Much of the web has been wringing their hands over the giant relief map in China that someone stumbled across on Google Earth. It’s a cool map and yeah, there’s an element of mysteriousness to it but calling it “The Riddle of China’s Area 51” is pretty overblown, even for the web.
Believe it or not, there’s a similar relief map sitting out in the desert just east of Joshua Tree. The concrete map was built in 1942 as a training aid for Patton’s army who were preparing for the invasion of North Africa and covered the entire training area from Indio out to the Arizona border. The training center was built pretty ad hoc and not much was left out there except for tank tracks and foundations, but the map endured for a while.
I’m not sure when this picture was taken (I got it from Larry Digera who put together a sky trail route for visiting pilots), but it should give you an idea of what it used to look like.
I was first there in 1983 and armed with an old copy of Desert magazine I was able to find the map, but the intervening forty years of exposure had weathered the old map into an unrecognizable series of funny-looking hummocks. It’s still there now – it’s inside the fenced-off area in the middle of this photo.