In 1912, Arizona had just been made a state and it looked like Phoenix was going to be a bigger deal. People on the West Coast thought, “Hey, we could be doing more business with that miserable desert outpost if only it were easier to get there. And back. Alive. ”
Automobiles were still in their infancy, but a road could be built and operational a lot faster and cheaper than a railroad. At the time, the state and federal attitude regarding road building was essentially, “If you want one so much, build it yourself.”
Business and civic leaders in Los Angeles and San Diego wanted in on the Phoenix trade, so the push to become the fist of them to establish a quick route to Phoenix turned into an actual contest.
In October of 1912, San Diego businessman Ed Fletcher raced a representative of the Los Angeles Examiner (whose name has disappeared into the dustbin of history, because loser) from their respective cities. Fletcher gave the Examiner driver a 24-hour head start but still got to Phoenix ten hours sooner.
Fletcher’s more direct route required crossing the Imperial Dunes (sometimes called the Algodones Dunes). Since dune buggies hadn’t been invented yet, Fletcher had his car towed through the sand by a team of horses.
Having convinced backers the route was feasible, Fletcher set about finding a more workable solution for the dune problem. And the Plank Road was born.
Timbers held together by iron bands were laid across 6.5 miles of sand, the first sections being placed in February 1915. Double width sections here and there allowed vehicles to pass. An improved version was built in 1916 and was in operation for another ten years.
After being abandoned for nearly 50 years, most of the Plank Road had been buried under windblown sand. Some timbers had been hauled away for use in local mines and construction projects. Some were used for fuel. In 1973, a few of the road sections were rescued and reassembled into a 1,500 foot facsimile within spittin’ distance of I-8. That’s where I was today.