SoCal, Salton Sea, Dunes


July 10, 2019

This post should also be called “when you were craving for the cherry on the top, and you eventually end up crying for disaster”. Welcome. It’s the beginning of the end, and it is not a pleasant one. Oh gawd! Another rant? Well well, not really. No. I am just going to report objectively about something I was expecting to be amazing. But why the disappointment? Because I do too believe, at times, what people say. The way they advertise, the way they sell themselves, and their mother, if they could.

The Death Valley was magical and at least I have that to remember as part of the last few miles of this itinerary. I was so close to Los Angeles though, that I pushed forward and thought: one more beauty, one more. So, after waking up in Ridgecrest, no earthquakes whatsoever, I kept driving South. I passed through the border of the Joshua Tree National Park where I’ve been a couple of times already, so I did not have to go through it deeply this time. I could still see those pretty and typical trees all around me while approaching the Coachella Valley. Who would have thought I could say “I’ve been to Coachella?” Yeah, because, who cares if I went to Coachella festival or to Coachella valley? I can already picture the conversation in my head <<oh yeah, and then I’ve been to Coachella! -Oh, really, how did you like it? -oh, it was amazing. Hot. But you know, it’s Coachella, always so much fun. Beautiful. -oh, yeah, I totally agree.>> Bla bla. Done. But I was talking about the land, the trees, the sand blowing in your face, the heat burning your skin, and all the desert beauty surrounding you. Character B was talking about parties, parties, money, parties, more money, more parties, oh and music (and drugs, but that’s another story), but that almost comes last nowadays. Who’s playing at Coachella this year? Who cares, I already have my outfits ready. Something like that. Shake head. Multiple times.

It was more than 110 degrees outside and I was concerned about the car. New noises come out every day and I can feel my SiennaMiller is telling me she is tired as well. One more T, one more. Then I’ll let you rest. Instead of just taking the highway all the way through Salton Sea, after leaving Yucca Valley where I felt I could spend some time because what you see around you is so unusual but typical of this place, I switched to internal roads and drove through Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Indio, Coachella and Mecca. Then the real nightmare began. I thought Salton Sea was another natural treasure the Earth and the nature left for us in this divine desert, instead as soon as I approach the area, I notice something is not quite right. Flies start torturing me, and I feel like I am back in the Australian desert, but not in a good way. I ask a few questions to the ranger woman as usual, because I like to know more about the area before adventuring in. I find out Salton Sea is man made: a mistake some engineers from the past did and the whole town of Salton got submerged. They eventually decided to keep the reservoir as a dump place for agricultural waste, so please take a few minutes to consider the toxicity of this area. I can’t believe that something so pretty to see (the colors of the salt water reflected by the hard sun are superior!) is the result of pesticides, fertilizers, and waste dunked into a water basin that has a salt rate almost twice the ocean. I felt disgusted. I kept moving forward as the guide told me there were some characteristic spots I could still visit before reaching my beloved dunes down South, almost at the border with Mexico. Bombay beach: a ghost town. When you think of a ghost town, what comes into your head? Ok, then, forget it. It can’t be fully explained if you don’t experience one in person. Not to be rude, but a ghost town is not only “an abandoned village, town, or city, that usually contains substantial visible remains”; people still live there. How? Eh, go figure. And why do we have to leave so much waste around? All these rotten cars, abandoned stuff. Please stop. Just stop.

All ghost towns in the area… so I drive through them. The guide said, if you fancy, there’s a painted mountain near Niland, CA, it’s called Salvation Mountain and it’s in Slab City. The artist, Leonard Knight wanted to leave a tribute to God so he painted “God Is Love” with biblical references all over the massively painted hills. Everybody loves it, apparently. I was more like: why? You could have celebrated nature, using natural pigments, no cement or other harmful substances, but no. Let’s be praised for slaughtering nature. I’m sorry. The colors are beautiful but it’s a no. Go see it if you like, but to thank God, you could have done something different. I have to leave as fast as I can, and I hit the rock where the Salvation Sign sits, with the back of my car. Nothing too bad, but it hits me like a slap in the face, and I feel like the Universe is telling me to be less negative. Fine. Driving back to civilization (or so I hoped) I see a woman hitchhiking in the middle of the desert going from Slab City to Niland, so I stop and give her a ride.

I didn’t ask for her name, strangely. That’s usually the first thing I would ask, but I asked other questions my mouth was coming out with; she may have been an introvert, as if I decided to keep quiet, she would have probably gone with that too. She says she’s 62 (she looked 90), her body was burned by the sun, I couldn’t see her face clearly as she’s all covered with cloths, not clothes, for what it looks like. Her strong smell and a “sugary” breath, along with her legs covered in bruises and crusts make me think she may have diabetes, but who knows. She has been living in this “city” since 1997, when her ex boyfriend shot her in the head and her son got hit and killed while trying to shield her from further bullets. She told me a couple of other things, but that is the one the stroke me the most. I felt stupid and the bad feeling piled up with the disgust and the dislike I was storing from earlier, so the whole situation got me into an internal momentum that got me sick. Literally.

She has been living in SL for 22 years. Let me tell you right quick what Slab City is. Snowbirds live here. Snowbird is the term to refer to people who stay to warm places in the winter and then they migrate back North. I would say nomad, but go figure. Those who are not snowbirds, are permanent residents of the slabs and they are supported by government programs as they found themselves here because of poverty. Others just want to live off the grid and be left alone. There is no official electricity, no running water, no sewers, no toilets nor trash pickup service, nothing. They use generators and it is basically the epitome of what anarchy would be. But not as I intend it. Anarchy, to me, is something different. I drop her off, she seems like she can’t wait to get off, and I continue my journey that is turning into something I wasn’t ready to experience. And not in a good way.

I need to see something beautiful, something to restore not only my faith in humanity but some general common sense too. Dunes, I’m coming for you. But nope, not yet. All the way to my beloved golden hills of sand, a never ending stretch of cattle farms spreads in front of me, and I can’t help but feeling sick again, outraged. I need to scream, I need to cry, I don’t really know what I need, but this just does not feel right. Why? Why now? Why here? Why this? Why at the end of my journey? I can’t think straight and I need time to free my mind and my emotional sphere from all this build-up. I see the dunes in the distance and I keep driving. Umpteenth disappointment. These dunes are so majestic, spread out and in such an inclement area that you can’t really hike on them unless it’s super early in the morning or at dusk, when the sun is setting and the heat won’t get you killed. Moreover, you can drive through them and there are some viewpoints spots you can park at, I guess because of this “problem” of not being able to “patrol” them and keep visitors safe. This time the Imperial Sand Dunes did not help with changing my internal status, and I have to accept the fact that this “Destination: Unknown” project has been taking a wrong turn. Or maybe it was simply supposed to go this way to teach me something different. Who knows. As for now, I need to go back to civilization and probably back to Los Angeles, sooner than later.