Thursday, May 29, 2014

"Wish You Were Here...!", The Salton Sea Postcards

 photo Postcards_Headline_Pic_Resize.jpg

As I spend my time traveling around with my camper, I'm finding that I'm becoming just a little bit obsessed with postcards. I guess it's sensible enough... anytime I travel, I do tend to collect memories and memoirs of my trips. And postcards are a very cost-effective, and easy-to-stow-away sort of collectible. Plus, they're totally analog- and we all know how much I adore anything "analog"...

And surprisingly (to me, at least... maybe, it's not so surprising to you), they're becoming harder and harder to find in this increasingly disposable-digital, instant-gratification, too-busy-to-care world of ours. Where buying stamps at the post office, and chucking something in the mailbox has been almost entirely replaced with quickie texts and iPhotos... (sigh).

So, yeah. Postcards, man. I'm an addict...

In any rate, I thought it'd be kind of fun to share my increasingly ridiculous postcard collection with my readers, as well as the stories behind the cards.

These are from my Salton Sea trip last month. Hope you like 'em...! Because, at this rate, there will surely be more to come...

 photo Edit_P1100716.jpg

The first stop on our trip, was at a bunch of "tourist boutiques" over in Quartzsite, Arizona, where I found this fancy "Arizona" postcard, with a die-cut cactus up in the corner...

 photo Edit_P1100748.jpg

And, this "state map" themed little gem. I don't normally like these sorts of kitschy postcards, but this one was kinda fun...

 photo Edit_P1100721.jpg

This is the Quartzsite General Store, where I actually bought some of these postcards...! How convenient, huh...?!

 photo Edit_P1100724.jpg

 Yup... sunsets... got it. It's sort of what Arizona is famous for...

 photo Edit_P1100722.jpg

Quartzsite is known worldwide (apparently) for it's annual rock-and-gem flea market/exchange. I believe that this aerial view is illustrating how many hundreds of campers and RV's descend on Quartzsite for the festivities. I never would've guessed that there's this many rock collectors in the world...

 photo Edit_P1100726.jpg

Ehrenberg, Arizona is the last town on the I-10 before crossing into California. It's well-known among truckers for it's port-of-entry scale, which makes Ehrenberg a place to avoid at all costs, not a place that any quick-minded trucker would go out of his way to visit. But being on the Colorado River, it's also a recreational oasis out in the middle of the desert- as this postcard goes out of it's way to emphasize.

 photo Edit_P1100241_Resize.jpg

California...! You have no idea how excited I was to get this one...! "My first-ever California postcard...! Woooo...!" I'm such a dork, sometimes...

 photo Edit_P1100736.jpg

Blythe is the first town that you experience on the California side of the Colorado River; this aerial view illustrates just how close to the river (in the foreground) it really is...

 photo Edit_P1100734.jpg

Energy-producing windmills are everywhere in the Southern California desert... as are solar farms, and other "green" energy producing projects. There might be hope for us after all...

 photo Edit_P1100732.jpg

California girls...! It might be cheesy and cliché... but I am a dude, so I just had to get it.

 photo Edit_P1100730.jpg

The I-10 took us just past Joshua Tree National Park. We didn't go in, but I bought this postcard to remember just how close we came to it...

 photo Edit_P1100737.jpg

Although I normally eschew these sorts of "craptastic attempts at potty humour", cheeseball postcards... considering that we were in the middle of the arid California desert... I thought that this one was pretty damn funny. It definitely fit the vibe of the trip, that's fersure...

 photo Edit_P1100739.jpg

Chiriaco Summit, California. A small, gas-station oasis nestled in an I-10 mountain pass. Named for Joe Chiriaco, who built the site back in 1933. Chiriaco Summit consists of a gas station, a couple of small restaurants, a quick-stop grocery store... you know, all of the "traveler's essentials"... plus, the General George S. Patton Memorial Museum...

 photo Edit_P1100741.jpg

... so, "Why here", you wonder...? Well, George Patton picked the area just west of Chiriaco Summit for his desert training grounds, to prepare his armies for the African Campaigns during World War II. Chiriaco Summit was the supply center of this camp- including General Patton's private airfield. After Patton's death in 1945, the Chiriacos established the museum on their property, to honor his memory. This is Joe Chiriaco, standing in front of the earliest version of his memorial...

