The desert has its holiness of silence, the crowd its holiness of conversation. – Walter Elliot
My friend Mike was here for a little less than a week, and I wanted to show him around the other side of California. Not the pretty beaches (although we did end up there at some point.) nor the Hollywood glamour, but the desert life that even I abhorred the first few years of living there. If you are ever in the Los Angeles or San Diego metropolitan areas, these can be quick one-day trips. Of course, overnight to weekend stays work the best!
If you thought the sun was bright in Los Angeles and San Diego, well the desert sun is sure to burn your retinas off! Right before the exit to Palm Springs, you’ll see the famous Cabezon Dinosaurs. Yes, the ones from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. The restaurant is long gone, but you can check out this roadside attraction for free. There is Mr. Rex's Dinosaur Adventure on the other side, but to be honest, it didn’t look like much. If you must get a souvenir, there is a gift shop. The best memory: pictures. We took our snapshots and then went on our merry way.
There are many attractions in Palm Springs that you should probably check out. We were just passing through. Besides, I don’t think I could have gotten anyone to go hiking. May weather is quite mild, and you’re just asking for trouble if you decide to take a trip here during the summer. Even so, walking around Palm Springs in the heat is not what I’m trying to do. It’s Saturday, and everyone and their dog is out! Finding the right place to eat isn’t hard, it’s finding an empty table that proved to be a challenge. Please check the store hours. The place where we wanted to dine, closed for a few hours during the afternoon to prep for dinner service. We opted for Mexican food at Maracas because you can never go wrong with Mexican food. Beneath some patio umbrellas, we enjoyed a meal together and then sat to just enjoy the bright colors and chatter. Although we were ready to hoof around the city, we made it only two blocks before having to cool off with smoothies at Tutti Frutti. On our way out of Palm Springs, we did see plenty of that iconic architecture. I’m hitting up that casino next time!
The Salton Sea and Bombay Beach
Who’s idea was it to come to this fly-infested post-apocalyptic dump?! Listen. My 4th-grade-self wanted to go here. As a kid, all I knew about the Salton Sea was that it was the most significant body of water in California. What they omitted was that it was set to become a place lined with resorts rivaling Palm Springs, until a few engineers turn it into one of the largest ecological disasters in history. To see it for what it is now is depressing; however, at the same time, it’s a humbling experience. Situated on the San Andreas Fault between the Imperial and Coachella Valleys, the Salton Sea appears only as a sliver of water from afar. To truly appreciate it, you must find one of the many recreational park areas, get out of your vehicle, and get as close as your nose will handle. I could only manage about 15 minutes of salt-crusted ‘beach sand’ on my shoes, as I kept swatting flies away from my face while trying not to hurl. The mountains on the opposite side stand majestically in the background as the sun kisses the water surface and the beauty of the Salton Sea is in full bloom despite all of the ugliness around it. That’s probably the best way I could explain it.
Bombay Beach is one of the communities along the Salton Sea. The name is quite deceiving. While we certainly weren’t expecting beach cabanas and pool boys, we also weren’t expecting it to look like the land that time forgot. Soft dirt roads sprinkled with some paved ones, we made our way in searching for a dock to take pictures and get a better look at the Salton Sea. Instead, we found old trailers, abandoned homes, and little signs of life. Definitely had that “the hills have eyes” vibe going. We did see a makeshift photoshoot in one of the old homes. Frankly, I wasn’t trying to touch anything! My friend and I got out just to snap a picture before we left. I didn’t want to give up and even attempted to go see Salvation Mountain a few miles away. After going down another soft dirt road, I had a bad feeling and decided not to press my luck. Later that evening, we did some research and even watched a documentary film called “Breaking Point“. If we hadn’t experienced it for ourselves, we probably would have dismissed the option on the screen. Pretty interesting stuff and more importantly a closer look into California’s history. Before his death, Sonny Bono the once mayor of Palm Springs and congressman for California's 44th District attempted to fix the Salton Sea. There is a wildlife refuge in Calipatria named after him.
Other films about the Salton Sea currently on my watchlist.
The first is narrated by John Waters called, “Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea” and the second is a documentary called “Bombay Beach” and just as the name suggests is about the residents of Bombay Beach.
So what's next?
I've got to go back!
Here's the thing. Having only a day to show a friend around was cutting it pretty close. I felt terrible for not getting a weekend trip together. Still, given that it's just a 2-hour drive it's easier for me to go back and stay the weekend. On my part two itinerary:
- Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactarium – what is not to love? Huell Howser from ‘California's Gold' went there on one of the episodes and I instantly knew I had to be there.
- Palm Springs Aerial Tramway – The world's largest rotating tramcar! Yes, I want to go hiking. Look at the views! You can check out the tram cam here.
- Palm Springs Art Museum – hooray for contemporary art!
- Tahquitz Canyon – there are waterfalls at the end of the hike. I mean how could you not! Maybe camping is in order, too.
- Toucan's Tiki Lounge – I love a good drag queen show! WERQ.