Ghosts in the Desert

Imperial Sand Dune Recreation Area • Including Buttercup & Gordon's Well

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Jerry Seaver
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Ghosts in the Desert

Post by Jerry Seaver »

Weekend Driver: Ghosts in the desert
Imperial County’s Ogilby Road heads north through history
By Jack Brandais, Special to the U-T

Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at 2:02 p.m.

Weekend Driver / Jack Brandais, Special to the U-T

Imperial County’s Ogilby Road heads north through history

Just before reaching the state line with Arizona is one of the more spectacular features in California, the Algodones Dunes. Traversing the eastern edge of the dunes is one of the more lonely highways around, Ogilby Road, a great cruise whether you’re on a Harley, in a classic car or four-wheel-drive SUV.

About 2-1/2 hours east of central San Diego on Interstate 8, Ogilby Road heads north just as drivers hit the dunes. If you end up in Arizona, you’ve gone too far.

Today’s drive is a bit long but not tough. Roads are mostly straight and curves gentle; just keep an eye out for semi trucks, large RVs and pickups toting toy haulers — this is off-road heaven for many.

Up Ogilby Road are two ghost towns; burgs that are mostly gone except for a few building foundations and cemeteries.

The dunes were a formidable barrier to ground transportation between San Diego and the east. The southern transcontinental rail route —once the Southern Pacific Railroad — runs through here between Los Angeles and points east. The first roads for wagons and automobiles were made of wood over the shifting sands. Parts of the plank road were unloaded from railroad cars at Ogilby, which is now only a cemetery and the foundation of the town’s school. Located about four miles north of I-8 just before the railroad crossing, it was a railroad water stop and supplied the American Girl Mine operations at Hedges (later Tumco), where we’ll go next.

Cross what are now the Union Pacific Railroad tracks and head a few miles north (look for the peeling Tumco Historic Site sign) for the right turn to Hedges/Tumco. About a mile east is a parking area and information kiosk. Dating to the 1880s, the town popped up after the Southern Pacific tracks went in, making gold mining practical in the Cargo Muchacho mountains. Originally called Hedges, a later change in ownership of the town and mine made it Tumco. It was abandoned by the end of the 1920s.

The hike around Hedges is about 1-1/2 miles. Be sure to wear substantial shoes.

Sand and volcanic rock leading to rugged Cargo Muchacho Mountains give the Kia Sorrento a chance to show its tough side. <em> Jack Brandais photo </em>
It is here that our vehicle for the day, a 2011 Kia Sorrento, really reminded me why SUVs are so popular: they can go many places comfortably where we wouldn’t trust a car. The new for 2011 Sorrento is a car-based SUV with three-row seating and a nice but sometimes busy ride on the freeway.

In this area, even the two-lane country roads have a posted speed limit of 65; the Sorrento just gobbled up the miles. It’s a great travel car.

The test vehicle was equipped with all-wheel drive, which is generally a system that can work well on sloppy conditions such as sand, if you don’t push it too much and take the drive on the slow side. Headed to Hedges/Tumco, the sharp, volcanic rock poking through the graded dirt road was a reminder to keep it slow. I don’t know if the Sorrento needed all-wheel-drive but it got me there and back.

From Hedges/Tumco, Ogilby Road continues its twist north through beautiful country. It’s open desert with much greenery following recent rains.

At state Route 78 (the same one that’s in San Diego’s North County), I went left toward the dunes and Glamis, which this time of year is packed with sand fans.

Stop at the Glamis Store and T-Shirt Emporium for a souvenir. A little farther west is Osborne Overlook, which provides a great dunes view.

With the day coming to an end, I headed west toward San Diego, cutting through the farm and dairy acreage to Holtville. With all the farms and the quaint town square in Holtville, it fulfills founder W.F. Holt’s vision of bringing the Midwest to the California desert. It boasts of being the carrot capitol of the world, with its Carrot Festival running through Feb. 13.

It’s a long way from the opening of the southern transcontinental railway and a gold rush to today’s highways and SUVs. This is one tour that proves history can be fun.

Jack Brandais is a San Diego native and freelance writer. Contact him through his website, ... ts-desert/

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Re: Ghosts in the Desert

Post by gelwell »

This was in Last sundays San Diego Union Tribune. Since I am a Ogilby rider, I saved the article to show my group over the Prez Day weekend.

There is one inaccuracy that I could see. The foundation that is left (and according to a picture in Antiques shop at Gold Rock Ranch) is not of the school but of the town's store. That burned in 1914. The school was relocated (disassembled really) to Winterhaven right next to the Agriculural stop along 8.
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