 photo Edit_P1100742.jpg

Once we came down Box Canyon Road into the Salton Sink, we were splendidly surprised to find spread out before our eyes, miles and miles of citrus groves- including thousands of beautiful date trees...

 photo Edit_P1100744.jpg

By looking at the postcards, you'd never guess that the Salton Sea is a cesspool of mass abandonment, sunken squalor, and decadent destruction. It looks more like a shimmering jewel, nestled between rugged desert mountain ranges, and beautiful sunset backdrops. That's the power of suave marketing, I suppose. In my case, it totally worked...!

 photo Edit_P1100745.jpg

The Salton Sea is also a haven for migratory birds- and every year, tourists do descend on the Salton Sea to watch their favorite species make their annual stopovers. Again, the postcard doesn't tell the whole story; like all marketing-and-sales truths, it's a half-truth at best. After all, a photo of botulism-infected bird carcasses wouldn't have quite the pull among the traveling-tourist population, that this pretty photo-postcard does, now would it...?

 photo TSL_NewCamperLogo_112813_Original_MiniLogo_Pic.jpg

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Salton Sea Excursion: Saturday, May 17th- Sunday, May 18th, 2014

 photo Edit_P1090265_Headline_B_Final.jpg

On Saturday and Sunday, May 17th and 18th, 2014, my girlfriend, Karen, and I went on a weekend excursion to the Salton Sea in California’s Imperial Valley.

If you're unfamiliar with the Salton Sea (as most people are), you might want to start your journey here:

This was a pretty significant trip for a few reasons. It's the first time that somebody has come along with me for one of these adventure-expeditions; so, it's the very first time that my travels haven't been a "strictly single, solitary pursuit".

Secondly, it wasn't your typical "vacation destination", by any stretch of the imagination.

Third, it was also the very first time that the camper and I have gone to sunny California together.

And lastly, it was the first camping trip that I went on, where I didn't actually sleep in the camper. But, more on that in a bit...

As I noted above, The Salton Sea is not your typical “vacation destination”. Far from it, actually. The Salton Sea is basically an accident, the result of mankind’s relentless drive to tame Mother Nature. An experiment that as we all know (but, don’t always remember), doesn’t always go mankind’s way. And when the experiment fails, it can be quite destructive. This is the crux of the Salton Sea experience...

The sea itself is the result of a Colorado River irrigation canal breach that occurred in 1905, and completely submerged the Salton Sink. Once the sea had been formed by Colorado River water, it was envisioned that the sea might make a great “tourist destination”, complete with beachfront development and housing. It was touted, at the time, as the “Riviera of the West”, and several communities were developed to meet the anticipated need for waterfront vistas and marinas- which included the seaside towns of Bombay Beach, Salton City, Salton Sea Beach, and Desert Shores.

The Salton Sea is essentially a closed ecosystem. It’s sustained solely by irrigation runoff; there are very few, small rivers that feed the Salton Sea. And the few rivers that do flow into the Salton Sink originate in Mexico, where they’re clouded by raw, untreated sewage. This means that the water running into the Salton Sea is extremely saline, and rich in nutrients. The sea also evaporates around 6 feet of water, annually. It's the combination of these factors, that are leading to the ultimate demise of the Salton Sea.

As time goes on, the water continues to get even “saltier”. Currently, it’s more saline than the Pacific Ocean… and the salt content rises every year, as the lake continues to evaporate off more water (I say “lake” because, technically speaking, the Salton Sea is in fact, a lake… not, a sea).

The signs of disaster began in the late 1950’s. First came the algae blooms, which robbed the sea of oxygen. These were closely followed by the massive fish die-offs; even today, fish by the scores die every year, as the water temperature increases in the summer months, which litter the shores of the Salton Sea with carcasses and bones of tens of thousands, if not millions, of Tilapia (which are the only fish that can survive in the sea’s extremely saline environment). With the fish die-offs came flies and maggots, which bred and carried botulism, which in turn led to the deaths of scores of migratory birds. The Salton Sea even flooded it's beaches a few times during the El Ninos of the late 1980's and early 1990's, which completely engulfed and submerged entire beachside neighborhoods. In the shadow of all of these disasters, the land speculators, the wealthy investors, and the retirees all decided (well, “mostly decided”) that the Salton Sea was no longer the safest or smartest of investments; land buyers and developers bailed in droves, leaving towns filled with newly paved streets, hundreds of street signs, gaudily painted billboards, and brand-spanking-new sewer and electrical infrastructure… but, with hardly a home (or, a resident) in sight. All left to bake, melt, rot, and decay in the harsh desert environment...

