What did Cecil B. DeMille have to do with a well-protected National Natural Landmark?

I love to explore by getting in the car and just following my nose!

Last Friday we headed north to Morro Bay for a family reunion. This time we thought we’d take our time going north and get off the main highway just to see what could see. I love some of the little agricultural towns we only occasionally hear about.

Our main travel route to Morro Bay is Hwy 101. But halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, just a few miles off 101, is the town of Guadalupe, located in the middle of some of the state’s richest agricultural areas.

There is also a lot of oil in Guadalupe, but you don’t want to get me started on that topic again…we’ll come back to that another day when I tell you about how Unocal leaked 18 million gallons of petroleum in the nearby dunes. It’s the weekend and we’ve all had a long week, I’m sure, so today I only want to share some beautiful photos–and an interesting story about Cecil B. DeMille.

I love agricultural areas, but even more so, I love the ocean. And although we’d never traveled this route through Guadalupe before, I knew that if we just kept heading west we were going to find ourselves in the southernmost part of the beautiful Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes complex, an 18-mile stretch of coastline connecting northern Santa Barbara County to Southern San Luis Obispo County.

A partial glimpse of the Dunes off in the distance
A partial glimpse of the Dunes off in the distance

We had to leave Zena behind this time, because NO dogs are allowed…not even in the car! The Dunes are home to the Western Snowy Plover and the Least Tern, and over 200 species of birds, with nesting areas all too tempting to animals. The Dunes also provide protection to many other endangered and threatened species of plants and animals. Dogs (and I’d add people) don’t always respect the habitats and stay outside the perimeter of the nesting areas.

Deer, bobcats, black bear and mountain lions also make their home in this unusual habitat.

It’s almost impossible to give you a good view of the dunes because no matter how many photos I took, gigantic mounds of sand just don’t translate well.




It just looks like a lot of sand doesn’t it? Well, try to imagine some dunes rising up 500 feet. They are separated into uplands  and wetlands habitats, and the different ecosystems within the dunes system support a wide variety of plants uniquely adaptable to the harsh and ever-changing environment found here.


A woman traveling from Arkansas approached us shaking her head and repeating, “I just can’t believe how gorgeous this is! It’s incredible…I feel like I could cry.” And that’s how I feel every time I see these gorgeous expanses of coastline.

View from the dunes looking towards the Pacific Ocean
View from the dunes looking towards the Pacific Ocean

So what’s the Cecil B. DeMille connection?

In 1923 Cecil B. DeMille produced a silent version of The Ten Commandments–not to be confused with his epic 1953 version. DeMille directed 1,500 workers to build a massive Egyptian set in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes, including an 800 by 120 ft. temple, four 35 ft. statues of Rameses II and 21 five-ton plaster sphinx,

Following the shooting of the film, DeMille bulldozed the entire set and left it in the dunes.  Imagine trying to do that today and how many laws would be broken? It makes me wonder what else is under all that sand.

Apparently on rare occasions when the wind has been extreme there are reports of catching a glimpse of one of the sphinx.

And just suppose these relics don’t entirely disappear. Imagine what archaeologists are going to question 500 years from now?



60 thoughts on “What did Cecil B. DeMille have to do with a well-protected National Natural Landmark?

  1. Oh my… now I picture the explorers of 500 years away… could the Egyptians have founded America first,?? Then they discover your blog and all is explained for them… I do love your posts like this one, so interesting…..

    1. Do the sand dunes look like any of the desert landscapes you visit, Rob? It’s all coastal sand, but to me it looks like miles and miles of desert. I just can’t imagine that Cecil B. DeMille had the audacity to basically litter the landscape, but it definitely speaks to the early 20th century and a total lack of awareness about caring for the environment. Future generations aren’t going to think we were too aware either, though, are they!

      1. We have many coastal areas identical to that, miles and miles of sand dunes. Recently we had a mining group wanting to mine the sand for a certain element used in paint. It surprised me firstly that our Government even considered the application, but what surprised me more was that it was an Australian Company and they seem very high on the environment and its protection, yet they were prepared to come and mess ours up. “We’ll rehabilitate to the original.” their words of wisdom, who can recreate nature?? Luckily pressure from the communities and the conservationists it was blocked… but some of our in land deserts are just so like your photos…

  2. I can’t imagine standing there at any point in time and thinking it’s okay to leave my ‘trash’ there.

    The pictures themselves make me want to be there, I can almost imagine the freshness, the salt air, the incredibleness!

  3. OMG–the photos are stunning, Debra! Hard to imagine dunes that large. These images leave me nearly speechless. Thanks so much for sharing them. And sorry Zena had to stay home.

