Discover the Desert Day returns to the dunes

Several people in star wars costumes next to a sign for the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area.
Photo by Katherine Johnston, BLM

By Carrie Sahagun, BLM El Centro Acting Field Manager 

After a several years hiatus, Star Wars Discover the Desert Day returned to the Imperial Sand Dunes, which coincided with the 40th anniversary of the popular film “Return of the Jedi.” The BLM’s El Centro Field Office partnered with L.A.N.D.S., an organization that promotes and protects access to public lands through education and engagement, to host the event on Saturday, Feb. 4 at the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, BLM Buttercup Ranger Station, in El Centro. 

Children digging in sand under a tent in the desert.
Photo by Carrie Sahagun, BLM

Approximately 2,500 Star Wars enthusiasts visited the event, about one third of which were children. Along with cosplayers and commentary from guests who participated in the movie production, attendees visited several educational stations, including an arts and crafts area, an art show, an information booth about filming on public land, a station for identifying animal tracks (both from Planet Earth and those found on Tatooine), a Padawan relay station, and an archeological dig. Some BLM staff from the El Centro Field Office staffed several booths and educated the public on the recreation area and off-highway vehicle safety. 

Star wars characters on a sand dune
Photo by Edgar Castillo, BLM

Visitors earned stamps in their “passport” at each station and could exchange five stamps for a postcard and jar of sand from the planet Tatooine! Volunteer off-highway vehicle drivers provided rides to the original film site within Buttercup Valley where several major scenes from the movie were filmed including Jabba’s pleasure barge and the Sarlac pit. Buttercup Valley is a popular Hollywood movie set location where several other major motion pictures have been filmed including “Stargate,” “The Scorpion King,” and “Flight of the Phoenix.” The day concluded with an outdoor screening of “Return of the Jedi” to mark the 40th anniversary of the popular film.  

People sitting in camp chairs watching a movie in the desert.
Photo by Carrie Sahagun, BLM

The Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area is the largest mass of sand dunes in California and attracts the highest concentration of visitors of any BLM-managed recreation area nationwide. Every year, about one million visitors come to the 160,000-acre recreation area.  

Two Star Wars characters in the desert.
Photo by Carrie Sahagun, BLM
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