Salton Sea, March 10, 2021
I feel I need start this post with Rod Sterling’s famous words.
“There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears ad the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call The Twilight Zone”.
However, the words “Salton Sea” could easily be substituted for the “Twilight Zone”.
While visiting Joshua Tree National Park in 2019, we hiked to the highest point in the park and there was an overlook that points towards the Salton Sea. We had never heard of this massive inland sea and we were very curious to see it. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time on that trip, so this year we made a special point of planning a day trip to check it out.
In the 1800’s this lake basin was nearly dry and mined for salt. In 1905, a flood from the Colorado river crashed through nearby farming canals. The water rushed nonstop for 16 months downhill into the empty sea and formed what is now The Salton Sea. This is California’s largest lake, 35 miles long and 15 miles wide. At some vantage points, the earth’s curvature hides the opposite shore. There is no natural outlet flowing out to sea, so whatever flows in, including agriculture runoff, does not flow out. This constant inflow of chemicals has made this a very toxic lake over the last 100 years.
We headed for the Salton Sea State Park, in Mecca as our first stop, about an hour’s drive south of Palm Springs for what would be an all day drive around the lake and surrounding areas. When we arrived at the park’s entrance, the ranger told not to touch, drink or swim in these waters. She even told us that if we had a dog, to not let the dog drink the water because the toxicity could kill the dog!
The place is a bit eerie, you see all the typical state park amenities complete with a visitor center but very few people. It was a beautiful but windy day and we only saw another couple strolling the shore and a couple of people camping near by but that was it. The birds love it though, this is a very important stop for birds flying the Pacific Flyway. They begin arriving by the tens of thousands in October and by January more than 400 species can be found here. It is said that their wings form living clouds across the clear skies. We definitely saw many birds but I’m not a bird watcher so this particular fact was a bit wasted on me. We strolled the beach and some other interesting areas, but the lack of people and severe warnings from the ranger quickly diminished our interest in the park, so we got in the Jeep and started towards the next stop in the area.
Exiting the park, we headed for the much touted Dos Palmas Preserve. This is an ancient Palm oasis similar but smaller to the ones found in the Coachella Valley. It was a bit rundown, unkept and given the remoteness, a bit creepy, in my opinion not worth the stop, so we quickly got back in the Jeep and headed for Bombay Beach which was the tourist hotspot in the 1950s.
In the 1950s Bombay Beach, which sits at 223 feet below sea level was a hopping place and popular vacation resort. Complete with yatch clubs, marinas and golf courses this place attracted all sorts visitors and celebrities. By 1970 it started going downhill because of the water conditions and recurring floods. It has wilted and been abandoned ever since. In the last few years a small comeback has started and Bombay Beach is moving slowly from an apocalyptic wasteland to an emerging offbeat art hub. The population is counted as 295 but locals debate that it hasn’t been updated in a while and in reality is only 200. Hopefully this renegade art scene will provide some sort of comeback. In 2015 the first Bombay Beach Biennale art festival put this desolate area on the radar for lovers of the “way out there” art, music, and philosophy. This is still very edgy and a bit too rough for our taste but I can see how it could emerge in the future as an eclectic art destination.
Our next destination was thanks to the movie, “Into the Wild”, were a young man rids himself of his worldly possessions and sets out on a journey to the Alaska wilderness. He visits many out of the way places as he makes his way to Alaska, and one of those stops was near the Salton Sea at a place called Salvation Mountain. This is a movie Leo and I really enjoyed, even though it has a very sad ending. When we realized that Salvation Mountain was one of the recommended stops as you make your way around the lake, we pointed the Jeep towards this installation for a closer look.
Religious fervor expressed in art is as old as time and it can take many forms of expression. What started as a temporary monument in the desert in 1984 by Leonard Knight, has grown into a folk art installation in the desert that has been preserved and protected by the Folk Art Society of America. The mountain like structure is made out of Adobe bricks and discarded items such as windows and old tires all tied together as a cohesive composition by gallons of paint. The paintings depict bible versus and prayers that were meaningful to Knight is his quest to create for the world the message that “God is love”. He labored for 30 years on this project without the benefit of electricity or running water. There is an organic quality to the installation as the work continues and grows. We enjoyed walking around and admiring the art work which almost looks child like in its simplicity but profound in its message.
Our last stop as we circumnavigated the Salton Sea was the town of Borrego Springs. The only thing we knew about Borrego Springs was that it was a desert town that had very large iron animal sculptures spread over the desert surrounding the little town and some highly rated Mexican cuisine. Given that by the time we would get there, it would be early afternoon and we would be hungry, we thought that a drive to Borrego Springs was a worthwhile adventure. When we got there we never imagined that we would be going on a desert scavenger hunt. We learned that there were over 130 massive metal animal sculptures scattered in the desert. As we took our Jeep for a drive in the sand packed desert tracks, super sized dinosaurs, horses, elephants, dragons and much more seemed to roam the barren land and to pop out of nowhere. This was the brainchild of Borrego Spring landowner Dennis Avery who wanted to add some art to his property and he commissioned artist Ricardo Breceda to craft the sculptures for him. The first figures appeared in 2008 and the collection has been growing ever since.
After about an hour of scavenger hunting through the desert our hunger started to outweigh our interest for more sculptures so we headed into the main square of Borrego Springs and had a wonderful lunch at Carmelita’s Mexican Grill.
From here we headed back to Palm Springs and arrived back to our motorhome as the sun was setting. A wonderfully different and interesting day drive for sure.