These days, the Salton Sea is a place that aging hippies, disaffected youth, meth addicts, snowbirds, conspiracy theorists, off-the-grid extremists, and social misfits all call “home”, along with a handful of hardy and infinitely hopeful retirees that are still praying for a “Save The Sea” movement from local, state, and national governments that [might someday] lead to a renaissance land boom, a resurgence in the local economy, and a heaven-sent salvation for their investments.

How did I “discover” this place, you ask…? Well, my first exposure to it was through (of all things) a skateboard video, titled “Fruit Of The Vine”, that documented pool-skating missions to obscure, unknown, and generally inaccessible pools- the Salton Sea resorts being among them. A few years later, I was “re-introduced” to the Salton Sea via Jon Krakauer’s book (and, the subsequent movie adaptation of), “Into The Wild”- aka, the Christopher McCandless story, which featured “Slab City” in Niland as one of the settings for Chris’ adventures.

So… the last question might be, why in the good grace of God would I (or, anyone else, for that matter) choose this place as my fun-loving, weekend camping destination…?! If that’s the case, my answer might be, “why not…?!” First of all, it looked like a real adventure. The people seemed like they might end up being at least “pretty interesting”, if not downright entertaining. And, the photo opportunities looked like they might be pretty darned outstanding. Karen and I are both amateur photographers… so, photo-ops are always pluses in our books. And lastly, it’d be a chance to learn, and do, something completely new, unique, and different.

In all of these things, we were entirely correct. And then some. It was, at the end of the day, a wonderful, beautiful, exciting, fun, and enjoyable trip. I’m so glad we went. Because I wouldn’t trade the experiences we lived, the people we met, the knowledge and understanding we gained, and the lessons we learned, for the whole wide world.

And, yes…I’d even go again.

Below, follows a quick blow-by-blow narrative of our trip, accompanied by some of the better photos that I shot along the way. Enjoy…!

 photo Edit_P1080760_Resize.jpg

Downtown Quartzsite, Arizona. 10:15am, Saturday, May 17th, 2014.

We packed up the camper, and left at around 5 am from Laveen, Arizona (where Karen lives), and took the I-10 west through Quartzite, Arizona, where we stopped to do some "trinket shopping" before crossing the state line at Ehrenberg, into Blythe, California...

 photo Edit_P1080771_Resize.jpg

The camper parked in downtown Quartzsite, Arizona. Saturday, May 17th, 2014.

Our next stop was at Chiriaco Summit, California, where we got gas, had lunch at a cute little coffee shop, bought postcards (the first of many), and visited the George Patton Museum, where we got to see a couple dozen well-preserved tanks, patiently standing guard in the harsh desert sun...

 photo Edit_P1080776_Resize.jpg

Chiriaco Summit Coffee Shop, Chiriaco Summit, California. Saturday, May 17th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1080797_Resize.jpg

General Patton Memorial Museum, Chiriaco Summit, California. Saturday, May 17th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1080801_Resize.jpg

This one takes a little bit of explaining. This is a hand-cut relief map of the entire southwest, commissioned by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California... i.e., the agency that planned out the Colorado River Aquaduct way back in the 1930's. It's a marvel of analog mapping; you have to truly see it to believe it. General Patton Memorial Museum, Chiriaco Summit, California. Saturday, May 17th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1080807_Resize.jpg

The Sherman Tank, one of the greatest engineering blunders of World War II. General Patton Memorial Museum, Chiriaco Summit, California. Saturday, May 17th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1080829_Resize.jpg

General Patton Memorial Museum, Chiriaco Summit, California. Saturday, May 17th, 2014.

We got off of the I-10 at Exit 168, and turned south on Box Canyon Road toward Mecca. The rock cuts along this road showed obvious signs of geological activity, as the sedimentary rock was clearly buckled, distorted, and deformed from millennia of earthquakes and tectonic plate movements...

 photo Edit_P1080863_2_Resize.jpg

Box Canyon Road, between I-10 exit 168 and Mecca, CA. Saturday, May 17th, 2014.

