Journey to the Center of the World and Back Home (January 3 - 4, 2013)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

We headed out from San Diego today. I'm always sad to know vacation is coming to an end. I love the freedom of exploring. I know I'm lucky that I have a husband who is content to prioritize travel before having the fanciest car, best house, or newest gadgets. (Not that he doesn't have a nice car, nice house, and fun gadgets.) I always get a bit wistful before vacation comes to a close. The next holiday is only a few months away. But I digress...

I love that they harness wind energy in California!
We had quite a drive before getting to the Imperial Sand Dunes. These towering sand dunes are an ATV-ers dream. I've never seen as much offroading as I have on this trip. 

We took a slight backtracking detour to see the Remains of the Imperial Dunes Plank Road. It's crazy to think that this road was once used to cross over this massive sand pile. To get there you have to take exit 156 off of I-8 and go on Grays Wells Road. You drive west along the south side of the freeway for about three miles, and you find the old plank road near a parking area. 

Old image of the plank road
Not much remains of the plank roads that were once used to cross the Algodones sand dunes by horse buggy. The speed limit was noted to have been 10 mph. In addition to seeing a pretty notable piece of roadside American history, this location was used to film some of the desert scenes from Return of the Jedi. Kris tells me that is part of the Star Wars series.

Remains of Imperial Plank Road
It was really neat to see the sand drifting from the wind. The sky was so vividly blue and the sand was so just made the draft super evident. I love contrast!

Our next stop was to the Official Center of the World in Felicity, CA. This town is the self-proclaimed (and French recognized) official center of the world. They have some interesting buildings and displays.

Oddity #1, they have some stairs to nowhere. If you didn't pay for the tour, you'd have no idea that the stairs are actually an original stair segment from the Eiffel Tower.

Oddity #2, there is a giant sundial replica of work by Michelangelo. A giant arm and extended hand points to the Center of the World (housed in a pyramid) and provides the sundial shadow.

Oddity #3 is the actual Center of the World (which is a point in the pyramid in Felicity). We paid for the tour (and now get free lifetime entry if we ever return) and sat through an explanatory video.

Then we (and another couple) went into the pyramid to stand at the Center of the World and were given a certificate. Super exciting!

Oddity #4 is the area outside of the pyramid. We were content to wander these extensive grounds despite the frigid wind. They've made this town a living time capsule. They have giant slaps of marble engraved with all sorts of various history of things...consequential and ridiculous. I guess it's really based on things they thought were important or people who paid for an engraving. There has obviously been an exorbitant amount of money spent in Felicity on this center.

I got a kick out of the display about evolution overlooking the church.
You'll find things as memorable as famous artwork...

right next to the Hall of Fame of Parachuting display.

Oddity #5 is the church on a hill. Kris "Rocky-ed" up the stairs. Hilarious!

I've been to a lot of strange places, but this place ranks in the Top 3 of kooky places I've ever been. Some guy wrote a children's book called Coe the Good Dragon at the Center of the World about a dragon's journey to find the center of the world. In the book, Felicity, California is decreed to be the center and the dragon was to build a pyramid.

They took the children's book further into reality by building the pyramid and setting about to actually declare Felicity the center of the world. They even got French government officials to recognize sign off. They sell bumper stickers in the gift store and everything!

Oddity #6 is that our GPS could not locate their proclaimed official address of 1 Center of the World Drive, Felicity, CA. In fact, the GPS didn't see a Felicity, CA at all. We just had to look for highway exit markers.

Famished from brain washing, we stopped for lunch at Famous Dave's BBQ in a town below sea level. Seriously. I thought living completely below sea level was a pretty big anomaly, but apparently it's really common in the area of the USA called the Salton Sink. Regardless, I like that we stumbled upon it. El Centro, California is a town 12 feet under sea level. They even advertise this on a water tower that shows a sea level mark.

Kris and I can never see enough strange stuff, so next up was the Bridge to Nowhere.

The Bridge to Nowhere was surrounded by cabbage fields (which I did not expect in Yuma, Arizona) and dirt and is located near the smallest church I have ever seen in my life. (My photo did not turn out of the church unfortunately.)

