The Algodones Dunes from space, with south basically at bottom - the black lines near the bottom are the All-American water canal and I-8. Thus, witnesseth! that in the U.S. we have our own ergs, AND nearby Mexican food and beer. And San Diego beaches are a mere 2.5 hr drive away, which I also made use of. And even a good Moroccan restaurant if you so desire! See? Vastly better than the dumb Sahara.
If you drive from San Diego to Yuma on the 8, you pass through the Dunes 15-20 miles before you cross the Colorado and enter Arizona, and they extend north as far as Brawley. You can't miss them: high golden sandy dunes, more on the north than the south side of the freeway. At one point I had the brilliant, stupid idea of running the whole thing from north to south, documented on this very blog. People I mentioned this to had several important questions: first, was I on drugs; and second, how many drugs was I on. So I abandoned the idea of running the whole thing, but my experience in Morocco reignited the idea of at least going out there. My plan was to get the car as close as possible to the ergs off the 8, run out in them to where I was isolated and couldn't see anything but sand, then run back. Original plan: leave SD at 6am to be there at 8:30, since the prediction was by 8am it would be 80 F, 10am it would be 90, with a high of 105. But leaving at 6 would have required an early bed time, and as you know one must hydrate before such exertions! Therefore I went out in North Park Saturday night, and got to Algodones about 11:15. NOICE! SWAYT!
When most people (including me) think of the Sonoran desert they think of saguaros and areas that can actually get a little green from monsoon moisture - not this. But then I remembered that the northern end of Baja's Gulf Coast is very sandy like this, and loaded with saguaros, so even by that definition it still sticks. So whatever. (When I was there I thought this was part of the Mojave. Mojave, Colorado, Sonoran, I can't keep them straight.)
Running down a dune isn't so hard, but otherwise, the annoyingness of running on soft sand for any length of time cannot be overstated, which I had forgotten. I will grudgingly give the Sahara a point in its favor for having firmer footing, but then again I wasn't running on ergs there. On the beach you can either run on the packed hard sand near the water, or leave the beach. When you're in an erg zone, there is neither water, nor leaving the beach. (If you've ever run "the sand ladder" during a certain Alcatraz triathlon in San Francisco, that's not even close to as irritating as this.) Even the high dunes, some around 100', have a sharp edge at the top, which always fascinates me.
I only saw one person, a very kind dirt bike rider who was kind enough to ride basically from the horizon to see if this goofy black-wearing runner was okay. (Black? Safety first; always wear light clothing.)
In this area, the border with Mexico is only a few hundred yards south of the 8. Kind of looks like we already have a wall...