Fewer than half of the expected 20,000 visitors had arrived at the Little Sahara Sand Dunes by Saturday afternoon, as the Easter weekend got off to its slowest start in the past 15 years.
Cold temperatures and high winds - as well as the early date of the holiday weekend - were blamed for keeping many of the sand duners away. In addition, Little Sahara was competing for the attention of the state's sand fans with the Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, which officials said had 500 entries.But despite seeing only 7,000 visitors, law enforcement officers still racked up seven felony cocaine arrests in less than four hours on Friday.
"It is the slowest Easter weekend I have seen in 15 years," said Juab County Sheriff Dave Carter. "Those coming in Friday night between 8 to 10 p.m. were about what we usually see on Saturday morning between 1 and 2 p.m."
Friday morning only 2,000 people were camped inside the 60,000-acre sand playground in western Juab County, said Bert Heart, public affairs specialist for the Richfield Office of the Bureau of Land Management, who was one of several BLM officials assigned to the dunes for the holiday. By 8 a.m. Saturday, the number had risen to 3,100.
The sand fun enthusiasts who did visit the park were not letting the high winds affect them, said BLM officials. Despite blowing sand, a great many people were on Sand Mountain racing up the vertical hillside.
But the winds slowed evening activity, Carter said. "It was much quieter than usual, we didn't have to worry much about people disturbing the peace."
Carter said roadblocks, originally expected to continue through Sunday, were taken down Saturday.
Of the seven felony cocaine arrests, six were for possession and one was for intent to distribute. Officers also made 14 marijuana arrests, 25 alcohol-related arrests and two for firearms violations. Officers were also citing visitors for such offenses as traffic violations and expired off-road-vehicle registrations.
Arrests made Friday totaled 99, compared with 155 last year. Carter said the weekend total would be tallied Monday.
Two people were transported to Central Valley Medical Center in Nephi after accidents. Stan Smith, 27, Orem, was treated for back injuries, and a small boy cut his head and required stitches. A woman was injured in a three-wheel-vehicle accident but was treated at the scene.
"The overwhelming majority of people at the dunes this year are families," said Carter. "We had no disturbances calls Friday night. There were no fights or assaults, which is not just a byproduct of the weather. We have had blizzards at the dunes and have had very cold weather and still have been called out several times during the night to stop fights."
While the weather got most of the blame for the scanty turnout, officials said that last Easter weekend got off to a similar slow start with 4,208 visitors Friday. But by Sunday the dunes had the expected 20,000 visitors - a larger population than the four major communities in Juab County combined.