2017 was a spectacularly bad year — annus horribilis, or in plain Big Dog Speak, an asshole of a year — with disasters, tragedies, problems big and small, as well as tons of minor irritations. Poor Sprockets remained parked next to our ranch house for almost the entire time, becoming my kitchen for a while, as our home got torn up and turned into a nine month construction zone. Aside from a lightening speed trip to Humboldt County to pack up and haul away whatever we still had at Big Dog’s Victorian which got sold during the year Sprockets remained pretty comatose.
“A trip to Arcata and back to San Luis Obispo, huh. So, what am I now? A utility van?”
I think Sprockets was really happy to be leaving the ranch for another adventure, even though Big Dog and I were both a bit distracted. Me, with all the possible outcomes from my upcoming colonoscopy. Big Dog, with everything else. I managed to forget to clean and tidy one of our bedrooms, left a mess of perishable stuff (bacon! cheese!) in the “deli drawer” of our fridge, and who knows what else I’ve forgotten.
We had to be in LA for several days which meant we had to find street parking for Sprockets. Fortunately, we snagged an AWESOME spot almost directly in front of our condo. It was so good and rare, Big Dog didn’t want to move Sprockets at all and I spent $20 on cab fare getting to my colonoscopy and back. (I was NOT walking to the appointment after the horrid prep.) The next day we walked 3 or 4 miles to get more food (bacon! cheese!) at Trader Joes’s and hauled nearly 50 pounds of food in 5 bags. By foot.
My other doctor’s appointment had been canceled and rescheduled for March, so what were we waiting for? Let’s get back on the road!
Big Dog wanted to head south, although California is as hot as Manzanillo right now, and we had always wanted to check out the Salton Sea, ever since our Canadian-French-Spanish-Turkish-Jewish friends, an elderly couple we met in Mexico (and whose trailer we stay in each November) told us about the hot springs here.
“There’s one called the Lobster Pot!” they laughed. I hadn’t been able to find that one on the internet but maybe it’s out there some place.
Leaving LA well before the parking restrictions began this Thursday afternoon, it was a short few blocks to the I-10. Traffic going east wasn’t too bad although LA freeways aways make me grit my teeth and grip the arm rest.
East, east, east. Through Downtown, East LA and beyond. Pomona. Riverside. The urban sprawl is extensive now. There used to be nothing much beyond East LA when I was growing up. Pomona was a hick little ag community.
“Shall we stop at Hadley’s in Banning for an overpriced bison burger and date shake?” I asked Big Dog. There wasn’t much out there the last time we were in the area.
Instead, Big Dog pulled into a Denny’s in Beaumont — a quick and easy stop right off Highway 10. “The” 10. Why do Californians call some roads “the” whatever — the 405, the 10 also called the I-10, the 101 — but others don’t get the article. PCH, for example, unless you say Pacific Coast Highway. Then, it’s THE Pacific Coast Highway. Highway 1 (another name for PCH) is just Highway 1 not THE Highway 1. Route 66 is never THE Route 66. It’s a mystery. (By the way, it’s “Ginza” or “Ginza-dori” and never “the Ginza,” folks.)
After our shared club sandwich lunch (with fries! I need my calories! I need my carbs!) we get back on the road.
Banning is all built up and you can hardly spot Hadley’s amongst the forest of fast food shops and other franchises. Hmm, it used to be the only thing out there.
“Engelbert Humperdink?!” I am amazed that he is still performing. So is Eddie Money, Tom Jones and Kansas according to the billboards advertising performers for the Morongo Casino.
This part of the road is not new to us, although it is for Sprockets. We’ve been to Joshua Tree National Park and the Big Morongo Valley Preserve in the past. But today, instead of getting on Route 62 going up to Twentynine Palms and beyond, we stay on the I-10 towards the Imperial Valley, beyond the valley of wind farms.
The vibe changes after Riverside: there is more wilderness; the landscape is shrubbier and drier. They embrace the desert with date palms and town names like Mecca. North of the Salton Sea, the date farms are emerald green patches in the desert. Unirrigated soil looks white and crystalline. Is it salt?
“There it is!” I point to a sign announcing the Banana Museum.
Big Dog pulls over so I can have a look but the place looks…abandoned.
“I don’t think it’s happening anymore,” I say. I am disappointed.
(Maybe it still is but we’re just there at the wrong time.)
The Salton Sea is a shallow, saltwater lake created directly on the San Andreas Fault. The surface is 236 feet below sea level and the deepest point in the lake is only 5 feet higher than the lowest point of Death Valley. It’s really low!
The Colorado River used to flow into the Imperial Valley, depositing soil as well as water, sometimes creating a lake, other times drying up into nothing. When Americans built canals to increase water flow from the Colorado into the Imperial Valley, the canals filled up with silt so a cut was made in the bank of the Colorado to increase water flow. The outflow overwhelmed the man-made canal and the river flowed into the Salton basin for two years creating the Salton Sea, the largest lake in California.
Overuse of water for farming in the desert has dried up the Salton Sea. Its salinity has gone up drastically, making it a lot saltier than the ocean. Phosphates and nitrates from fertilizers create algae blooms that deplete oxygen and kill fish and birds. According to a Sierra Club article, a disgusting stench from the fish killed by one such bloom smothered Los Angeles for days. Toxic dust is making residents very sick.
What was once a popular vacation spot, is no longer.
The Salton Sea State Park is on the east side of the lake. There are camp sites with hookups, sites for tents, a boat launch and visitor center where we watch a video about the history of Salton Sea and talk to the ranger who tells us that many of the campgrounds are closed now. This was a popular resort/vacation place in the 50’s but the stench of the polluted water and all the dead fish started driving most people away.
Not all, though. We’re here and so are a handful of other RVers.
There are still campgrounds at the main visitor center area, Mecca Beach and Corvina, a primitive camp. There are no trees or shade but it’s more open, wilder and you can camp anywhere right along the shores of the lake so we decided to camp here for the night. It’s $10 to camp overnight ($8 for us with the $2 senior discount!) and it has pit toilets and cold showers.
Finding a level spot between other rigs lining the lakeshore, we walk to the water, crunching over a “beach” of what look like a zillion bleached fish and bird bones. It’s a massive boneyard. There are some dead dried fish, too, and a dead bird or two.
Being Japanese, I am used to the smell of dried fish and have a higher tolerance for it.
“It smells like himono. You know, the dried fish we eat for breakfast in Japan,” I remarked.
The Salton Sea is supposed to be a big birding area but all I recognize are the really fat seagulls. They probably feast on tilapia that’s been introduced into these waters. They’re hardy and can thrive in less than ideal conditions. Along the shores, there are bushes that look like they might eventually dry up into tumbleweeds. It’s the iodine bush introduced as a dust control measure. There’s not much more in the way of flora right now.
We watch the sun go down behind the San Bernardino Moutains, as train after train passes by on the nearby tracks. The trains run all night long, passing, stopping, passing each other…
Too bad I miss the moonrise — by the time I see it, it is high in the eastern sky, almost full. Man, I wish we were here for the Super Blood Blue Moon a day ago!