and protected lands, they do NOT need anymore. In fact, most of these places should be closed permanently and let the wild areas heal and to give the wonderful animals that call it home a chance. We have to take protection much more seriously, and the government needs to listen to us, not companies that want to exploit it, and not the people who want to ruin it for decades by classifying destruction as "Recreation".
Keep up the good work. Juniper Dunes sounds like a wonderful place. As population continues to grow wildlife habitat continues to shrink. We need to protect wildlife and their habitat all over the planet.
I find it hard to believe that any sort of motorized vehicle would be considered in some areas. Most areas are hard to get even a horse into.
The dust and the smoke and the smell are very prohibative, not to mention the noise.
Keep motorized, of any sort, out of the area.
Thank ou Scott for your essay. I didn't even know about the Juniper Dunes Wilderness. I volunteered in Utah for the BLM as ranger in the Grand Gulch Primitive Area and it was a constant battle with locals to keep there ATV's out of the wilderness. It was a wonderful thing when the Bears Ears National Monument was created but it really upset the people who love their ATV's. Once they get in they are very hard to get out. Thank you WW for all you do to keep it all protected. Don't forget the Bears Ears after the election.
I live in Desert Hot Springs CA and the off roaders are tearing up the ecosystem here too. They even use city streets to drive to their favorite desert spot even though their vehicles aren't street legal and don't have the same noise suppression (mufflers) that street legal vehicles have. The noise alone is a form of pollution and probably harms wildlife too along with the ecosystem destruction. Let's all hope for better days.