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

Mortgage and Lending with SUNSTREET MORTGAGE, LLC (BK-0907366, NMLS 145171) NMLS 223495

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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Michael and Cheron Lange
Solutions Real Estate - Chandler, AZ
Associate Broker, GRI

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!


Dec 28, 2010 08:49 AM #19
Mike Jones
SUNSTREET MORTGAGE, LLC (BK-0907366, NMLS 145171) - Tucson, AZ
Mike Jones NMLS 223495


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


Thanks for stopping by to comment!


You're welcome!

Mike in Tucson

Dec 28, 2010 11:13 AM #20
Barbara Altieri
RealtyQuest/Kinard Realty Group, Fairfield and New Haven County CT Real Estate - Shelton, CT
REALTOR-Fairfield County CT Homes/Condos For Sale

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.

Jan 25, 2011 01:58 AM #21
Mike Jones
SUNSTREET MORTGAGE, LLC (BK-0907366, NMLS 145171) - Tucson, AZ
Mike Jones NMLS 223495


I'll bet you would like Arizona!

Mike in Tucson

Jan 25, 2011 08:14 AM #22
Kirsten Lindquist
Pacific Union International - Sonoma, CA
Realtor - Sonoma Wine Country

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

Feb 01, 2011 05:52 PM #23
Mike Jones
SUNSTREET MORTGAGE, LLC (BK-0907366, NMLS 145171) - Tucson, AZ
Mike Jones NMLS 223495


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

Mike in Tucson

Feb 14, 2011 04:16 AM #24
Barbara "Barb" Bodnar, Licensed Associate RE Broker
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage - Yorktown, NY
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage

Hi Mike

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

Jun 20, 2011 07:51 AM #25
John Wingate
EXIT Shore Realty - Salisbury, MD
Salisbury MD Real Estate, 302.339.5185, Salisbury, MD Homes

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

Nov 15, 2011 12:00 AM #26
Georgie Hunter R(S) 58089
Hawai'i Life Real Estate Brokers - Haiku, HI
Maui Real Estate sales and lifestyle info

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

Nov 15, 2012 03:46 AM #27
Rene Fabre
First American Title - Seattle, WA
Marketing in the Digital Age

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!

Jul 15, 2014 05:35 AM #28
Mike Jones
SUNSTREET MORTGAGE, LLC (BK-0907366, NMLS 145171) - Tucson, AZ
Mike Jones NMLS 223495

Thanks for stopping by, Rene!

Jul 15, 2014 05:50 AM #29
Mike Jones
SUNSTREET MORTGAGE, LLC (BK-0907366, NMLS 145171) - Tucson, AZ
Mike Jones NMLS 223495

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

Fishhawk Lake Tuesday Travelogue-July 15th

Mike in Tucson

Jul 15, 2014 06:03 AM #30
Jeff Jensen
The Federal Savings Bank/Lending in 50 states - Greenwich, CT

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

Jul 15, 2014 07:27 AM #31
Debb Janes EcoBroker and Bernie Stea JD
ViewHomes of Clark County - Nature As Neighbors - Camas, WA
REALTORS® in Clark County, WA

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. :)

Jul 15, 2014 08:06 AM #32
Joanna Cohlan
Fresh Eyes For Your Home - Chappaqua, NY
Designing, Decorating & Staging Westchester Homes

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!

Jul 15, 2014 11:37 AM #33
Donald Hester
NCW Home Inspections, LLC - Wenatchee, WA
NCW Home Inspections, LLC

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.

Jul 18, 2014 01:39 AM #34
Mike Jones
SUNSTREET MORTGAGE, LLC (BK-0907366, NMLS 145171) - Tucson, AZ
Mike Jones NMLS 223495

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

Jul 18, 2014 03:37 AM #35
Les & Sarah Oswald
Realty One Group - Eastvale, CA
Broker, Realtor and Investor


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.

Jul 18, 2014 07:55 AM #36
Mike Jones
SUNSTREET MORTGAGE, LLC (BK-0907366, NMLS 145171) - Tucson, AZ
Mike Jones NMLS 223495

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

Aug 22, 2014 08:04 AM #37
Myrl Jeffcoat
GreatWest Realty - Sacramento, CA
Greater Sacramento Real Estate Agent

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

Jun 09, 2015 09:15 PM #38
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