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.

Joyrides Around San DiegoAbout 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.

For more desert roads around San Diego County, check out my book, Joyrides Around San Diego.

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.