The Valley of the Names

For over 70 years, people have been driving out in their RVs to a remote desert near the city of Yuma in Arizona to write their names and leave messages on the desert floor. Unlike regular graffiti that’s harmful to the environment, the messages in Valley of the Names are spelled out by carefully arranging rocks and small boulders in the hard-packed white sand. The practice began during World War II, when General George Patton took his soldiers to the flat, rocky area to train. The training camp — known as the Desert Training Center — was the largest military training ground in the history of military maneuvers. The grounds of the camp stretched from the outskirts of Pomona, Calif., to within 50 miles of Phoenix and to the southern tip of Nevada. The earliest messages were made by the soldiers, and the area was rediscovered by off-roaders in the 1960s. By the 1970s, what used to be a 4-acre area with a few hundred names swelled to thousands of names spread over 1,200 acres of the desert floor. Every few years, a team of volunteers goes out to clear away debris strewn by the desert winds and replace rocks that might have washed away storms. The messages are considered invaluable, with some of them being over 50 years old. Because the rocks that were there were used up, a long time ago visitors today have to haul their own rocks in to create their messages.