From San Luis To Salinas To The Imperial Sand: Exploring Scenic California

San Luis Reservoir:

Approximately 12 miles west of Los Banos on State Route 152 sits the 9 by 5 mile San Luis Reservoir. This scenic artificial lake stores water from the San Joaquin and Sacramento River Delta and stores it for use in irrigation. Also here is the San Luis Dam which is the fourth largest embankment dam in the U.S..

The reservoir is part of the larger San Luis Reservoir State Recreation Area (California State Parks) so it goes without saying that there are a number of recreational opportunities for fisherman, boaters, and campers with camping is available at four different campgrounds. There’s a visitor center at the Romero Outlook and you can learn more information about the dam and the reservoir.

  • The Basalt Campground on the south-eastern edge of the lake has about 79 developed family campsites. There’s water faucets available close by and some of the sites can handle RV’s up to about 40 feet in length.
  • The San Luis Creek Campground on O’Neill Forebay has 53 sites with water and electric hook-ups.
  • The Medeiros Campground is a more primitive campsite along the southern shoreline of O’Neill Forebay but it does have drinking water at three locations and chemical toilets.
  • The Los Banos Creek Campground is another primitive campsite with very limited turn-around space so it’s not suitable for trailers or motor homes but drinking water and chemical toilets are available.

And In addition to all of those places, there’s camping and boating, day use picnic areas and an off-highway vehicle (OHV) area at the San Luis Creek, east of the main area at the intersection of Gonzaga and Jaspar-Sears Road.

At Dinosaur Point and the Basalt area there’s better boat launch ramps and there’s a good selection of fishing including largemouth bassstriped basscrappiebluegillshadyellow perch, and the occasional sturgeon and salmon. Take notice that the lake is noted for its high winds and has wind warning lights at Romero Outlook, Basalt Campground, and Quien Sabe Point.

Also keep in mind that this area is in central, not southern California so the weather isn’t always as forgiving as would be in L.A. or San Diego. But depending on the time that you go, the average January temperatures tend to peak at about 54 °F with 38 °F being about the coldest. In the summer July temps can reach 92 °F with 64°F being about the low.

The park is patrolled by California State Park Peace Officers by boats and off-highway vehicle.

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Salinas, California:

Salinas, 10 miles east-southeast of the mouth of the Salinas River is the county seat of Monterey County. It’s located at the mouth of the Salinas Valley about eight miles from the Pacific Ocean with a coastal climate perfect for the floral industry and grape vineyards planted by the world-famous vintners. Salinas is in the top 10 American cities for cleanest air quality.

Also, worthy of mention, hometown writer and Nobel Prize in Literature laureate John Steinbeck, based several of his novels here, including Of Mice and Men. The historic downtown, known as Oldtown Salinas, which features a lot of fine Victorian architecture, is home to the National Steinbeck Center, the Steinbeck House and the John Steinbeck Library.

Salinas is in one of California’s richest farming regions and produces a variety of fruits and vegetables. It’s known as the “Salad Bowl of the World” and with over 30% of the world’s lettuce grown in the Salinas Valley, many major vegetable producers are headquartered here with the historic prevalence of row crops being documented here also.

And being the largest wine-grape producing region in California, the Salinas Valley, is home to over 20 wineries and 14 estate tasting rooms along the scenic and historic River Road just south of the city limits. Hahn Estate, Paraiso, Scheid, Talbot, Wrath and Ventana along with smaller boutique wineries of Marilyn Remark, Manzoni, Pessagno, Bookenoogan, Puma Road, Sycamore Cellars, and Hammond are just a few of the vinters growing in the region. Tasting rooms are open weekdays, weekends and by appointment.

Salinas is also a major stop on the professional rodeo circuit. Rodeo-related events in Salinas and Monterey include cowboy poetry, wine tasting, a carnival, barbecues and a gala cowboy ball.

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Imperial Sand Dunes:

The Imperial Sand Dunes a.k.a. the Algodones Dunes is a large sand dune field in southeastern California, very close to the border of Arizona and Baja California, Mexico. It’s approximately 45 miles long and 6 miles wide and extends northwest-southeast. The dunes are west of the Chocolate Mountains in Imperial County, and can be accessed by Interstate 8 and State Route 78.

There’s several sections of the dunes including Glamis, Gordon’s Well, Buttercup, Midway, and Patton’s Valley.

The name “Algodones Dunes” refers to the entire geographic feature, while the administrative designation for that portion is the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area (and sometimes called the Glamis Dunes). It’s the largest sand dunes open to off-road vehicles in the U.S. with the larger sand dunes being a favorite terrain for many off-roaders including Motorcycles, sandrails, ATVs, and 4-wheel-drives.

Most of the dunes to the north of State Route 78 are off-limits to vehicle traffic due to a designation as the North Algodones Dunes Wilderness. Much of the southern area of 78 is open for off-road vehicles but a lawsuit in 2000 closed over 49,000 acres to vehicle access. To date there’s still about 40% of the area still open to vehicles but environmental protection groups and off-highway vehicle advocacy groups have filed numerous petitions and lawsuits to either restrict or re-open vehicular access to the dunes.

For now, open camping is permitted and on the major winter holidays as many as 150,000 people are known come in a single weekend which brings a financial spike and economic boom to nearby towns such as Brawley and El Centro, California and Yuma, Arizona.

Also, take notice that I said WINTER holidays as it’s very, very HOT in the summer months. Well over 110 degrees is the norm! That’s why the dunes were used to film parts of Road to MoroccoFlight of the Phoenix, StargateResident Evil: Extinction and the Tatooine scenes in Return of the Jedi if you don’t believe me.

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Exploring Scenic California

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Author:The Man About Town

Aaron Cupil (a.k.a. The Man About Town) is an avid traveler and good time thrill seeker. A former trucker and the founder of, his cross country hauls were the inspiration for this website. When he's not writing or running his company, you can find him circling the globe in search of new adventures to report on.

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