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Places We Have Called Home In 2020

Places We Have Called Home In 2019

Home Is Where We Park It:   Rancho Rialto RV Resort, Yuma

January 11, 2020

Temperature 79 Degrees

Around Our Community

Driving The Plank Road

Imperial Sand Dunes

Another new day of light and life, another new day full of possibilities and potential.  We awoke to a beautiful new day, sun streaming in through the back living room window, a clear blue sky overhead.  A day when one is glad to be alive.

On our morning walk we discoveredIMG_3570more turtlesIMG_3572and more turtlesIMG_3574and this one with a hitchhiker on his back.IMG_3575We also came across this beautiful tub of flowers.

So, where did we go yesterday?  We had discovered that there was a section of the Old Plank Road that had been preserved and set aside as a California Historical Landmark.  We decided we were going to try and find it.IMG_3121 (1)Go west they said and so we did into California.IMG_3265



IMG_3267 (1)Thirty minutes later we found our exit for Gray’s Well Road, turned on to the access road and within another ten minutes we were there.  Why the tire on top?  Historically, a tire on top of a post marked a turnout where you could move over to let another car pass.  I came across a rater interesting story about what happened one time at a turnout.  On one occasion, a caravan of 20 cars encountered a lone traveler going in the opposite direction.  Whether through timidity or stubbornness, the driver refused to back up to a turnout behind him. Finally, the party took matters in hand. The men lifted the car and set it on the sand, while the women proceeded to advance the caravan. When they were past, the car was lifted back up on the road, and all continued on their way.IMG_3340 (1)So now try and picture yourself back in 1918 trying to cross the burning desert of Imperial County. You reach the treacherous Imperial Sand Dunes and face the challenge of a seamless ocean of sand. IMG_3343These dunes stretch east to west for a distance of approximately 7 miles.IMG_3287 (1)With relief and anxiety you begin to ascend the first dune on the Plank Road. The heat, swirling sand, and jarring ride across the rough planks makes you nauseous, but you are grateful since this new route offers safety and cuts many hours off the adventurous trip across the desert.IMG_3276 (1)There were actually two plank roads.  The first did not last all that long.  A better one was needed.  With more funds, manpower, and equipment than the pioneer road builders, the Highway Commission built a new Plank Road in 1916.IMG_3288 (1)Engineers abandoned the double-track plan and designed a roadway of wooden cross ties laid to a width of 8 feet with double-width turnouts every-1,000 feet. Sections 12 feet long were preassembled at a fabricating plant set up at the railroad town of Ogilby, California. Completed units, which weighed 1,500 pounds each, were transferred onto wagons by means of a derrick specially designed for the task. Out in the dunes, workers prepared the roadbed by leveling the sand with scrapers. Sections of the Plank Road were then lowered into place using a crane.IMG_3277 (1)Plank Road upkeep proved difficult, and a permanent maintenance force was stationed near Gray’s Well. From 1916 to 1926, crews of workmen struggled incessantly against nature to keep the road passable. Hard winds blew drifting sand across the road an average of two or three days a week, rendering the road nearly impassable about one-third of the time. The crew routinely worked the road with Fresno scrapers hitched to a team of draft animals, and travelers huddled in their vehicles while the sand swirled around them.
A little digging on the internet revealed the following:  Despite the discomfort and outright danger of crossing the Plank Road, former travelers still recall with amusement the feeling of high adventure that was part of the Plank Road experience. While the road opened up a valuable trade route for Imperial Valley farmers and townsfolk, riding across it also became a favorite winter recreational activity.

High school chums, church youth groups, and families often jounced across the road to Gray’s Well (the one end of the road) with a picnic lunch or a camp stove for a steak-fry. In fact, desert parties were so popular that Gray’s Well usually resembled a campground during the winter months. Newt Gray obliged travelers and desert party groups alike by stocking a small, tin roofed store with emergency provisions and cold drinks. During Prohibition, more potent liquids reportedly were available to slake one’s thirst.IMG_3282 (1)Despite pleas from local residents for preservation, the Plank Road began to disappear: a section to the Ford Motor Company for display purposes, another section to the Automobile Club of Southern California for installation at its Los Angeles headquarters, and another section ripped up to make way for the All-American Canal, and so on. Countless cross ties literally went up in smoke as firewood for campers.

But then a movement began to save what was left.IMG_3279



IMG_3283 (1)Remnants of the Plank Road have been preserved as a result of efforts by the Bureau of Land Management, the Imperial Valley Pioneer Historical Society, the California Off-Road Vehicle Association, and Air Force personnel. These groups worked together in the early 1970s to assemble a 1500 foot section from various locations in the dunes.

Now it was my turn to drive the old Plank Road – well sort of.IMG_3268 (1)There is a short section that you are allowed to drive up on.IMG_3272 (1)Looking this way at our car you get a sense of just how narrow the roadway was.IMG_3270 (1)So did I really drive the Plank Road?  Technically yes.  I drove on to it at one end and drove off on the other end.  Yup I drove the old Plank Road!

Backing up a bit, in order to get to the old Plank Road you have to go throughIMG_3232where we made a stop atIMG_3237 (1)and learned that the Imperial Sand Dunes are the largestIMG_3235 (1)furthermore we learned that this area isIMG_3236 (1)Coming out of the Ranger Station we took a ride into the campground.IMG_3346This is boondockers heaven.  No hookups here, you need to be self-sufficient.IMG_3353IMG_3360 (1)What really amazed us was the number of high end rigs that were here.  I guess it takes some bucks to bring your toys to play in the desert.

This, indeed, is why you come here.IMG_3361 (1)IMG_3366This is off highway heaven and you will findIMG_3262 buggies of all sizes for all members of the family.

Then I saw this individual and at first I couldn’t figure out who he was butIMG_3295then in the back of the picture you see that ribbon running across the desert and you realize that that is the border wall which means that this gentleman belongs to IMG_3371 (1)the Border Patrol.

Time to return home.  Out of California and back intoIMG_3569

That was our day out yesterday on The Road of Retirement.  We once again discovered another bit of history, gained a new appreciation for what travel must have been like in this area during the 1900’s, and found one of the playgrounds of the OHV crowd.  In most ways it was a great day, except for. . . But no more about that.  Time to move on.

Thanks again for traveling along with us.  We always enjoy your company and your comments.  Catch you tomorrow.

These are the voyages of  Graybeard and it’s two intrepid travelers.  Our continuing mission: to explore as many new states as possible, to seek out new acquaintances and make new friends, to boldly go where we have never been before

See you on down the road!













  1. Very interesting and very difficult traveling years ago. Doesn’t the sand blow around and effect those boondocker RVs? Glad you were out and about even though I’m sure your thoughts would stray to Marti at times.


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