Interstate 8 San Diego to Phoenix
Sunday we had the treat of driving the 4.5 hour, 360 mile trip east on Interstate 8 from San Diego back home to Scottsdale in the daylight! The trip was a visually stunning passage from one distinctly unique topography to the next. Although not part of the official state scenic highway system, I-8’s eligibility is well deserved.
We left San Diego, car again full of luggage, kids, and animals. We finally got to enjoy the classic California coastal features on the Mission Valley Freeway’s steep cliffs over semi arid, sometimes lush valleys. Man’s attempt to dominate nature was evident as structure clung to steeps everywhere, beautiful homes with epic views of the valley, dotted the landscape.
The scenery along I-8 eventually transformed into more rugged elevations as we ascended 4000ft into the Cuyamaca Mountains. Winding highway balancing between steep slopes as massive boulders menacingly perched above, marked this portion of the drive. Babygirl swore we’d leave the snaking road over a cliff, while I envisioned being flattened by tons of falling rock. We descended out of the mountains into lowlands past El Centro, the city of Mexicali mere miles just south on the border. On some parts of I-8, you are only a few thousand feet away from Mexico, meaning making a wrong turn could result in inadvertently leaving the country.
Next was the absolute highlight of the drive.
Imperial Sand Dunes/ Yuma
2.5 hour into our drive, about 150 miles from San Diego or, 200 miles west of Phoenix, we stopped at the Imperial Sand Dunes near the town of Yuma. They don't call it Imperial for nothing, we are talking Darth Vader Imperial. If you’ve ever seen Star Wars, you will immediately feel a sense of deja vu when you first lay eyes on the sea of sand on the eastern edge of California's border with Arizona where George Lucas shot scenes for the iconic film over 4 decades earlier. Sand, as far as the eye can see. How does this even happen? We felt like we had been transported into a galaxy far far away.
Along I-8 you can pull off at Buttercup Sand Dunes (enter into your navigation to find) and find yourself on another world, Tatooine to be exact. The Sand dunes literally come out of nowhere. You’re just driving along looking at normal ass highway scenery, and then all of a sudden you think you're in the Sahara Desert. Only in the theater have I seen sand so high, orphaned from any major bodies of water. There was a small village of campers and I thought of Walter White’s RV in Breaking Bad, secluded in the southwestern desert. The similarities, however, ended there, this was a community. Desert folks, racing ATVS and dirt bikes across the sandscape. We parked and climbed the dunes like we were in the movie Dune. I tried my best to convey its beauty with these photos.
Our final stop on the drive was a short distance from the dunes. 19 miles east on I-8 we arrived in Yuma. Nestled along the Colorado River, the quaint town of Yuma is home to a historic prison that we heard was worth the detour. Yuma prison turned out to be far more fascinating than your average tourist trap on the side on an interstate highway. The stories of the former inmates would make for an amazing Netflix binge. (Yes, we want our cut if you steal that idea 😉)
Operational form 1875 to 1909, the prison cells ranged from standard bared rooms (holding 6 prisoners each!) seemingly cut out of the desert stone walls of the structure, to creepy lightless hole “The Dark Cell” in the ground where prisoners were punished for misbehavior.
The prison’s fascinating history was highlighted by the crime stories of its inmates. My favorites included the charismatic stage coach robber, Pearl Hart. After the armed robbery, she kindly gave $1 back to each victim so they could get something to eat when they finally arrived at their destinations.
Elena Estrada was sentenced to 7 years for manslaughter, when she stabbed her unfaithful lover, then cut open his chest, pulled out his heart, and threw the bloody mass into his face! If you google her, tryann tell me her crazy eye’s don’t look like someone I know. 🤔😂😅
Other facts of note: There's a Gatling gun used to dissuade insurrections and the museum featured the tools, medical devices, weapons, and stories of the prison's inhabitants from over a century ago. (Basically, If you needed to see a doctor, you were already screwed. Go watch “The Knick” if you’d like an accurate representation of early 20th century surgery. 😱)
Lunch was at the Dog Haus in Yuma that had the ingenious idea to serve hot dogs and burgers on King Hawaiian rolls. I highly recommend the Holy AiolI cheeseburger.
After leaving Yuma, we continued on east I-8. Sandy desert transformed into southern Arizona’s narrow faulted mountain chains and flat arid valleys. Three hours after leaving Yuma Prison, we pulled into the drive of our Scottsdale home.
Our Dope LIfe Adventure continues…
QUICK TIPS FOR TRAVELING TO SAN DIEGO
San Diego to Phoenix, scenic Interstate 8
1. Imperial Sands Dunes, sea of sand on the eastern edge of California's border where George Lucas Filmed Star Wars
- Enter Buttercup Sand Dunes into your navigation
2. Yuma Prison, a fascinating prison highlighted by the crime stories of its inmates
3. Dog Haus in Yuma for lunch! (Hot dogs and burgers on King Hawaiian rolls!) I highly recommend the Holy AiolI cheeseburger.