Great Roads and Ghosts in the Desert

Imperial County’s Ogilby Road Heads North Through History

Just before hitting 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 modern SUV.

About 2½ 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 at all. Roads are mostly straight and curves gentle; just keep an eye out for semis, large RVs and 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.

What's left of Ogilby, Calif.
What’s left of Ogilby, Calif.

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 town’s school’s foundation. 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 1½ miles. Be sure to wear substantial shoes.

Dunes at Glamis.
Dunes at Glamis.

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

At state Route 78 (yes, 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. Over Christmas weekend, it didn’t seem there was a spot for an RV anywhere while the dunes were covered with dirt bikes and quads. Looked like a lot of fun.

Stop in 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 this extended San Diego day trip coming to an end, I headed west toward San Diego, cutting down 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 scheduled in February.

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. ⚙

Union Pacific freight train rolls through Ogilby.
Union Pacific freight train rolls through Ogilby.

Route and Info

Distance

  • Ogilby Road is about 150 miles east of central San Diego. Route is about 70 miles.

Difficulty

  • Easy. Watch for wide-load RVs with trailers and semi-tractor trailers on two-lane roads.

Directions

  • Interstate 8 east to Ogilby Road.
  • Left at state Route 78 (Ben Hulse Highway).
  • Left at Butters Road, county Highway S32.
  • Right at Orange Road.
  • Left at Holt Road.
  • Left at West Fifth Street/Evan Hewes Highway.
  • Left at Cedar Avenue. Continue onto Orchard Road/county Highway S32 to I-8 westbound and San Diego.

Beautiful San Diego Day, Modern American Muscle, Classic Burger Joint, Great Trip

A beautiful San Diego day and it’s getting time for lunch. In the driveway is a modern interpretation of the classic, big American sedan, a Dodge Charger R/T; its Hemi waiting to rumble. Let’s head to one of the few surviving original drive-in burger joints in the county, Pepper Tree Frosty in Vista.

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Lunch at a hardware store along the Cuyama Highway

I was back on the Central Coast in February giving some exercise to a new car that I actually purchased, my Mini Cooper S Countryman, which regular readers of this website will remember that I ordered in December and received in February.

This time it was north from San Diego through LA and straight to Ventura, which I used as a base for a few days. The nice thing about the region in and around the Santa Ynez mountains is that everything’s a couple of hours away. My first foray was back up CA-33, which I had taken southbound in August.

Heading north was just as fun: through the tunnels, hairpin curves (I didn’t even try to count this time),  past my August access point, Lockwood Valley Road, and on to CA-166 west, the Cuyama Highway, named for California Highway Patrol Officers Irvine and Stovall. As twisty as CA-33 is to the south, Cuyama Highway is mostly smooth and straight as it goes through the Cuyama Highway. These are beautiful grazing lands, with cattle fattening in the California sun.

As close as we are to Los Angeles, it’s fortunately out of commuting range and there’s not much here. My lunch was a packaged sandwich at the hardware store in the town of New Cuyama. Not sure if you’d even call this a town; it’s a settlement where the good folks that work on the ranches have their homes and get the mail. Vehicles appear to be mostly working pickup trucks.

Leaving the valley, the highway starts to twist and turn through the rugged mountains and the Los Padres National Forest. The National Forest lands cover many of the peaks and less-developable areas in the three counties, Ventura, Santa Barbara and, to the north, San Luis Obispo. This was just a delightful drive, with green hills, fog and drizzle, a cozy coast day. The road ends up in Santa Maria, one of the main towns in the area. From there, it’s about an hour and 45 minutes south on US 101 back to Ventura.

Along Cuyama Highway.
Along Cuyama Highway.

Route and Info

Distance

  • About 140 miles from Ventura to Santa Maria.

Difficulty

  • Easy to challenging. Parts are straight as an arrow; other areas have hairpin turns in canyons.

Directions


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