Things to Do in Imperial Valley, California
Algodones Dunes Wildlife Viewing Area — This is an excellent staging area for venturing into the North Algodones Dunes Wilderness. The wilderness is divided into two distinct zones. The largest and tallest dunes are located on the west side, while the east side contains smaller dunes and numerous washes. Several unique plant and animal species can be found in this area. To get to this viewing area, go two miles north of Glamis along Ted Kipf Road.
Coyote Mountains Wilderness — A fish hook shaped mountain range, these mountains make up 40% of this wilderness. Part of the Carrizo Badlands lie in the northern portion of the wilderness. An unusual sandstone rock formation adds character to this region. Fossil Canyon is within the Coyote Mountains Wilderness. Access to this area is from Painted Gorge Road off Old Highway 80 or Fossil/Shell Canyon Road.
Crucifixion Thorn Natural Area —This area contains an extensive stand of Crucifixion Thorn, named after its resemblance to the “crown of thorns” plant placed upon Christ’s head during his crucifixion. The natural area is fenced with a walk-in entry along SR 98. Located nine miles SE of Ocotillo on SR 98.
Davies Valley & Pinto Canyon — Davies Valley is a large picturesque valley with abundant desert vegetation and striking geologic formations located within the Jacumba Mountains Wilderness. Side canyons and rock outcrops are rich in quartz crystals, garnets and other gemstones. It is an ideal setting for hiking, equestrian use, photography and nature study. A staging area for hiking and equestrian use into Davies Valley can be found south of Ocotillo on SR98.
Desert Oasis (Hot Spring Spa and Long Term Visitor Area) — This year-round hot springs attracts both local and winter visitors. Average water temperature is in the 100°F range. Hours for spa area are 5 a.m. to midnight. Additional information may be obtained from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) El Centro Field Office (760) 337-4400. The hot springs are located eight miles east of Holtville (just across Highline Canal) on Old Highway 80.
Desert View Tower — To honor the builders of the railroad and highway that made the journey so much easier, the tower was built in 1923 as a commemoration to the pioneers who crossed the desert and mountains. The tower is located at the edge of the mountains that overlook the southern area of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and the desert of Imperial County. To get to the tower take the In-Ko-Pah turn off from Interstate 8 and head north.
Fish Creek Mountains Wilderness — This wilderness area resembles a plateau rising as a great wall above the desert basin. Close up, you can see a land of jagged ridges and peaks that appear above twisting canyons and small valleys. The mountain slopes contain limestone outcrops that have resisted erosion. A gypsum mining operation in the western mountains provides raw material for the U.S. Gypsum plant at Plaster City. Access from Split Mountain Road off of SR 78 at Ocotillo Wells.
Fossil Canyon —The weathering of copper, iron and sulfur within the rock has stained the multicolored canyon walls. The upper section of the gorge contains marine fossils. Located four miles north of Ocotillo at the end of Shell Canyon Road.
Imperial Sand Dunes — The dunes is a well-known landmark to both local residents and the thousands of travelers who pass by them each year. It extends along the east perimeter of the Imperial Valley. This 40-mile dune system is one of the largest in the United States. The dunes were formed from the windblown beach sands of prehistoric Blake Sea. Some dune crests reach heights of more than 300 feet. The largest and tallest dunes are located in the central area and west side. While the east side contains smaller dunes and numerous washes. The three most popular areas are Glamis/Gecko, Buttercup Valley and Dunebuggy Flats. It is also a popular filming location. Visitor information and emergency medical services are available weekends during the winter months (October thru May) Cahuilla Ranger Station, located 1/2 mile south of SR 78 on Gecko Road. (760) 344-3919. Contact the BLM El Centro Field Office at (760) 337-4400 for more information.
Mesquite Mine Overlook Trail — This one-mile trail leads to an overview of the second largest gold mine in California. Open daily 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. For information call (760) 352-6541. The trail is three miles north of SR 78 on Gold Field Operation Center Road.
Mount Signal – Mt. Signal Road takes you right to the mountain and the International Border. However, there is not a port of entry there. There is limited access area for off-road vehicles. The mountain is actually located on the Mexican side of the international border. If you would like to climb 2,300 feet to the top, you must do so from the Mexican side of the border. Be advised that there are no maintained trails. Located south of SR 98 between Calexico, CA and Ocotillo, CA.
