Put That Mario Kart Training to Good Use
Written By: Chelsea Lauren Satisfy Your Need for Speed on a Palm Springs ATV
Photographed By: George Duchannes
Pulling up to an eclectic graveyard of recycled art and funky signs, I’m surrounded by a landscape of white sand hills scattered with tires. Within minutes, I’m chatting with Steven Harris, the owner of Off Road Rentals—though if you ask him, he would deny most claims to the throne. A hippie type that spends half his time in Mexico and the other half playing outdoors in the California sun, Harris is all about having a good time and having others join him. After realizing he wanted to spend his life sharing this sense of adventure with others, he opened up Off Road Rentals in 1984. Originally he had a small squad of four to five ATVs, but this number has since grown to an impressive fleet of 50 plus.
Harris’ hearty laugh is contagious as he cracks a joke about his recycled art—his sculpture garden of friends who keep the area populated in the off-season. He then notes that this place is teeming with people on Saturdays and Sundays. “On holidays, forget about it, ” says Harris. “The course will have upwards of 40 to 50 people at a single time!”
Harris directs me to the nearest market, about a mile away, where I could grab a coffee while he prepares for the day. The area is rather desolate, just a stretch of freeway with tumbleweeds blowing around, but it’s peaceful and I’m excited for what the day has in store. If you’re a first-timer like I was, I’d suggest wearing long pants (I sported a pair of knee high boots which are great for preventing sand from getting into shoes). If you have long hair, I’d highly recommend tying it back. Helmets and protective goggles are provided, but you’re more than welcome to wear your own sunnies!
I park once more, this time studying the sculptures more closely and paying attention to the colorful way Harris has decorated the lot, full of little details that one could easily overlook: a collection of helmets, a bespectacled oil can man, a rustic stagecoach sitting in front of the RV, a hand-painted map of Southern California. These little aspects of Steven’s personality are manifested throughout the property to give the dunes a bit of character other than the rubber-tire obstacles courses snaking throughout the area.
A guy with spiky blonde hair, dark sunglasses and a Star Wars shirt rolls up. “Hey, I’m Matt! And today there’s a special going for pretty girls, ” he jokes. I can already tell the staff is big on humor and operates like one giant family. He ushers me and our photographer, George, into a cave of ATVs to watch an instructional video. Matt then shows us around the property, pointing out an old caboose and the mechanic shop where the staff maintains the ATVs, a plethora of spare parts strewn about haphazardly. Prior to getting fitted for our helmets, Matt provides each of us with a less-than-fashionable shower cap to wear underneath which, while not the cutest desert look, calmed my inner germaphobe. Matt points to a couple of ATVs sitting under a hangar and asks, “You ready?” I look over to George, my eyes sort of bugging out as the sudden reality of speeding across the sand with minimal training sets in. “Just kidding, ” he teased. “I’ll explain everything and give you the lay of the land.” Phew!
Matt goes over all the levers and knobs on the quad as I take mental notes and try to envision myself on the course, shifting from first gear all the way to fourth with the ease Matt displays. “It may seem like a lot right now, but you’ll get the hang of it in a matter of minutes, ” he promised. “First gear is for when you’re climbing the hill, second is a good pace when you’re testing out the quad and third and fourth are for when you want to go really fast, ” he says with the expertise of a seasoned pro. I look out onto the course—a series of donut shaped holes, flatlands and then a daunting hill. “I’m going to climb that thing? Yeah, sure, OK, ” I think to myself. The exhilarating fear is fast approaching.
I’ll be the first to admit that the beginning moments on the quad are frightening—as I ease myself around the track, I steer clear of the donuts for fear of falling sideways or getting bucked off, as if I were riding a wild stallion. As I start to lean into turns and feel how the ATV accelerates with every pump of the gas, I think, “This isn’t so bad.” I’m getting the hang of it! The minute I just trust in the process, and not think about it too much, is when it truly becomes fun.
Soon enough I’m shifting to third and fourth gear to speed around the track, dodging tires left and right. This is what I’d been training for since I was in fourth grade, all those years of Mario Kart. The wind on my face is exhilarating as I fly over the rolling hills, shifting, accelerating and just going.
The area is an ideal location for zooming around as it’s a bit removed from the city, on a sandy mountainside with both flatlands and high ground—the perfect amount of diversity for a driving course. The quads are easy to get a hang of, even for beginners and that was reassuring to me since I had never been off-roading before. It’s suitable for the entire family, too; kids ages 6 and over can drive their own ATV—a driver’s license is not required.
I only got stuck twice. I know that sounds kind of bad, I mean how hard can it be to drive over some sand? But the loose sand can actually be a real pain in the accelerator when you’re trying to climb to the top of the hill. I managed to pull myself out both times and other than that it was easy riding.
Note: If you have a large group, call ahead and you can and reserve the place for your group.
Pricing: $40 for 30-45 minutes, though if you cooperate, Harris and his crew will typically let the rides run longer.
What Should You Bring When ATV’ing?
-A pair of sunglasses (Off Road also offers protective goggles)
-Sunscreen, especially for the hot days when you shed protective layers
-Long pants and a long sleeve shirt even though Palm Springs weather is not always favorable for this. If possible, wear long pants and layer a tee with a light jacket for the toasty days
-If you want to bring your phone or a small camera along to document the ride, make sure you wear a jacket with zippered pockets big enough to hold those items
-Snacks for afterward, though water and cold sodas are provided by Off Road Rentals
-A willingness to fail, fall and try again—all part of the learning process
Best Places to ATV in Greater Palm Springs:
The rugged and rocky terrain of the region makes the Greater Palm Springs area an ideal location for ATV’ing.