SoCal, Salton Sea, Dunes

Destination Unknown

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.

Utah (part 4), Zion National Park

Destination Unknown

July 7, 2019

I woke up in Kanab, a very very small town in Utah, where I will eventually go back, or so I hope, because there is a place you can only access through a lottery due to its fragility. It is called the Wave, on the slopes of the Coyote Buttes in the Colorado Plateau. This and the one in Australia (although I am sure there are way more all over the world) are the two I want to see. Hopefully one day, soon.

There’s no Starbucks near me, so I need to get round by stopping at a gas station and get a Cliff bar. That’ll do. And it did. Although by the time I got to Zion I was starving. But that’s another story. On my way to Zion National Park, I saw again a sign that captured my attention last night while scanning the road for animals: a deer, a buck, a something from that family. Two on the side of the road, and one actually crossed right in front on me, so I slowed down as fast as I could and let him pass. Sweet little thing. If only everyone else could do it. Anyway, the sign said “Coral Pink Sand Dunes“. Sand dunes? I’m game. I set my gps and I begin my journey to the Coral Pink Dunes. I wonder if they’re really coral pink. Then I remember that today would be my grandma’s birthday, and I once gifted her a pink coral stone before an open heart surgery she had to undergo many years ago after a stroke. I got that stone because the “pedrera”, the woman at the rocks shop, said it was the stone “linked” to the heart, a healing stone. If you believe or not in the therapeutic power of stones I do not really care, because what meant to both me and my grandma, at that time, was the symbol it brought with it. She kept it in her bra right before and after surgery and she was fine. She recovered and lived for years before she passed away in 2015. Time flies.

I do not believe in coincidences anymore. Although it may be just it, this gives me even more willpower to go see them, and they’re beautiful. I did it for grandma. The color is more orangey than pink, but still different than the dunes I’ve been to, so far. In Peru and in Colorado they were golden. In New Mexico they were bright white. Here they are coral pink, and they are as perfect as the others. I love dunes. There’s something magical in the sand. I get there at 7AM on a Sunday morning. There is no one around, what more could I ask for? I hike up reaching the rim and I look around. Once again I can hear nothing, and this deafening silence is something I’ve been cherishing for since my first time in the Mojave desert in 2011. It just can’t be explained. I sit and I sink my hands and my feet in the sand, which is cold where the sun can’t reach, and it’s getting warm little by little with the sun rising up in the sky. It’s been a while since I properly meditated. I do transcendental meditation. I took the class in 2017, my first time in LA, and the story is too long to tell, but even back then, it wasn’t by chance. It was simply meant to be. I do my twenty-minute ritual, I repeat my mantra and the sun kisses my skin without being too hard. If I had to describe the perfection of a moment, it would probably sound like this. No, it definitely would. Yes. I open my eyes and I stand up, sinking deep and falling back on the sand. I laugh, feeling stupid, but at the same time I know no one saw me so… that’s ok. I hike back down, right on time before some guys come with their quad bikes and the buggy. Amateurs. The point of being on the dunes is to hike them!

Zion is another spectacle that this Earth and nature gifted us, and it is actually better organized than both Yellowstone and Yosemite, because cars are not allowed on the trail that takes you through the various spots. People have to park in a lot before the trail begins, and you can only ride a shuttle back and forth, making it so much less chaotic and more pleasant than waiting in line in your car for hours. I always wanted to visit Zion. My preference for the Jewish culture may have something to do with it (Zion is a biblical word, in the first five books of the Old Testament –the Torah, in Hebrew, meaning a place of peace and refuge or sanctuary), but being one of the best national parks in the world, it has been on my bucket list for a very long time. The atmosphere is peaceful and the rock formations are typical, beautiful, perfect. I decide to go for a hike at the stop of the Weeping Rock area. The trail I want to hike is closed because of rocks falling, but to me “no” is the new yes, so I ignore the man made block and I start walking up the mountain. Breathless and a little worried some rocks could actually fall over my head, I keep going until I sadly find out why the trail was closed. A massive rock slide was totally blocking the passage and I could not go further. I wanted to reach a point called “hidden canyon” and I just guess it will stay hidden for a while longer, because no one will see it until that slide is fixed. It was still worth the fatigue though, because I could see that part of Zion from way above (although not as high as Angels’ Landing which is the highest point of the canyon), but also because I had to accept the fact that my fear of heights is getting stronger and stronger with time. It bothers me, but I have to accept it, I think it comes with aging. Oh, and it was worth it because that look in the eyes of those few people seeing me coming from the path where the sign said “Stop here. Trail closed. No trespassing” was priceless: a perfect blend of dissent and wonder, dislike and puzzle.

