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Traveling Rainer: California's Imperial Sand Dunes and the Plank Road

California's Imperial Sand Dunes today

Imperial Sand Dunes:  The Plank RoadImperial Sand Dunes

This color photo is what California's Imperial Sand Dunes look like today from my vantage point just south of Interstate 8. 

The dunes themselves haven't changed since time immemorial.  What's changed in the last century is the road.  I-10 allows cars and trucks to traverse the dunes at 70 miles per hour in just a few minutes. It wasn't always the cae.

Between 1909 and 1927, Henry Ford built more than 15,000,000 Model T cars and trucks.  The Ford Motor Company transformed the way people in the United States moved around. 

Arizona became the 48th state of the Union in 1912.  People were moving west!  An Arizona business person wanting to travel between southern Arizona and California had to traverse seven miles of sand dunes, and those little skinny tires on the Model T didn't get it!

The original Plank Road

The solution was to create a modular, tongue and groove road in 8' x 12' sections.  Seven miles of plank road!  When the sand dunes would shift, covering the plank road, teams of horses were used to reposition the sections.

Double wide sections at intervals allowed vehicles to pass one another without getting stuck in the sand.

It was the only means motorists had of traversing the Imperial Sand Dunes.  Today, only a few sections of the original plank road remain, and you can see them if you pull off of Interstate 8 at the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area.

Imperial Sand Dunes: The Plank Road

Photo by Mike in Tucson  (Model T truck is not my photo.)

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Comment balloon 38 commentsMike Jones • July 13 2010 06:46AM

Comments

That was a very creative solution to an enormous problem.  American ingenuity at work.  Thanks for a great post. 

Posted by Don Sabinske, Sabinske & Associates Inc. (Don Sabinske, Sabinske & Associates Inc.) about 8 years ago

that was interesting - I have never been west of Texas and I only flew into that state and back out again. In reality, I should say never west of the Mississippi!!!!

Posted by Barbara-Jo Roberts Berberi, MA, PSA, TRC - Greater Clearwater Florida Residential Real Estate Professional, Palm Harbor, Dunedin, Clearwater, Safety Harbor (Charles Rutenberg Realty) about 8 years ago

Fascinating!

I know of plank roads but I've never seen one before.

Bill

 

Posted by William J. Archambault, Jr. (The Real Estate Investment Institute ) about 8 years ago

I wonder what those motorist on the plank road would have said if someone told them the sand dunes would be a recreation stop in the next century for ATC riders and dune baggies.

Barbara-Jo, I have never been east of the Mississippi-we need to get out more!

Posted by Deanne Olivas, Your Home Matters (Keller Williams Realty East Valley) about 8 years ago

Mike, wow!  Didn't expect to get up this morning and learn about this wonderful piece of Americana!  Thanks.

Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (RLAH Real Estate) about 8 years ago

That is a nice piece of history my friend.  I had no idea that people used to travel on wood plank roads anywhere in the US.

Posted by Don Rogers, Realtor, Broker, CDPE, GRI, OnullFallon MO & St Charles County MO homes (Keller Williams Realty Chesterfield) about 8 years ago

Don,

I hadn't either; thanks for commenting!

Pat,

You're welcome!

Deanne,

They wouldn't have believed it, I'm sure.

Bill,

Always something new on the Mike in Tucson Show.  LOL

Barbara Jo,

Come on out!

Don,

You're welcome!  Thanks for being the first to comment.

Mike in Tucson

Posted by Mike Jones, Mike Jones NMLS 223495 (SUNSTREET MORTGAGE, LLC (BK-0907366, NMLS 145171) ) about 8 years ago

Not to brag, but my grandpa Henry was such a smart entrepreneur!

Posted by Kate Kate about 8 years ago

Kate,

For real?

