Off-roading on the dunes probably dates back to the 1950s. Years ago, I found a postcard at an antique store that featured some jalopies and trucks outfitted for sand driving. Dated February 10, 1965, it was sent from Yuma, Arizona, just 20 minutes from the south dunes. The caption reads, “Sand buggies of the Southwest: This homemade vehicle affectionately called a sand buggy or dune bug is now a prominent sign of help on the desert as well as for recreation. The dune bug is rebuilt throughout, is almost square, and is specially adapted for desert and mountainous terrain in all kinds of weather.”
Back in the 1990s, some friends and I planned a dune trip after one of our buddies, Bill Lanphier, discovered a waypoint list of strange findings in the dunes. The plan was to spend an entire day searching for the locations of some World War II bombing targets, a plane crash site, and—a water fountain?
Our first find was “the Xylophones” or “Tubes.” They’re essentially tube steel grates that look like a xylophone. But there’s nothing musical about them; they were ground targets for WWII P-38s and other bombers. Part of Patton’s Desert Training Center, they were hidden deep in sand bowls. Today, if they’re still there, they can be found at GPS coordinates: 32′ 51.235 N / 115′ 02.523 W and 32′ 51.202 N / 115′ 01.235 W.
Our next stop was rumored to lead to a biplane crash site. Some claimed it was a WWII bomber. We found the crash, with its front landing gear still at the nose. But the plane appeared to be a small experimental aircraft, and definitely not a bomber. What the plane was and why it crashed remains a mystery. GPS coordinates: 32′ 52.22 N / 115′ 02.53 W.
The weirdest thing we visited was commonly referred to as the “mythical water fountain.” But it wasn’t a myth at all. The story was that this water fountain was dragged into the dunes in the 1960s by hippies who wanted to provide hikers and adventurers with drinking water.
The fountain sat atop a platform containing a water tank with a car battery hookup for power. The battery was removed but it still appeared functional. It looked like the thing was more likely put up in the ’80s or ’90s, and not by hippies. The fountain was removed sometime around the turn of the century because the BLM felt it could be a public safety hazard.
Today, the dunes are dotted with landmarks and memorials. The Flagpole is a popular Veterans Day camping and gathering spot southwest of Oldsmobile Hill. The spot hosts an air show and flag raising every year over Veterans Day weekend. GPS coordinates: 32′ 55.40 N / 115′ 04.84 W.
The Swing Set lies just a few dunes over from the Flagpole as another memorial to vets, and to a friend of the dunes who died of cancer. GPS coordinates: 32′ 49.55 N / 114′ 57.53 W.
There are also three additional veterans memorials in the dunes, fitting since the area was a WWII training ground. GPS coordinates are as follows. Vet Memorial No. 1: 32′ 55.590 N / 115′ 04.890 W, Vet Memorial No. 2: 32′ 55.710 N / 115′ 04.950 W, and Vet Memorial No. 3: 32′ 55.840 N / 115′ 05.000 W.
Jeff Henson is an off-road ATV racer, duner and dirt bike rider. He has also held editor positions with various ATV related publications such as ATV Sport Magazine, ATV Magazine and ATV Illustrated Magazine. Currently, Jeff is the Executive Editor for ATVRider.com and a Contributing Editor for UTVDriver.com. This article originally appeared here: https://www.atvrider.com/story/ride/glamis-folklore-strange-things-in-the-dunes/