On my way out I stopped in Saint George, another town that offers some amazing views, where I spend the night and I plan on getting my oil change (again!) because the “maintenance required” light turned on last Friday night. I could have stopped somewhere else, or have reached Vegas which is so close, by George is the name of my uncle, the one who has always protected me and helped me, even when I was about to enter the world with my mom almost giving birth to me, in his car, on their way to the hospital. I take this as a way to say that in this town I’ll be safe tonight. Plus the hospital parking lots have always given me shelter these past few weeks, so I feel comfortable there. I find a city viewing point and I go watch the sunset before getting ready to spend the night in town. There is no one around for a few minutes, until a couple of teens comes up the stairs and sees me. I can hear their voices in the distance, although they whisper seeing me there, standing still leaning on the fence, facing the horizon: what is she doing? – I don’t know. What is she doing -alone-? – I don’t know, she’s just standing there. Then I can hear the clicks of the cans they opened, I turn for a second, they’re hugging, they’re kissing. I take a couple of photos of the sunset, and I just think of giving them space. Enjoy it while it lasts, kids. Enjoy it.

Texas and New Mexico

Destination Unknown

Can’t really say much about Texas. I drove through the thinnest part of the State, but the views were one of a kind. Yellow and its darker shades started appearing before my eyes. No more green, if not sporadically thanks to bushes and trees. All the colors of sand, burned sand, ochre, sienna, maroon, beige, umber, ok basically brown, were all around me, and I enjoyed it all like a cup of hot chocolate on a freezing winter day. Outside it’s 100 degrees F, but those are details. I woke up in Texas and I started my long trip to New Mexico. Sand dunes await me and I cannot wait. I still have food from the day before so I have breakfast in the car and just drive, drive, drive. I only stop for gas and to give my windshield a wash. Those poor butterflies, and moths, and insects of any kind may rest in peace.

I reach Roswell, NM around noon. What. A. Day. After my favorite scenario of finding myself driving alone through a loooong single road through nothing, enjoy every, single, little, bit, of it, I parade along this town that reminds me of a show I used to watch many years ago, called obviously Roswell. Not the new one, which I haven’t seen yet, but may start once back somewhere with a good connection for my Netflix and Hulu accounts. No. I’m talking about the one where the actress playing Isobel Stevens in Grey’s Anatomy (curtsy, please) a.k.a. Katherine Heigl is playing the part of an alien, but the story is too long so just google it. Being in Roswell was surreal. Aliens are everywhere (real or not it is up to you to —believe), despite the actual UFO incident happened more than 50 miles away from the city. What was super weird is that, at my regular stop at Starbucks, where my restroom breaks are getting more and more expensive, something supernatural actually happened. A guy was sitting at a table and I swear to all the Gods he was my friend from Boston College, Mario. Everything looked like him. Even the shape of his lips which are particularly specific. The way he was dressed, the way he was working on his computer, the way he put his hat on. Every little detail, even the haircut. I secretly snapped a photo and sent it to both Matteo, the other friend from B.C, and to Mario of course. Matteo was shocked as much as I was. He said “you’re in Roswell, paranormal activity is normal”; Mario, typical for his Narcissus-like personality, said: “he’s hot, I want his number.” I had to laugh. Funny story to tell, but that was it. Nothing more. Except for all the movies in my head where I would actually approach him and tell him the whole story of Laura, Matteo and Mario. Whatevs. Roswell. Yes. I had fun looking around, but I was looking forward to getting to my beloved dunes.

White Sands Monument Park was a dream. Gypsum sand dunes are rare and this location is the widest in the whole world. I feel lucky. It is a very hot day so even the rangers suggested to not walk on the trails and just stay where vegetation is still visible, so I did. I found a spot on the top of a dune and I chilled for a couple of hours, enjoying the sand like a dog enjoys grass, rolling and sinking, getting all covered in white sand and sun bathing. A very nice way to spend the Fourth of July, and to honor my current Independence. Thankfully not so many people were around and only later, around sunset, we all gathered at a meeting spot to take the Sunset Stroll with the ranger who explained to us the history and the formation of the the White Sand Dunes. Fascinating. Too bad the military occupied part of the land to turn it into a missile range area to test weapons and other stuff I am not a fan of. But nature will take care of it eventually, I want to believe so. As for now, enjoy these photos and I wish you all could see it person one day, because it is so much worth it.