    Hugs from Ecuador,

    1. I wish the photos were just a little bit better, Amy, but I think the only way to adequately show the beauty of these dunes would perhaps be from a helicopter…and I’m not doing that! LOL!

    1. There are other dunes in California that are quite spectacular, I hear! I haven’t previously made seeing them a priority but now that I know what I’ve been missing, I feel like I must catch up and visit more. 🙂

    1. I was so surprised at the ecosystems within ecosystems and the wetlands right in the middle of the dry, dry, dunes! It was such a delight to see them for the first time, but I know it won’t be the last. have a wonderful weekend, Nancy!

  4. Phenomenal shots, Debra. The green pastoral view with the sand dunes and the blue, blue sky are amazing. I’m always amazed at the ecosystems within ecosystems and how wetlands abut grasslands and such. Interesting that dogs can’t even be in cars; too much temptation for them, I suppose, and the risk of them jumping out.

    What an interesting DeMille connection (and leave it to you to find these connections). I’m reminded of a little book I read in the late sixties. I can’t remember the name and it was during the Cold War. The book was set in the future with archeologists finding the remains of two civilizations. Sifting through ruble, finding baseball caps and other such things, they called the two groups the Weans and the Ussers (US A and USSR). It was a funny read at the time – but, maybe not so far off.

    Fun post.

    1. The book you recall from the sixties sounds like a good one, Penny. With sand mounded high above our heads and as far as the eye could see I couldn’t help but wonder what secrets, besides the movie props, were hidden under all that sand. You’re so right to acknowledge all the ecosystems within ecosystems. That really impressed me here, too. It’s not often that I see such visible examples. I took dozens and dozens of photos that day just trying to really capture the sense of scale, and it was just impossible. We only covered the southernmost points of the dune system and I definitely now hope to explore even further. It was just fascinating to me! I hope you have a wonderful weekend, Penny. 🙂

  5. There’s so much to explore in California. I love driving through that valley where everything grows. We couldn’t find anything on the radio but Mexican and Chinese stations, so we darted between one and the other as green fields slipped by.

    I never knew that about DeMille. I’d love to be lucky enough to see the Sphinx.

    1. I understand that some of the movie relics were excavated and are in a local dunes museum. I’m definitely going to try to find that some time! The San Joaquin Valley is the largest agricultural area and probably where you traveled, and there isn’t much to listen to on the radio except Country, and Mexican music. I don’t recall hearing the Chinese. 🙂 The little town of Guadalupe was a nice surprise. It’s very close to Santa Barbara and I fell in love with it. It looks like it’s stuck in the 1950’s and I love that. 🙂 Have a wonderful weekend, my friend.

    1. Lori, this is such a great spot, and not at all far from Santa Barbara. You’ll have to make a trip to them at some point. Jay asked me how I knew about them (and the story of Cecil B. DeMille) and I told him at the time I couldn’t recall. Then it dawned on me! I think this was one of Huell Howser’s episodes. I am quite sure it’s been a long time, but I recall thinking these dunes were so close and yet we’d never seen them. I’ll definitely be going back from time to time, and maybe next time moving further up the coast! Have a wonderful weekend!

  6. Now that would be inzteresting to see… an archaeologist scratching his head at all those fake relics! It really does look like beautiful countryside there Debra. Glad you could stop off there on your trip!

    1. I learned that there’s a “dunes museum” somewhere up the coast and some of the relics from the movie set are housed there. I’m very curious to see them. I just can’t imagine a time when it seemed fine and dandy to bury that much plaster and paint right in the middle of such a beautiful oasis. Of course, archaeologists at some point hundreds of years from now may look at our current habits and wonder if we were barbarians. LOL! Hopefully every decade that goes by people become a little more intelligent in choices related to environment. These beautiful natural wonders depend on that, I think! I’m glad I could share them with you, Cathy. Have a wonderful weekend.

    1. There are so many places on the coast that I’m only now discovering, and I say the same thing al the time, “I never knew this area existed!” It’s fun to go just a little bit off the expected path and see what we’re missing sometimes, isn’t it? Thank you so much for stopping by. 🙂

  7. What a wonderful area to explore, Debra! We have some long freeway drives to visit family too and my favorite thing to do is choose from the smaller, local highways to see more of the surrounding areas instead of miles of blacktop.

      1. We’re doing it again today. 🙂 Leaving soon to pick up our son after a week with his grandparents and I want to explore some berry farms in the Skagit Valley instead of staying on the freeway.

  8. wow, an extraordinary place Debra! I can imagine the awe that brings that feeling of being able to cry at the beauty… I am so glad they dont allow dogs … we try hard to keep dogs off our beach where our endangered plovers nest, but it is a losing battle despite the efforts of National Parks … people just dont care …. thanks for a wonderful post, and an intriguing story about the movie set lost in the dunes!

