In the middle of the southern Mojave Desert, 42 miles east of El Centro, a rest area south of the I-8 freeway at the Gray’s Well Road exit gives access to the enticing pink-hued sands of the Algodones Dunes, which stretch on both sides of the freeway for over 40 miles. The slender dunes, which measure at most eight miles wide and reach heights of 200 to 300 feet, have been seen in Hollywood movies from Beau Geste to Star Wars and often cover the highway in blowing sandstorms. Though you can amble around on foot, be aware that the dunes themselves are under constant abuse from hordes of motorcycles and dune buggies.
If you’re really, really interested in old highways, you won’t want to miss the reconstructed remnants of a wooden plank road, built across the sands in 1915 and later replaced by the original US-80 highway. Preserved by the dry desert air and arranged to form a 100-foot section across the dunes, this fenced-off museum piece is along the south side of I-8, two miles west of the Gray’s Well Road exit. The All-American Canal, which waters the Coachella Valley, snakes alongside the freeway.