Saturday, February 12, 2011

Desert road trip

Last year I became a member of the California State Parks Foundation. Along with a subscription to Sunset Magazine, and a dozen day passes to State Parks, I received their 2011 calendar, which, in the usual photo calendar format, features a beautiful state park photograph for each month.

Back in December, as I browsed its delicious pages, I declared that I was going to visit each park in the month it was featured. (I get like that sometimes.*) Which is why, in January, I drove north to Auburn State Recreation Area. I probably would never have gone there if it wasn't for my calendar. I am SO glad that I did; my life is richer as a result.

Anyway, February's feature is the Salton Sea State Recreation Area. From the calendar: "This park has the distinction of being one of the world's largest inland seas and the lowest spots on earth at 227 feet below sea level. The Salton Sea was created in 1905 when the Colorado River flooded into Imperial valley, creating the "sea" that is 45 miles long and 20 miles wide. It offers a variety of recreational opportunities and expansive vistas."

So today was the day. I invited Josh and Lauren to come with me; after initial agreement, Josh viewed photos online that quelled his enthusiasm. So I went alone. It was their loss.

Salton Sea
Salton Sea
The Salton Sea has one of the most diverse bird species of any National Wildlife Refuge in the western United States. Apparently, more than 375 different species have been recorded in the Salton Sea and Imperial Valley regions.

Imperial Wildlife Area
Spider embroidery
After enjoying my lunch by the seashore, I headed off in search of mud volcanoes. Duly warned by this sign, I couldn't help but be impressed by the spiders' embroidery.

Mud volcano
Burp! Fart! Bloop! Pthhhhh! Six miles down a dirt road, I found these little (2-3 ft high) mud volcanoes doing their thing. OK, so Hells Gate is probably way more impressive, but I still thought it was pretty cool!

Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain
Next stop was Salvation Mountain. While I don't subscribe to the artist's theory, I love living in a world where this stuff happens. Built by Leonard Knight over the past 25 years, from adobe, straw, and donated house paint, the project is a constant work in progress. Although he has no authority to be squatting on state land, Knight and his art were 'legitimized' when Salvation Mountain was entered into the Congressional Record as a national treasure in 2002. The man himself is a wiry 80 year old who welcomes visitors with a huge smile.

Slab City
Last look-see for the day, before starting the 3-1/2 hr drive home, was Slab City, another desert anachronism. Slab City takes its name from the concrete slabs that remain from an abandoned World War II Marine barracks. Several thousand people camp there in their RVs, in a loose community that fluctuates with the seasons. The camp has no electricity, no running water or other services, and the local authorities turn a blind eye to the squatters on government land. "The Last Free Place": that makes me happy.

It's so good to get out of the city. I feel enriched and calmed by my desert day. I live in a beautiful, diverse state and I have the means and the freedom to explore it. Lucky, happy me.

Click on any photo to see my full set on Flickr.

*There's something about my personality that likes externally imposed lists, at least for a little while. I have a whole cloud of things I'd like to do/cook/visit/read/make some day; having a structure, a list I can check off, pushes me to actually have those experiences. I rarely carry it through to the bitter end (have I ever actually made every recipe in a cookbook? Nope!) but I enjoy the attempt to do so. Probably the list I've stuck with the longest is 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. 169 down, 831 to go. It's sure got me reading the classics!


nettie said...

What a fabulous day, and an even more fabulous plan - a park a month. I'm looking forward to following along with you (and I'd sure as hell be going along with you every time, if I were there).

david h said...

great pics, Deb!

Mostly Turquoise said...


What a great idea to visit the parks in the months they are shown in the calendar. Are these Salvation Mountain and Slab City the same as shown in the Into the Wild movie?
Thanks for showing these beautiful places!

Hashi said...

Yes, Into The Wild filmed scenes at both those places, and Leonard Knight played himself.

Wendee said...

I **love** this plan of yours and will be following along with much interest! These photos are fantastic! We've been meaning to go to the Salton Sea, and I never realized (or thought about or heard) that there was actually water at the Salton Sea...
Well! And now I know!

You should get the State parks to sponsor your trips (or something), in exchange for really nice publicity...