You, however, can see the drug deal we stumbled upon occurring under the bridge though...or maybe they were exchanging cabbages?

Here I am pointing out the Bridge to Nowhere and the "cabbage" deal below.

The Bridge to Nowhere had a purpose when it was built (even though it is now closed and serves no purpose today). It currently looks quite out of place connecting one piece of desert to another. There used to be water under the bridge.

Online article from the Yuma Sun Online
Our next stop was the Castle Dome Mining Ghost Town.

You drive for a long time down this dirt road to get to Castle Dome City.

There is quite a detour to get to Castle Dome but it is well worth the stop. You travel over several extended miles of dirt road with little assurance other than a few handmade signs that you are indeed going in the correct direction. Rest assured, it is all quite passable in your average car...just drive slowly as to not kick up rocks at your vehicle.

The obvious care that has gone into creating Castle Dome is fantastic.

The owners have brought in buildings and artifacts of mining life in from around the area. The buildings are amazing. I so wish we'd had more time to explore. As it was, the owners stayed open 30 minutes late for us.

When you are leaving, make sure to look on the back porch at the massive collection of chamber pots!

I'm including the brochure from the Castle Dome Mining Town.  I highly recommend you visit.

Brochure from the Castle Dome Mining Town

Brochure from the Castle Dome Mining Town
On the way back to the highway, we were afforded glimpses of the most dynamic sunset I've ever seen.  Unreal colors!

We had dinner that night in Yuma at hole in the wall Mexican food place called Mi Fajita with excellent shredded beef.

A long journey awaited us, but we were allowed to pass through a border patrol checkpoint quickly and finally made it to our lodging at the Best Western Space Age Lodge (formerly Stovall's Space Age Lodge) in Gila Bend, AZ.

I quite enjoyed the lodging theme. The outside of the hotel looked questionable, but the inside was really rather nice. The breakfast included with the room here is a certificate for the adjoining restaurant. You can order anything off the menu you'd like as long as your per person total is under $15. That easily buys you a meal and beverage.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Today we indulged in a leisurely breakfast before heading out to explore what little exists of Gila Bend, Arizona.

I don't want to sound horrible here, but there is really no reason to visit Gila Bend. If I were to do it again, I would have rerouted us to a different city near the west of Phoenix. I didn't realize how far out of the way we had to go to get to Castle Dome, and we wound up backtracking to get to Gila Bend - which just didn't have a ton to offer.

The outside of our Space Age Lodge.
We did make a stop at the sculptures of a dinosaur, cactus, snake, and Gila Monster in front of a Gila Bend gas station.

I love the cutouts!  They are in shapes of animals.

The Gila Bend Welcome Sign and a local car show off a rather humorous side of the town.

I think we met a few of the five old crabs.

We saw some fighter jets in the desert on the east side of Hwy 85.

And, in Buckeye, we met up with Hobo Joe before heading to the Mystery Castle in Phoenix.

Hobo Joe
Oh the Mystery Castle. It's quite a place.

Brochure from The Mystery Castle

Brochure from The Mystery Castle
The oddity of the artifacts, decor, and building materials of The Mystery Castle make it worthwhile to visit.  I'd write the history down, but it's somewhat explained in the brochure I've scanned and included.

They got inventive with inexpensive wall coverings they often wrote on.

Stairs to the mother-in-law suite

Skeleton of a Saguaro Cactus

There is a painting of the princess of the castle in the back.

Eclectic designers

I thought I liked cats until I saw this place.

They performed marriage ceremonies here.  People stand on either side of the snakes on the floor.

The kitchen had no running water for a long time!

Too interestingly chosen to be considered for Hoarders.

Our tour guide was amazing and used to do tours with the owner of the castle (who has since passed).

All sorts of inexpensive materials were used to build the Mystery Castle.

One heck of a city view
After The Mystery Castle we were off to return the car and hop on a plane.

1,660.8 miles driven
47 hours and 47 minutes in the car
1 pair sunglasses broken
2 satisfied travelers

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