    1. I wish the photos could do justice to the dunes, Christine. Some of the counties have funding that helps enforce the “no dogs allowed” policy, but sadly, some don’t, and then people can be quite careless (and selfish) with not only their pets, but their children. While on our trip I was taking photos of some interesting birds in a heron rookery and parents stood by while their child, young, but old enough to know better, through a fairly large branch at the bird and frightened it away. The father in a rather bland voice said, “Apologize to the lady, she was taking a photo.” I quickly countered with,”I think you need to apologize to the bird!” They just looked at me. Sadly, far too many just don’t get it, do they? Aargh!

      1. at least you had a chance to speak up Debra, well done … I speak to people on the beach and some are interested … in France a couple of twenty something year old were walking on sea shore rocks near me, with one of them viciously kicking and crushing the mussels that grew there … I called out and said, Hey, don’t do that, they heard, then one called the other stupid .. but he stopped the kicking 🙂

    1. Small, but beautiful, I suspect Marie! I think one reason I go “on and on” about some of these places is that I definitely do not see such beauty on a daily, or even weekly basis. I have to hunt a bit. 🙂

  9. Really? The torn down set is somewhere underneath that sand in bits and pieces?? Wow!

    You did it once again with your lovely photographs…although I missed not seeing Zena. 🙂 The shot of the wetlands (second from bottom) was magnificent as was your story.

    1. I understand that a museum somewhere in the vicinity of the dunes has a few of the movie set artifacts that have been recovered. I’d very much like to see that exhibit. I also read that money was once raised to try to excavate more of the buried set, but it was too difficult and cost too much. I do think it’s just fascinating that no one put a stop to that. We hope to take Zena back to the beach again soon. She needs some wave running. Thank you for thinking of her, Koji! 🙂

  10. This is a beautiful area Debra. I’ve never been through there. It looks like we’ll have to put it on our list for the next time we make it out that way. I didn’t even realize there were sand dunes in CA! I’m definitely itching to get out there again. So many different terrains and all so beautiful. I’m glad you’re enjoying your summer so far. 🙂

    1. It would be so fun for me to learn what you’d most like to do when you visit California again, Kristy. It’s almost like visiting a small country-you can’t possibly see it all, but you pick the highlights! We are enjoying our summer very much. I always thought that when the children were grown we’d have more time to do as we please and summers would feel longer, but it still goes by too quickly I hope you’re also enjoy yours. 🙂

      1. I can totally relate! My mom and I were trying to pick days for the kids to have sleepovers with their cousins and we’re already looking into August and there aren’t many options. It does go by way too fast!

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Ksenia and leaving such a nice comment. I haven’t done a lot of distance traveling in my life, but I have definitely learned that if I pay attention to what’s nearby, I can always find somewhere new to visit. Tourists come from all over the world to enjoy the beauty of California, so I try to keep that in mind. 🙂

  11. That is a wonderful landscape, Debra, and one I’d never heard of. Your first photo of the dunes gives some idea of their scale, but the idea of 500 foot sand dunes does make my mind boggle slightly. It’s no wonder Cecil B DeMille seized on the area as a substitute for Egypt, but I’m not impressed by the thought of the remains of the set being left behind like so much picnic litter. 😦

    1. I was just shocked myself to learn about the movie sets buried in the sand. I felt just a little bit less vexed when I realized it wasn’t the modern-day Ten Commandments but back in the 1920’s. There’s really no excuse, but I do know that there was little, if any awareness about environmental conservation. When I read about all the toxic dumping that took place back then, too, I marvel we have anything left. I hope we aren’t judged as harshly “down the road” but I’m sure there will be people scratching their heads trying to figure out how those people in 2014 could have been so careless. 🙂

  12. The wetlands are stunning and you could spend a lot of time just gazing at them. I can’t believe the Cecil connection. It’s amazing what you could get away with back then. It doesn’t happen these days because there are either to many laws to abide by or too many costs associated with the job xx

    1. Too many laws, and somebody would whip out their phone and post your careless action on YouTube, right? LOL! The dunes are gorgeous, even with the dumping grounds beneath. 🙂 This is a really beautiful area your sister may not know about, Charlie. You might want to share it with her sometime. I think a lot of native Californians aren’t aware. 🙂

  13. That’s it, Debbie! You’ve convinced me! I’m coming Sphinx hunting right now 🙂 What a beautiful location.
    Sorry for the shock I gave you yesterday. It was terrible news and I am still responding to all the comments coming in from the many people who loved Christine. I’m trying to lighten the mood today. No more tears but a celebration of life, and of friendship.

  14. Pingback: Meandering through the little city of Guadalupe and a better view of the GIANT sand dunes | breathelighter

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