16 hours ago
May 30, 2009
The Salton Sea used to be a dry basin, turned into a lake by the flooding of the Colorado River in 1902. In the 1920's it started developing into a tourist attraction, and by the 50's it was a hopping place. That didn't last. The lake's main source of water inflow is agricultural runoff and the extremely polluted New River. Its salinity level is higher than sea water. Algal blooms, massive fish and bird die-offs spelled the end of the Salton Sea vacation paradise.
There is an excellent and fascinating documentary film, narrated by John Waters, Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea. Ever since I saw it I wanted to see the place for myself. So I did.
It was just a quick, 2-day trip. I took the long and dull Hwy 134-210-10 route to Indio where I got promptly lost. I have no sense of direction. Eventually I got on the right direction. On the first day I drove all around it, but took only a few pictures. On the second day I went back partially and took more pictures at Mecca.
At first look the beach seems idyllic, however the photo doesn't convey the smell that hit me as soon as I got near the shore - a mix of rotten eggs and manure. I discovered the source of manure: industrial scale cow farm on the East shore. Wherever I stopped there were mostly gutted and boarded up buildings. The fancifully named Bombay Beach looked like a third world trailer park. I didn't take pictures there, it felt wrong, vulturish.
I headed home, but instead of the freeway I opted to take the scenic route part of the way. It probably added another two hours to the trip but was well worth it. I took Hwy 74 to the 243 and from there up to the 10. It was a fun drive up and down of windy 2-lane roads through the San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountains.
I stopped at a view point to take a look at Coachella Valley bellow. It was interesting how the vegetation changed as I was driving along. At first there were sparse anemic grasses clinging to rocks, but then it turned into short brighter green conifers further in the mountains. In the valley there was a sparse forest of tall pine trees, and by the time 74 hit 243 it was a dense forest made up of a wide variety of trees and shrubs. As I got closer to Banning and the 10, it was sparse grasses again.
At the start of 243 I found Idyllwild, an intriguing little town nestled in the forest. Right along the road I saw the most unusual sculpture garden. Apparently it is the outdoor studio of the local artist who carves sculptures from tree trunks of all sizes. There were assorted pieces around at varying states of (in)completion.