SANDY, Utah — Easter is still four days away, but for thousands of people, the holiday weekend has already begun.
Riders in the OHV community are heading for sand dunes in central Utah, for a non-traditional Easter tradition of hill climbs and hauling across sand in dune buggies and UTVs.
This year, the tradition comes with extra enthusiasm after COVID-19 completely canceled it last year. Though, the Bureau of Land Management is setting some safety boundaries in the process.
On Wednesday afternoon, Bud Bruening pulled up to his father's house in Sandy opened the back of his trailer.
Bruening and his family unloaded and loaded a few UTV toys, re-arranging the order in the trailer for them to fit.
They were excited and ready for the journey ahead of them.
"The forecast looks amazing, it's going to be packed down there," he said.
Bruening, who is the president of UTV Utah, was headed for Little Sahara to play in the dunes.
"Some people even left yesterday and Monday, I mean, it's crazy," Bruening said. "This is a big weekend tradition for Easter, for a lot of families."
But in 2020, the sand dune rec area completely shut down Easter weekend because of COVID-19. Bruening explained how there was confusion over if it was open or not. Many made the trek out there-- including Bruening-- only to be turned away.
"It was really frustrating," he remembered.
This year, the tradition returns.
The Bureau of Land Management said they expect 20,000 visitors for the holiday weekend and will implement Phase 2 Restrictions for COVID-19 safety.
"That does have to do with camping, keeping some physical distancing between your camps, with group sizes-- we're asking folks to limit group sizes to 50 people or less" listed off Hannah Lenkowski, BLM West Desert District Public Affairs Specialist.
Everyone will need to wear masks when going in the visitor's center, she said.
As in normal years, Lenkowski indicated, extra law enforcement will help keep things in control. They expect an increase in personnel from Juab County, Millard County, Utah Highway Patrol, Bureau of Land Management and Utah State Parks.
"We are really excited at the Bureau of Land Management to welcome the public back to Little Sahara for Easter weekend this year," she said.
Lenkowski suggested people get their passes ahead of time before arriving at Little Sahara, which are available here.
It's safety that Bruening will be keeping top-of-mind. He said they expect to see a lot of newcomers who picked up the sport during the pandemic.
He urged people to make sure they have their flag up, buckle up and pay attention on such a big weekend.
That said, his family can't wait to get back. And getting back, starts with leaving early to stake out their camping spot.
"We want to get down there, get with our friends, get with our community," Bruening said.
A community that can finally come together again, on Easter weekend.