Colorado, sand dunes and books

Destination Unknown

June 23, 2019

It was actually June 22nd that I was in Colorado. I woke up in Pagosa Springs and drove for another hour or so, to reach what is to me a sacred place: sand dunes. Recently I found myself stopping along the way while hiking, to take a moment and actually be grateful for what I am seeing, feeling, smelling, absorbing, rejecting… In Utah, for instance, I sat on a rock facing the arches. No one was around me because people are fundamentally lazy. I sometimes “hate” myself for staying just a short while wherever I am going, taking a too short walk, or hike, but some of us out there really take it to another level. What’s their main purpose while visiting a place? I am not sure, but very few of us humans were opting for walking down the Primitive Trail, which said “difficult” at the entrance, so I had only very few encounters with those of my species, which is something I am really happy about. I took advantage of being almost alone in the area, and sat. Listening to the only sound of the wind blowing through the rocks, reminded me of when I road tripped for the first time with Emily, in 2011. My first time in the Mojave Desert, in SoCal and my first time with real silence. A deafening silence, to use an oxymoron that expresses the unexpected sensation I had. Blessed.

The Great Sand Dunes were packed with people being profane in my sacred place. To reach the dunes you have to walk through a stream of water all around them. All these individuals with inflatables, umbrellas, tents, and more, treating the dunes as regular beach places where you just go to sun bathe and your children pee in the water, made my anger explode. I was expecting silence. I was foreseeing respect, experts of the land handling obnoxious humans: yes you’re allowed to visit, yes you can sand board, yes you can even take your pets and your kids, but you cannot leave Starbucks cups and dogs’ dejections everywhere. I started taking photos to document it. I had to. Spoiled rotten little kids whining, crying, screaming and I was done. Despite how hard it is to walk on the dunes, in the sand, while sinking deep, with the wind blowing sand grains in your eyes, ears, mouth, nose, everywhere, I started hiking up and down, seeing that the further I was going, the fewer people I could see. Just youngsters, in small groups, going all the way up to the high ones to sand board, and that was actually fine with me. I was smiling at them remembering my time in Huacachina, Peru, sand boarding with my BC peeps, riding those funny dune buggies like crazy. Fun times.

Going down memory lane allowed me to release some of the bother and I eventually reached the top, enjoying the view all around me. I sat and I contemplated the wonders of this place. To be honest, I also felt a little sorrow for not having anyone with me to say “See? How amazing” as I could hear many say while passing me by. Everyone had someone having their back, but me. They all had someone rooting for them, “come on, one more dune” or “one more, one more, see the rim? So close!” and I only had the voice in the back of my head with me, which we already know is not exactly what we would define as my best friend. But I endured and I stayed. After a while, being all covered with sand, I just decided to walk down and head North. I was thirsty and hungry, and still had a little annoyance lingering within me, thinking of having to cross path again with those irreverent individuals there, at the bottom. Luckily a friend of mine from Boston moved to Colorado, now living in Boulder, and I can’t wait to get there.

Maintenance Required light: ON. UGH! I have to do a quick pit-stop for an oil change. Colorado Springs seems to be the closest place where I can get it on a Saturday afternoon. Deal. The Pep Boys guys in LA have always treated me with courtesy, so I choose to go visit their colleagues in Colorado. They find a couple more issues on my SiennaMiller but, not having the financial possibilities nor the time to fix those, they kindly change the oil and replace an air filter for me, treating me once again as a valuable customer, and then they just write a note for future reference in case I decide to get everything working properly again. Great attitude is the key. I leave and go back on the road with a few more concerns, but glad I found some nice fellows in here as well as in LA.

The road to Boulder was… soaking wet. I had to go through two storms, a couple accidents and a whole lot of water, but once in Boulder the weather was merciful and I could greet Gabriel, my friend, after two years from the last time we hung out in Boston. Mah “wicked” Bawston. It was so nice to see a familiar face and do something with a friend. We went out right away, to a German place he likes, having the chance to catch up on the past two years of our stooopid crazy lives. The following morning we opt for a Tea House downtown where we have brunch, and then he shows me around. We visit two places he knows I would very much appreciate: a store where they sell old maps called Art Source International and Boulder Book Store. Loved both and bought a book: of course. If I could, I would get hundreds plus a couple old maps and an old, err vintage, wooden globe for my mother, but not now. One day. When my bank account will allow it. We eventually go for a short hike and fall into deep conversations about philosophy, biology, literature, languages, games, art… whatever. Sharing opinions and ideas, even when we disagree on some points, is something I cherish and respect. I could stay and wait for tomorrow, as it will be sunny and warm, but the road is calling. I am going to miss a Dungeons and Dragons night my friend wanted me to go to, but he understands and let me go on my way. I’m grateful for today so I leave content and laid-back. By late night I’m in Nebraska and I can rest for a few hours, thinking about my dogs back home, one in particular –who is old and in pain, and I weep a little, before Morpheus gets me…and tomorrow is another day on the road.