Mud Pots & Mud “Volcanoes” (Freaks of Nature) — The mud “volcanoes” are cones built up out of viscous mud that bubbles up through central vents. This area is near a formerly commercial carbon dioxide gas field. The age of these mud pots is not known, but survey reports in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s reported mud pots and steam vents in the area. These mud volcanoes can be found near the Salton Sea shore, at the corner of Davis and Schrimpf Roads. The Wister mud pots are found on Hot Mineral Spa Road, just off Highway 111. The fluid level of these mud pots varies throughout the year. Several mud pots located next to each other will have different fluid levels and different colors in the mud. The temperature of the fluid is slightly higher than the ambient air temperature.
The Official Center of the World — On September 14, 1989, the Institut Geographique National of the French Government recognized this site as the Official Center of the World and duly notified all other governmental agencies in Europe. A bronze plaque marks the spot (co-ordinates, Long: 114°( 45’ 55.35″ W; Lat: 32°( 45’ 1.38″ N). An attractive pyramid encloses the plaque. For information call (760) 572-5000. Located in the town of Felicity along I-8 approximately 8 1/2 miles west of Yuma (take the Sidewinder Road exit).
Old Plank Road — In 1914, motorists found it impossible to cross the sand dunes. By 1916, a wood plank road was built, which could be moved by a team of mules when the sand shifted. A portion of this historic road can be seen today along Grays Well Road off of I-8 at the sand dunes.
Osborne Overlook — A “Sahara Desert” type sand dunes, it offers scenic views of the sand dunes and the entire Imperial Valley. Used by ATV motorists primarily as camp base. For information call the BLM at (760) 337-4400. This is a roadside rest stop located two miles east of Gecko Road along SR 78 (20 miles east of Brawley).
Oyster Shell Beds — The fossils shells are remnants of Lake Leconte and can be found along BLM Route Y1945, west of Dunaway Road and south of I-8, and nearby side routes. They used to cover most of the Imperial Valley about 6 million years ago. Contact the El Centro BLM Field Office on rules for the collection of these fossilized oyster shells.
Painted Gorge —Painted Gorge is a mountain that is surrounded by open and limited access desert. You can get to the top of the gorge by 4-wheel drive or on foot. It is a rigorous climb but the different colored rocks found along the way and the spectacular view from the top will reward your efforts. From the top, the whole Valley appears (the Salton Sea to the north and Mexicali to the south). On a clear day you can even see Pilot Knob, which is next to the Colorado River, on the eastern side of the county. The Painted Gorge is located north of I-8 and just east of Ocotillo. The access road is on Old Highway 80.
Plaster City Open Area — This area offers opportunities to test individual driving skills over a variety of terrain. Two staging areas. Popular primitive camping and day use areas. Limited use area. Military practice bombing targets immediately adjacent to the open area. Watch and observe all posted signs. Do not enter the bombing ranges. From Ocotillo, take Old Hwy 80 east about eight miles.
Salton Sea — The Salton Sea, which is below sea level, was once the bottom of a prehistoric sea. This inland sea is 35 miles long and up to 15 miles wide with an average depth of 30 feet. It is the largest inland body of water in California. The surface of the water is 228 feet below sea level and has no outlet. Three rivers and numerous canals and wash direct saline agricultural runoff into the Salton Sea. These factors, combined with evaporation, have made this body of water 25% saltier than the oceans. The sea provides a vital link in the Pacific Flyway by offering vast aquatic and wetland habitats in a region where water is scarce and where the largest lake is loaded with recreational activity. The sea is available year-round for camping, bird watching, fishing, hiking, boating, use of personal watercraft, hunting and off-roading. Located north of Imperial Valley between Highways 86 and 111.
Salvation Mountain — This area is, also known as “The Slabs”, a WWII-era abandoned Marine facility where visitors spend the winter months living in their RV’s. Located south of I-10, five miles east of SR 111 at Niland continue on Beal Road to Slab City.
Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge Memorial — Here “birders” can observe migrating and wintering waterfowl and other birds from blinds or a wooden observation tower. A designated trail meanders through the refuge. More than 380 species of birds have been recorded at the refuge. Endangered species are also prominent at the sea. There are two areas: the Wister Wildlife Area is six miles west of SR 111 at Sinclair and Gentry Roads; the National Wildlife Refuge is nine miles northwest of Westmorland off SR 86 on Vendel Road. Call (760) 359-0577 for more information. Open daily from sunrise to sunset. Headquarters open Mon — Fri 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Tumco Mines & Gold Rock Ranch — One of the earliest mining areas in California, Tumco is an abandoned gold mining town. Driving east on I-8, past the Imperial Sand Dunes, you can see a small group of mountains that appear dark brown. These mountains are known as the Cargo Muchacho Mountains. Located on Gold Rock Ranch Road, nine miles north of I-8, one mile east of Ogilby Road, 4 1/2 miles NE of Ogilby.
Wister Unit of the Imperial Wildlife Area — Open daily sunrise to sunset. The approximately 4,200 acres of marshlands and ponds are home to more than 400 species of local and migrating birds. Controlled hunting of waterfowl and dove is allowed in season with the proper licenses and permits. Located 4 1/2 miles northwest of Niland off SR 111 on Davies Road. For information call (760) 359-0577.
Yuha Desert — This isolated area on the western edge of Imperial County has many colorful washes and beautiful ocotillo bushes. These bushes bloom in the spring and brighten the desert with small green leaves and vibrant orange flowers. It is a limited use off-road area. Accessible by driving to Ocotillo and entering one of the BLM trails on either side of I-8. Other access roads are also located on SR 98, Old Highway 80 and at the Dunaway exit on I-8.
Yuha Geoglyph — A geoglyph is a large symbol etched into the ground by clearing lines of dark rock to expose the lighter soil underneath. The geoglyphs have been dated 1100 A.D. and are extremely fragile. The geoglyphs are protected by a fenced enclosure. Located on BLM Route Y1928 off SR 98.
Yuha Well — This was an important oasis for later travelers and settlers following the de Anza Trail through the desert. Captain Juan Bautista de Anza was the first Spanish explorer to visit the Yuha in 1774. Located on BLM Route Y1945.
Arts and Culture
Alford’s Antique Car Museum — One of California’s outstanding car collections. Free admission — Open Monday — Friday 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. 599 E. Main, El Centro, CA. Information: (760) 353-3920.
Pioneers Museum and Cultural Center Imperial County Historical Society — Historical and cultural exhibits — Early Imperial Valley history — Artifacts from pioneer families — Antique farm machinery. Museum hours: closed Mondays; Tuesday through Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. or by appointment. School tours October thru May. Cost: $2.00 — adults, $.50 children under 12. Located at 373 E. Aten Road, Imperial, CA. Information: (760) 352-1165
Old Post Office Pavillion — Located at 230 S. 5th Street, El Centro, CA. Listed in the National Registry of Historic Places. Home of the Imperial County Arts Council. It is available for art exhibitions and community events. Open Monday thru Friday from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Information: (760) 337-1777.
San Diego State University Art Gallery — Located in the SDSU Administration Bldg., 720 Heber Ave., Calexico, CA. Open 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. daily and 1:00 to 5:00 by appointment. Information: (760) 357-5536.
IVC Depot Gallery — Located at the Imperial Valley College (IVC) campus in Imperial near the 300 building. IVC can be found on the northwest corner of Hwy. 111 and Aten Road, Imperial, CA. For hours call (760) 355-6479.
Student Art Gallery Imperial County Office of Education — 1398 Sperber Road, El Centro, CA. Open Monday thru Friday 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. On-going artwork exhibit by Imperial County students.
Information: (760) 339-6474.
Imperial Valley Swiss Museum — 1585 E. Worthington Road, Holtville, CA. Tours by appointment only. Information: (760) 356-1183.
Imperial Valley Art Association — Art gallery with exhibits by local artists. Various art classes available for adults and children. Located at 1560 Ocotillo Drive, El Centro, CA. Information: (760) 352-1823.
Quechan Tribal Museum — Located at the Fort Yuma Quechan Indian Reservation. 350 Picacho Road, Winterhaven, CA. Information: (760) 572-0661.
IVC Desert Museum — Currently under construction. It is located south of I-8 at the S2 exit in Ocotillo.