Driving into Mecca was quite a sight to behold. In front of us, spread across the Imperial Valley, were miles of date trees, vineyards, and lemon trees, glistening in the bright sunlight. It looked like a true desert mirage- an oasis of indescribable luster and beauty. But when we turned south toward the North Shore Marina, the scenery immediately began to crumble into a landscape of blight and abandonment...

 photo Edit_P1080873_2_Resize_A.jpg

The dream is still alive, and it's still for sale. Near the North Shore Yacht Club, Saturday, May 17th, 2014.

The North Shore Yacht Club was a perfect example of the irrational chain of senselessness that seems to perpetually define this area. On one hand, the Yacht Club building has been painstakingly restored to it's '50s-era, Albert-Frey-envisioned grandeur; it truly is, stunningly gorgeous. On the other hand: it currently sits empty, closed, and locked. It's a beautiful, empty shell that seems to serve no useful purpose whatsoever. And, it's still surrounded on all sides by unrestored and failing architecture, rotting piers, the carcasses of millions of dead tilapia, and billions of barnacle shells. Yet, the Yacht Club remains standing, shimmering among the blight...  

 photo Edit_P1080882_2_Resize_A.jpg

The view from The North Shore Yacht Club, Saturday, May 17th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1080891_Resize.jpg

The North Shore Yacht Club, Saturday, May 17th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1080895_Resize.jpg

The North Shore Yacht Club Marina, Saturday, May 17th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1080906_Resize.jpg

The North Shore Yacht Club, Saturday, May 17th, 2014.

The next stop was the Salton Sea State Park, on the Salton Sea's eastern shore. Here, I could access the beach, and the "white sands" that are actually ground-up Tilapia skeletons and barnacle shells. "Eerie" doesn't even begin to describe the strange sensation of walking on a literal sand of skeletons...

 photo Edit_P1080924_Resize.jpg

Barnacles and Bones, Salton Sea State Park, Saturday, May 17th, 2014.

The most striking part of our trip, was seeing the artwork that springs out of desperation, boredom, loneliness, and hopelessness. Bombay Beach was the first "dilapidated community" that we came across... it would be the first of many... yet, hidden in the shadows of loss and destruction, were snippets of unrestrained culture and beauty, painted on (and in)the discarded shells of formerly thriving businesses and proud vacation properties...

 photo Edit_P1080937_Resize.jpg

Bombay Beach, California. Saturday, May 17th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1080955_Resize.jpg

Bombay Beach, California. Saturday, May 17th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1080960_Resize.jpg

Bombay Beach, California. Saturday, May 17th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1080984_Resize.jpg

Bombay Beach, California. Saturday, May 17th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1090030_Resize.jpg

Bombay Beach, California. Saturday, May 17th, 2014.

Everywhere we went... from Bombay Beach, all the way to Salton Sea Beach... we saw firsthand the devastating effects of the '80s-era El-Nino-induced flooding, evidenced by the high-water marks on the buildings, the acres of dried seaweed (and other organic matter) left on the flat basins, and the salts leaching out of the foundations...

 photo Edit_P1090056_Resize.jpg

Niland Marina, Saturday, May 17th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1090064_Resize.jpg

The Camper at Niland Marina, Saturday, May 17th, 2014. Note that it's parked on a flat basin of dried-out sea sludge, left to bake in the wake of the El Nino flooding.

The next stop was Slab City and Salvation Mountain, which sit immediately adjacent to each other just east of Niland, California, on the site that was formerly Camp Dunlap, a World War II-era artillery training camp for the U.S. Marine Corps. Again, it's a juxtaposition of strange and extreme paradoxes: a military barracks uprooted, and turned into a squatter's haven. A place commandeered for the perpetuating of the military mechanisms, subsequently abandoned, and ultimately turned into a place where creativity, intellectualism, peace, nudity, and alternative living abound in an unrestrained anarchy...

 photo Edit_P1090070_Resize.jpg

Salvation Mountain, Niland, California. Saturday, May 17th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1090080_Resize_A.jpg

The inner structure of Salvation Mountain, Niland, California. Saturday, May 17th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1090088_Resize_A.jpg

A tourist marveling at the inner structure of Salvation Mountain, Niland, California. Saturday, May 17th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1090097_Resize.jpg

Salvation Mountain, Niland, California. Saturday, May 17th, 2014.