Mike in Tucson

Posted by Mike Jones, Mike Jones NMLS 223495 (SUNSTREET MORTGAGE, LLC (BK-0907366, NMLS 145171) ) about 8 years ago

Well, of course. Are you questioning my lineage? Kate

Posted by Kate Kate about 8 years ago

Mike,

What an interesting post.  I have never heard of plank roads and I used to live in Arizona.. missed it.  Thank you for posting.

Posted by 1 ~Judi & Don Barrett & Chassy Eastep - Integrity, BS Ed, Integrity Real Estate Services -IDABEL OK (Integrity Real Estate Services 118 SE AVE N, Idabel, OK 74745) about 8 years ago

Mike thanks for sharing this.  I have never seen a plank road.

Posted by Jennifer Fivelsdal, Mid Hudson Valley real estate connection ( JFIVE Home Realty LLC | 845-758-6842|162 Deer Run Rd Red Hook NY 12571) about 8 years ago

Wow!  I had not heard of these either.  That is so cool that you found it.  Thanks for learning us something new!  

Posted by Doreen McPherson, Phoenix Arizona Real Estate ~ (Homesmart ~ Scottsdale ~ Tempe) about 8 years ago

What is the water?  I just now noticed it.  Is it a canal or part of a river?

Posted by Doreen McPherson, Phoenix Arizona Real Estate ~ (Homesmart ~ Scottsdale ~ Tempe) about 8 years ago

What an interesting post, if there was a will there was was a way.  I have never seen a plank road.

Posted by Diane Williams about 8 years ago

Diane,

Neither had I until I stopped to see this.  Thanks for commenting.

Doreen,

It's a canal, I think.  I'd have to google it.

Jennifer,

Thanks for stopping by to comment.

Judi,

Maybe I knew that, but I'd forgotten that you used to live in AZ.

Kate,

Very interesting!

Mike in Tucson

Posted by Mike Jones, Mike Jones NMLS 223495 (SUNSTREET MORTGAGE, LLC (BK-0907366, NMLS 145171) ) about 8 years ago

Very cool and interesting - thanks for sharing.

Posted by Carol Zingone, Global Realtor in Jax Beach, FL - ABR, CRS, CIPS (Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Florida Network Realty) almost 8 years ago

Hello Mike - Thanks for the great post.  As they say...."where there's a will, there's a way!"

Posted by Andy Chaudoir, Your Home Inspection Connection in Central Texas (Professional Inspection Services - Georgetown, Texas) almost 8 years ago

Wow Mike...the dunes in July?  It's rather hot out there. :)  Michael and I love the dunes, of course in the  cool fall.  :)  Thanks for sharing the history!

Cheron

Posted by Michael and Cheron Lange, Associate Broker, GRI (Solutions Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Cheron,

We were on our way to the oceanfront for our anniversary.

Andy,

Thanks for stopping by to comment!

Carol,

You're welcome!

Mike in Tucson

Posted by Mike Jones, Mike Jones NMLS 223495 (SUNSTREET MORTGAGE, LLC (BK-0907366, NMLS 145171) ) over 7 years ago

Can you imagine a Model T traversing over seven miles of sand dunes?  How long did that take?  Now it just takes a few minutes.  Wow, those sand dunes are awesome.  I've never been to AZ, but would love to visit someday.

Posted by Barbara Altieri, REALTOR-Fairfield County CT Homes/Condos For Sale (RealtyQuest/Kinard Realty Group, Fairfield and New Haven County CT Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Barbara,

I'll bet you would like Arizona!

Mike in Tucson

Posted by Mike Jones, Mike Jones NMLS 223495 (SUNSTREET MORTGAGE, LLC (BK-0907366, NMLS 145171) ) over 7 years ago

Mike:  Great bit of info.  Thanks for taking the time to write such an informative post.

Posted by Kirsten Lindquist, Realtor - Sonoma Wine Country (Pacific Union International) over 7 years ago

Kirsten,

You're welcome!  Blogging in the Rain builds business.

