An undated view of the wooden road. (Bureau of Land Management)

The bumpy tale of Plank Road

In the early 1900s, the best way to cross the desert from San Diego to Arizona was by horse. Then a local businessman named Ed Fletcher had an idea: He proposed laying wooden planks across 7 miles of soft sand, a sort of beach boardwalk without the ocean. Joseph Lippincott, a prominent civil engineer, was quoted in the San Diego Tribune calling it “the most asinine thing he had ever heard of.” But Fletcher and his supporters forged ahead, trucking rail cars full of lumber into the desert and completing the Plank Road in 1915.

Ida Little, an old-timer who crossed the road in her youth, told an interviewer in 1992 that it was like a bumpy rollercoaster. It “was as good as having a chiropractic adjustment,” she said. Plank Road carried cars across the desert for more than a decade before being replaced by asphalt in 1926. The planks were torn up by campers for firewood or swallowed by the desert. But you can still see a segment of it 30 miles east of Calexico, where the Bureau of Land Management reconstructed 1,500 feet of the roadway along with a historic marker. San Diego Automotive Museum | Atlas Obscura

Below, a few pictures of the old Plank Road.

A car drove along Plank Road in an undated photo. (via San Diego Automotive Museum)
The battered road, circa 1920. (C.C. Pierce/University of Southern California)
The remains of Plank Road littered the desert in 1949. (Los Angeles Public Library)

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