Into the Desert

After a couple of days of settling into West Coast-mode, we headed east.  The California & South West deserts have been on J’s bucket list since seeing “The Doors” and “Natural Born Killers”.  It was finally time to make it happen.

We decided to spend a couple of days driving from San Diego to Vegas through the Salton Sea, Joshua Tree and the Mojave.  We could have spent so much more time there but it was the end of May and HOT.  We decided to take secondary roads through Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and the Anza-Borrego Desert.  We drove up and down small, windy roads, through ranches and a lot of nature.  It was a long yet relaxing drive.

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Our first stop was on the western side of the Salton Sea.  The Salton Sea has a fascinating history: it boomed due to an engineering fail in the early 1900’s, became a Palm Desert-style resort mid-century, then slowly declined from pollution, agricultural runoff and climate change.  It is now home to off-the-grid living, non-conformists and retirees.  It is barren, a little ominous and totally awesome.  We drove through half abandoned/half populated neighborhoods who had not seemed to see public works in quite some time… The roads were… wavy.  It’s the only way to describe them.  We drove slowly and quietly, fully aware that we were meandering through neighborhoods where the residents probably weren’t fond of visitors.  We reached the sea and it was and wasn’t what we expected.  It was smelly, it was desolate, but we didn’t see the mass amounts of dead fish that wash up on the shores.  We saw an abandoned resort and wished we could have done some exploring, but it did not feel especially safe.  The west and southern shores seem to have more sites to be seen and we will definitely be back to check them out.  If you want to learn more, check out the award-winning documentary, “Bombay Beach“.

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The Salton Sea is not far from Joshua Tree, so off we went, waving to Coachella and Palm Desert to the west as we drove by.  There is so much to see in Joshua Tree, and we just scratched the surface.  Our must-see’s were (obviously and unavoidable) the trees, the Cholla Cactus Garden, skull rock, Keys view and the general expanse of the landscape.  It was all other-worldly and so very beautiful.  Nature hit one out of the park here and we definitely felt her might and wonder.  In a place so arid, so hard and extreme, there was so much life.  We pondered how the first inhabitants and early explorers survived in such a harsh environment and marveled at their ingenuity.

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With our minds blown, we left the park and headed to our home for the night, Sunnyvale Garden Suites in Twentynine Palms.  We picked this spot for its kitsch and were not disappointed.  We settled into our cabin and explore the curated grounds.  The hotel is mining-themed and we enjoyed all the little knick-knacks, eclectic landscaping and decor.  The cabin had a queen bed, efficiency kitchen, little living room and, most importantly, a front porch.  We asked the hotel manager for a dinner spot recommendation and he sent us to a nearby Mexican joint that hit the spot.  Twentynine Palms is near a Marine base and there was a homecoming party at the restaurant while we were there.  It was humbling to see the marines reuniting with their families, everyone dressed in their Sunday best.  It sunk in how different our yankee lives were from other parts of the country.

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We woke up early the next morning and hit the road… Route 66 to be precise!

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The roads were empty and the scenery was vast.  We felt very much alone.  Our first human encounter was at Roy’s Motel and Cafe where we got a no-frills coffee and tea (we’re talking Sanka and powdered milk).  Roy’s is straight out of mid-century America (the coffee might have been, too).  While there isn’t much to explore, we enjoyed walking around a bit and seeing a small display of memorabilia.

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Then it was off to the Mojave National Preserve.  We found the preserve to be much more wild and empty and a bit less interesting than Joshua Tree.  Most of the sites required a hike and we chose to stay close to the main road.  We wish we has prepared better, it would have been great to hike the Kelso sand dunes and hang out in the lava tubes. We did, however, stop by the Kelso Depot visitor’s center and checked out some of the ruins in Cima.  Then it was back to the wavy road towards Vegas.  All in all, it was a magical drive that felt like a leap back in time and we can’t wait to go back and see more of the abandoned Americana along route 66.

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Our next California road trip will be along the PCH, stay tuned!

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