Mike in Tucson

Posted by Mike Jones, Mike Jones NMLS 223495 (SUNSTREET MORTGAGE, LLC (BK-0907366, NMLS 145171) ) over 7 years ago

Hi Mike

Thank you for the interesting post.  I love reading about other parts of the country and history.

Posted by Barbara "Barb" Bodnar, Licensed Associate RE Broker, Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage (Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage) about 7 years ago

I love th epost and it was very interesting. This gives me another great reason why I should visit California in the near future. 

Posted by John Wingate, Salisbury MD Real Estate, 302.339.5185, Salisbury, MD Homes (EXIT Shore Realty) over 6 years ago

That's something i never heard of either!  Thanks for showlng some great pictures of the old plank road and the dunes.

Posted by Georgie Hunter R(S) 58089, Maui Real Estate sales and lifestyle info (Hawai'i Life Real Estate Brokers) over 5 years ago

Great post Mike! Love the local history. My grand dad use to tell us the story about driving his Model A Ford from Seattle to San Francisco. Most of the road back then was dirt or gravel. I wasn't aware of the plank road over the dunes. That was a creative solution!

Posted by Rene Fabre, Marketing in the Digital Age (First American Title) about 4 years ago

Thanks for stopping by, Rene!

Posted by Mike Jones, Mike Jones NMLS 223495 (SUNSTREET MORTGAGE, LLC (BK-0907366, NMLS 145171) ) about 4 years ago

Gayle Rich-Boxman, thanks for spotlighting my post in today's

Fishhawk Lake Tuesday Travelogue-July 15th

Mike in Tucson

Posted by Mike Jones, Mike Jones NMLS 223495 (SUNSTREET MORTGAGE, LLC (BK-0907366, NMLS 145171) ) about 4 years ago

Wow those are some sand dunes.  They remind me of the moonscape at the end of Yellowstone.

Posted by Jeff Jensen (The Federal Savings Bank/Lending in 50 states) about 4 years ago

I love visiting the sand dunes along the Oregon coast, and would no doubt love these too. The plank road probably sounded wonderful as vehicles traveled over it ... thanks for the post today. I found it via Gayle. :)

Posted by Debb Janes EcoBroker and Bernie Stea JD, REALTORS® in Clark County, WA (ViewHomes of Clark County - Nature As Neighbors) about 4 years ago

Hi Mike.  Thank you so much for your interesting travelogue about the dunes in California.  I am so grateful to Gayle for leading me to your post and I would love to visit the dunes of the West Coast.  I've been on the Dunes of the Sahara and the Dunes of the Atlantic but would love to traverse the Pacific Dunes too!

Posted by Joanna Cohlan, Designing, Decorating & Staging Westchester Homes (Fresh Eyes For Your Home) about 4 years ago

Mike, Great pics and love the history you shared. Came over from Gayle's post and so glad I did. 

I have traveled quite a bit in California but that is one area I had not made it too. Been close in the Indio area.

Thanks for sharing.

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) about 4 years ago

Thanks for commenting, Don.  It's amazing to me that posts from years past still have currency today.  Much success to you today.

Mike in Tucson

Posted by Mike Jones, Mike Jones NMLS 223495 (SUNSTREET MORTGAGE, LLC (BK-0907366, NMLS 145171) ) about 4 years ago

Mike,

Thank you for the photos and the history behind the planks. I most definitely will appreciate the planks much more the next time I come across them.

Posted by Les & Sarah Oswald, Broker, Realtor and Investor (Realty One Group) about 4 years ago

We just re-visited this place over the weekend, on our way back from San Diego.  Sunstreet Mortgage, LLC is now licensed in California!

Posted by Mike Jones, Mike Jones NMLS 223495 (SUNSTREET MORTGAGE, LLC (BK-0907366, NMLS 145171) ) almost 4 years ago

The Plank Road is a fascinating piece of history.  Oddly enough, I have never seen or heard of it prior to this posting.

Posted by Myrl Jeffcoat, Greater Sacramento Real Estate Agent (GreatWest Realty) about 3 years ago

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