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Drive the Americas – Day 6: Planet Tatooine and the Center of the World

Day 6 was the most whimsical part of the trip by far.  While I’d been focused on the sights and historical landmarks, this day proved to be all about imaginary places.


My plans were to enter Mexico through Arizona’s border, but I did not want to leave the US without setting foot in California at least once.  A relative suggested we visited the Imperial Sand Dunes, where “Return of the Jedi” (Star Wars) was filmed.  More specifically, what is known as planet Tatooine.


Before we headed out to the dunes, the family decided to stop over at Golden Corral, an all-you-can-eat buffet filled with mostly insipid slop.  It makes school-cafeteria food look like Wolfgang Puck’s by comparison.  These type of “restaurants” are common in the US because they offer the best bang for the buck and most Americans’ propensity to choose quantity over quality.  It’s my opinion that a good dining experience should not be judged by how full one ends up, but whether the food was actually enjoyable.


Drive the Americas - Junk Food


I’ve been to “Golden Corral” and similar establishments numerous times in the past.  Can’t remember a single time I had a memorable experience in any single one.  But I’ll never forget the awesome, cheap tacos I ate out of a food truck in Houston.  Nowadays, I choose quality over quantity 9 times out of 10.


Little did I know that it would be the last time I ever set foot or even encountered an “all-you-can-eat” type place once I crossed into Mexico.


At last… the Pacific Time Zone.


Drive the Americas - Pacific Time Zone


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Planet Tatooine (Imperial Sand Dunes)


The Imperial Sand Dunes, or Algodones Dunes as they’re known in Mexico, are the largest of its kind in the US.  It’s a popular spot for recreation and the testing site for the first dune buggies ever built.


The landscape is stunning in its emptiness and having never been in a desert-type environment, I found it quite fascinating.


Drive the Americas - Imperial Sand Dunes


Drive the Americas - Imperial Sand Dunes


Drive the Americas - Tatooine


Felicity, California (aka “Center of the World”)


On our way to the dunes, I spotted an unusual building.


Drive the Americas - Felicity California


On our way back, curiosity got the best of me and I decided to go check it out.


Drive the Americas - Felicity California


Felicity, California, is the brainchild of Jacques-Andres Istel a retired US Marine.  Istel owns the vast tract of land where Felicity now stands.  After talking it over with his wife, Felicity Lee, he decided to build a “fun” town.   Istel wrote a children’s book, “COE the Good Dragon“, in which he proclaimed that the still-imaginary town of Felicity was the “center of the world”.  He managed to convince the county to let him incorporate the town.


After holding an election, Istel was declared Mayor by a vote of 3-0.  Istel voted for himself (of course) and so did his wife (he probably bribed her by naming the town after her – a violation of election laws, I’m sure).   The third vote was cast by an invisible dragon, the star of Istel’s children’s book.  I’m sure it wasn’t the first or last time that votes were cast by “invisible” characters in California.


Felicity has its own post office/gift shop.


Drive the Americas - Felicity California


A replica of God’s arm (from Michelangelo’s “Dawn of Creation” painting) adorns a sundial.  This sundial is set to mark the time correctly one time, on Christmas Day.


Drive the Americas - Felicity California


Another granite monument, “The Wall for the Ages” attempts to document the history of the human race.


Drive the Americas - Felicity California


The most striking structure once you enter Felicity is the pink granite pyramid.  Inside the pyramid there’s a bronze plaque marking the “official” center of the world.  The French National Institute of Geography went along with this proclamation and endorsed it.


Drive the Americas - Felicity California


Drive the Americas - Felicity California


Unfortunately, I did not see the plaque inside the pyramid because of the exorbitant fee ($7.00 each!) that the woman in charge of the place wanted to charge us to see it.  I later identified the woman as Felicity herself, wife of the Mayor.


By the way, what started as an interesting place quickly turned sour because of Felicity.  She kept insistently “reminding” us we had to pay an entrance fee at the gift shop (prices not posted anywhere, not even on the website for the place).  She also wanted to charge us for visiting the church on the hill!  We said “Thanks, but no thanks” and had to settle for watching the church from afar.


Drive the Americas - Felicity California


Felicity would not leave our side, pestering us that we had to pay the “entrance fee”.  We pretty much had the place almost completely to ourselves, so I had no idea where she got the impression we would make a run for the car and attempt to sneak out.   Tired of her constant badgering, we paid up, ready to leave asap.  Even their refreshments were overpriced.


I found the place a touch pretentious, not the whimsical “magical” place it wants to portray itself as.  The lesson?  Take bags of cash with you if you want to ever visit Felicity, California.


And with that trip, my travels across the US ended, at least for the time being.  The next day, I did one last oil change and acquired a one-week Mexican insurance policy for my Jeep.


The rest of the trip was literally like traveling to another dimension.


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About Rich Polanco

Fan of dogs + all things tech. Love a great pizza. My goal is not to travel to every country in the world. I only want to get to know my favorite ones REALLY well. Check out the big bio here. Follow @RichPolanco and connect on Facebook.
Currently exploring: Guatemala.

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