I captured the sand that once caressed Rudolph Valentino’s face, or, things to do in Yuma of a Sunday afternoon

Ninety years ago, Rudolph Valentino’s final film was released. Son of the Sheik was a direct sequel to his smash hit and it created just the right combination of romance, adventure and humor.

Of course, you can’t make a desert romance without the desert and Valentino’s film was shot among the sand dunes outside Yuma, AZ. I took a little jaunt down that way and here is what I saw.

And, of course, because I am a geek, I grabbed a keepsake. Three bottles of jen-yoo-wine sand!


I should note that looking for the exact dune where Valentino stood is an exercise in futility. The sand has had nine decades to shift about. However, it also means that Valentino’s dunes have mixed in with the others. Think of it: you are touching Valentino sand. (Oh dear, that sounds bad.)


Oh, and isn’t the sky perfect? I promise that other than adding a watermark, I did not retouch these images in any way. It really was that blue.

The dunes have been used as locations for other films, including Beau Geste (Ronald Colman edition), The Garden of Allah and Return of the Jedi. Naturally, someone from Jedi claimed that it was, you guessed it, 120 degrees Fahrenheit on the dunes. I’m not pretending that running around the sand in plastic and latex was a picnic but, dude, it was April. I hereby bestow the Lillian Gish Award for weather-related exaggeration, which she earned for her perfectly nutty description of The Wind‘s weather conditions in the Mojave Desert. “And how do you know she exaggerated, Miss Smartypants?” Well, I kind of live where it was filmed.

AKA: The Dune Sea
AKA: The Dune Sea

Yuma does get up to 120 in the summer months but that’s why most productions would build sets and shoot scenes between October and April, when the weather is much more bearable. (This is exactly what the ROTJ crew did.) I’m sorry if this seems nitpicky but I happen to love the desert and I resent it being used as a cheap prop in someone’s tale of bravado. You want my respect? Have an afternoon picnic in El Centro in August. (Actually, don’t. It’s really dangerous. Drink lots of cold beverages and stay in the AC.)

If you go there:

The dunes are found off of Highway 8 between Imperial, CA and Yuma, AZ. This is about two and a half hours south of Coachella and Palm Springs, right above the Mexican border.

A bit of welcome cloud cover
A bit of welcome cloud cover

Copy Hollywood and try to go between October and April. Also, weekends and school holidays mean a lot of off-roaders with their nasty dirt bikes so going during weekdays is a better idea if you plan to hike around. I went on a weekend but it was in May and starting to heat up (mid-90s) so the off-roaders had already fled.

Be sure to pack plenty of water, eat salty snacks and wear a hat. Also, for heaven’s sake, DO NOT PARK ON THE SAND. (Pack some large pieces of cardboard just in case.)

Finally, it would be foolish to go this far south and not eat Mexican food. (Diet permitting, of course.) No, I do not mean Taco Bell. I recommend the grilled chicken at Cardenas market in El Centro.

Now I want to see Son of the Sheik!

By all means! If you want a quality viewing experience, I recommend getting the excellent double feature from Flicker Alley, The Sheik with Son of the Sheik.


  1. Birgit

    Look at all that sand …Valentino Sand:) I am no where near that area but it would be cool to visit and maybe throw on some Vilma Banky outfit…wait…that would scare people away

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