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 Return to the Sandbox

By Steve Alberg

As a child of the sixties, I played all summer long in sand with a fleet of Tonka Toys. Most men my age likely did the same. My parent's yard was mostly a sandy soil. Holes were permitted. Some of which could hide a truck. Later on, I discovered motorized toys. First go-karts and mini-bikes, then came the dirt bikes and the ATV. Mom and Dad's (and the neighbor's) property took a beating, so we figured we'd move on to gravel pits and rural roads. Sadly, this childhood opportunity has largely disappeared for most kids. Too much trouble to get into today. Over forty years have since passed. My sandbox days are long past, or so I thought. On a beautiful October weekend, I recently took an opportunity to revisit my bygone days, big kid style. Andy, my seventeen year old son coerced me and his friend Tyler to take a trip to St. Anthony Idaho to ride their sand dunes on four-wheelers. Yes, there are massive sand dunes in Idaho, and I was crazy enough to go there.

Almost everyone in our area has experienced some ATV riding. Challenges like rough terrain and mud are what make these machines fun. At least for those who are young at heart. Imagine a 50 something, overweight dad from the flatlands of the Midwest. Now put him in the middle of a four hundred-foot pile of sugar sand on a high-powered sport quad. I call it a revival. Man, was that fun!

The St. Anthony dunes are located just west of the Grand Teton mountains in extreme northeastern Idaho. A mere 18 hours from home! Trust me. I'd do it again. The ride is worth it. As you arrive, you notice this area is largely flat and dominated by potato farming and cattle. Aside from the distant mountain ranges, one might think they were in Becker Minnesota. A little geologic surprise lies northwest of the town of St. Anthony. Roughly  10 miles of bumpy back roads leads you to a wonderland of dunes. Not just little hills. I am talking of peaks of sand rising more than twice as high as many of our area ski hills. These dunes roughly cover 30 square miles. Riding strictly off-road machines is permitted by the state. You will see dune buggies, sand rails, dirt bikes, three-wheelers and quads of every vintage. Horsepower and paddle tires are king here.

Amazingly, there are very simple rules and expectations of the visitors to the dunes. No glass containers. No trucks designed for the road. No littering. Stay only on the sand areas. Each machine must display a brightly colored flag on a 6-foot whip or mast. Each machine must be currently registered in accordance with the state from which the machine originated. The best thing of all is the absence of a speed limit. Being from a rather controlling state like Minnesota, the freedom and liberty afforded to the recreational enthusiast in Idaho is mind-bending. You are allowed to have fun! More amazing is the absence of outward environmental abuse that an ecologically influenced mind might envision. We saw very little presence of litter and abandoned junk. The beauty and vistas of the dunes are forever etched in my memory. Aside from the purr of a distant machines, the solitude and quite is refreshing. The place was not run over with maniacs. “Respect the Dunes” is a sign you will commonly see posted throughout the access areas on the perimeters.  

Having experienced this trip of a lifetime, my inner child begs for another trip soon. A typical Minnesotan would probably say that there’s plenty of fun here at home. Why take such a long trip? I would respond by saying the environmentalism, and left-sided political viewpoints have created a stranglehold on recreational opportunity for those of us who enjoy motorized off-roading. Our Minnesota statutes prevent riding in anything that resembles a wetland. And that includes the wetlands some of us privately own. We can’t run our ATVS in the road ditches from April through August. We have to limit our speed to 50 MPH on any public lands, roadways and waters. Even our fuels are being altered by the state mandated blending of ethanol, which anyone with a small engine knows ruins fuel systems and engine carburetors. For these, and many other reasons, a lot of us choose to go somewhere else. Imagine if we had dunes here. No way would the state let us ride them.

Anyone familiar with my writing will expect me to throw in my political views. Take ’em or leave ’em, I’ll say this. We live in the state of NO. I enthusiastically encourage those who still have some kid left in them to visit places like St. Anthony Dunes. Take your family and friends. Time is running out, because I can see the day coming where all the oversight committees and natural resource officials will kneel at the foot of the environmental causes. Entire industries and family traditions stand a good chance of falling to the lobbying efforts of urban conservation interests. Millions of people, with far different ideologies are taking away our heritage.


Greg with a nice buck for the 2010 season

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