The Sahara Desert in Africa encompasses 3.5 million square miles, with sand dunes that would no doubt intrigue off-road enthusiasts, but it is thousands of miles from the U.S., does not contain a single RV park as near as I can find out online, and most of us will never have the chance to visit there.
However, there is an alternative in the western U.S. that can satisfy your desire to play Lawrence of Arabia, with no passport required! It is readily available by RV, camping is plentiful and inexpensive, and it is not nearly as hot. The only Nomads you may find here will be a brand of travel trailer and the only Camels you are likely to see will come out of a packet carried by somebody with a nicotine habit.
The alternative is the Little Sahara Recreation Area in the Sevier Desert west of Nephi, Utah. Little Sahara consists of 124 square miles of large, free moving sand dunes that are still drifting to the northeast between five and nine feet per year. Little Sahara is one of the most popular locations in Utah for OHV (off-highway vehicle) enthusiasts. You can ride across 60,000 acres of rolling sand dunes, trails, and sagebrush-covered flats. Sand Mountain, a nearly 700-foot wall of sand, challenges experienced riders and the most powerful machines.
Plenty of Choices
The varied terrain at Little Sahara provides plenty of opportunities for off-road exploring. These are some of the options:
White Sands Dunes: Located at the north end of the recreation area, it offers easy access to the dunes and plentiful bowls to power over, attracting enthusiasts of every skill level.
Dunes southwest of Black Mountain: These low-lying dunes provide good terrain for beginners and those who just want to get away from the crowded areas.
Sand Mountain: A 700-foot hill climb provides the ultimate challenge for any ORV (off-road vehicle) enthusiast. If you don’t have the nerves or machine to give it a run, it’s great entertainment to just watch!
Black Mountain: A series of dirt trails up and around this low peak offer superb trail riding for just about any kind of OHV. A great change of terrain if you tire of driving in the sand.
If you aren’t into riding off-road, you can experience the quiet side of Little Sahara at the Rockwell Outstanding Natural Area. Set aside as a vehicle-free zone, this 9,000-acre section is a miniature version of the larger surrounding desert ecosystem. Rockwell’s sand dunes, sagebrush flats and scattered junipers provide habitat for a collection of plants and animals. Over a dozen species of birds including great horned owls reside here along with deer, antelope, and a variety of reptiles. Dotting the landscape are stands of Utah juniper, sagebrush and grasses typical of the Great Basin, plus an extremely rare species of saltbush.
Visitors can also enjoy camping, hiking and exploring in two of the biggest sand boxes in the world. These two huge sand boxes are adjacent to the White Sands Campground and Jericho Area. Each of the play areas covers several acres, and is fenced off from ORV travel and equestrians to provide a clean, safe environment for children. Please remember that tunneling in the sand can be very dangerous. Children should be supervised at all times to ensure their safety. Don’t forget the sand toys for the kids when packing the RV!
White Sands: Campsites nestled among the junipers with immediate access to the dunes makes this a popular place to camp. The area has 99 campsites, restrooms, potable water, and a fenced play area for young and old.
Jericho: Originally designed as a fenced day-use area, Jericho now serves as an additional camping area suitable for group camping. It features a paved parking access road, picnic tables with shade shelters, flush toilets, potable water, amphitheater and fenced sand play area.
Oasis: The most developed campground in the recreation area features paved RV sites with ready access to the dunes, 114 campsites, restrooms, RV dump station and potable water.
Sand Mountain: It features dispersed camping combined with day-use staging area, three paved parking loops, vault toilets and potable water. If you like to be in the middle of the action, this is the place to be on three-day weekends. Vendors also set up shop during busy times.
Dispersed camping is allowed anywhere away from the road throughout the Little Sahara Recreation Area.
Use fees (day or overnight) are $8.
Rules, regulations and words of wisdom
• Helmets are required for anyone under 18 years of age. If older, set a good example for our youth and wear one too!
• Broken glass in the sand is dangerous. Please dispose of broken glass properly.
• Driving under the influence is illegal and stupid!
• State regulations require the use of whip flags in sand dune areas.
• Discharging of firearms is illegal. Leave them at home.
• Vandalism of toilets and tables is everyone’s loss and costs all of us money. If you observe vandalism, please report it to a ranger.
• Pack it in, pack it out. Aluminum and glass don’t burn, so please keep them out of your campfire.
• Play it safe. Each year several people are seriously injured or killed in the dunes due to accidents. Always check for steep drop-offs and other OHV enthusiasts before driving over the crest of a dune.
• Remember; watch out for pedestrians and children playing in the dunes.
• If you get disoriented while playing in the sand, a candy-striped homing pole is near the White Sands Campground, serving as a visual reference point.
Get out your magic carpet, pack your Moroccan tent for the kids and tell the genie in the lamp that you want to go to RVing in the Sahara. When he looks at you like you’re crazy, tell him, “Not the Sahara Desert in Africa, but the other one—the Little Sahara right here in the good ole USA.”
Dave Helgeson and his wife promote RV and manufactured home shows in Western Washington. They spend their free time traveling and enjoying the RV lifestyle.