We spent Saturday night at "The Range", the venue for the Saturday Night Talent Show at Slab City. Karen and I cooked dinner on the portable grill, while passers by marveled at the camper's solitary simplicity, and it's overall attractiveness and functionality. We, in turn, got to meet some extremely kind, interesting, and entertaining people, while getting to tour their own impromptu camping arrangements. It was truly inspiring...

 photo Edit_P1090120_Resize.jpg

"The Range", the Main Stage at Slab City (formerly Camp Dunlap), Niland, California. Saturday, May 17th, 2014.

The only thing that we didn't do on our camping trip, was actually camp. The temperatures were so hot... well over 100 degrees during the daytime high... that the camper bedding was still warm to the touch, even well after sundown. This presented a potentially hazardous situation; the nights here are hot enough as it is, without sleeping on baking bedding. So for safety's sake, we ultimately retreated to the air-conditioned comfort of the Brawley Inn, about 20 miles south of Slab City...

 photo Edit_P1090132_Resize.jpg

Brawley Inn, Sunday, May 18th, 2014.

The next day's drive up the western shore of the Salton Sea, was generally more of the same: a grand tour of the blight and the squalor, with glimpses of creative genius hidden in the shadows of pseudo-urban decay...

 photo Edit_P1090146_Resize.jpg

You might be looking at this, saying to yourself, "Oh, my! Look at the pretty colors! What is that...!?" It's algae-infested lake water; you definitely do not want to swim in this. Salton City, California, Sunday, May 18th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1090152_Resize.jpg

Salton City Marina, Salton City, California. Sunday, May 18th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1090159_Resize.jpg

Salton Sea Beach, California. Sunday, May 18th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1090168_Resize.jpg

"Money Makes The World Go Around..." Salton Sea Beach, California. Sunday, May 18th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1090169_Resize.jpg

Salton Sea Beach, California. Sunday, May 18th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1090188_Resize.jpg

Salton Sea Beach, California. Sunday, May 18th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1090205_Resize.jpg

Salton Sea Beach, California. Sunday, May 18th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1090213_2_Resize.jpg

Salton Sea Beach, California. Sunday, May 18th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1090236_Resize.jpg

Salton Sea Beach, California. Sunday, May 18th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1090254_Resize2.jpg

Salton Sea Beach Marina, Salton Sea Beach, California. Sunday, May 18th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1090259_Resize2.jpg

Salton Sea Beach Marina, Salton Sea Beach, California. Sunday, May 18th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1090264_Resize2.jpg

Salton Sea Beach Marina, Salton Sea Beach, California. Sunday, May 18th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1090290_Resize.jpg

The Sunken Forest, Salton Sea Beach, California. Sunday, May 18th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1090297_Resize2.jpg

Sunken City, Salton Sea Beach, California. Sunday, May 18th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1090310_Resize.jpg

Brawley Avenue, Salton Sea Beach, California. Sunday, May 18th, 2014.

 photo Edit_P1090321_Resize2.jpg

Desert Shores, California. Sunday, May 18th, 2014.

Our last stop of the trip, before starting for home, was to "return, and acclimate to civilization" in Indio, California, where we checked the local interweb for highly recommended, local eateries. That's where we discovered (and subsequently, thoroughly enjoyed) an awesome little burger chain called "Andy's Burgers". The portions, and the flavors, here are just ginormous- definitely, a must-stop-and-eat, if you're ever in the neighborhood...

 photo Edit_P1090333_2_Resize.jpg

Andy's Burgers, Indio, California. Sunday, May 18th, 2014.

Even though this wasn't a "real camping" trip, per se, we did get to meet some fellow wanderers, share some camping stories, and have a very real adventure. At the end of the day, that's all that really matters. As such, I thought that it was still a story worth documenting, and sharing with my fellow readers, adventurers, and travelers...

I wonder where we'll go next...?


The Current Stats:

Miles traveled, previous: 6607.3 (or so)
Miles traveled, this trip: 606

Miles traveled, total: 7213.3 (or so)

Average mpg: Still holding steady around 25-26. Not too shabby...!

- Three queen-size pillows, and two body pillows, contributed by Karen. It makes the sleeping in it a bit more comfortable for two people.

- Two folding easy chairs- again, contributed by Karen to the cause.

- And, I also bought a 3' strap at Home Depot to help secure the roof a little bit. But more on that later...

 photo TSL_NewCamperLogo_112813_Original_MiniLogo_Pic.jpg