Being fairly west coast-ish, already, I can’t go too much farther in Horace Greely’s navigation call (not to mention I’m the wrong gender invited). But…. I was determined. I would visit Salton Sea before leaving the Southwest. My dissertation’s data collection is all but going to Hell, but that is/was/is not going to deter my Farewell Phoenix Tour. Did I mention I live for a good road trip? “Good” being a flexible and creative definer?
A blistering hot July day seemed as good a day as any for a drive. Edie and I hit the road at a painful 4:30am to put as much of the desert trek behind us before the sun got high in the sky. Our first stop was to the wonderful Salvation Mountain and then the iconoclastic East Jesus in Slab City.
Living in Phoenix, Palm Springs is just far enough away to be slightly inconvenient with a topography that is too familiar. Palm Springs, for all its fun, just can be a hard sell to a Phoenician. When planning SoCal road trips Phoenicians have two options. 1) a four hour drive to a desert valley surrounded by stunning mountain ranges (in other words, landscape and temperatures completely matching home). Or… 2) a five to six hour drive to the beach and up to a 30 degree temperature differential (in the summer this is an important distinction). For me, at least, the beach will win out nearly every time. Besides, I’m partial to the Sonoran Desert landscape. No offense meant to lovers of Mohave Desert! Well, so we ended in Palm Springs (always a fun time), but the primary interest was a little bit southern. Regardless, Salton Sea is am easy extension to a Palm Springs stopover if you plan well enough. And, IMO, you should plan for this creepy cool site, err sight.
By the time we got to Salton Sea, the heat and sun were merciless. I was dehydrated — while I packed more than adequate water, I wanted to limit the number of times I’d have to pee on the roadside to as few stops as possible. I was not willing to take any chance leaving Edie alone in the car for ANY amount of time. It was so hot. I wasn’t going to take any risk with her.
We didn’t stay long on the barnacle and salt crusted shore. I made the artistic error of taking the Border Patrol agent’s recommendation to go to the sanctioned state park site instead of any abandoned beach sites. It wasn’t because I minded paying the $5 fee. I support state and national parks, regardless. We all should…. State park sites are maintained so there were none of the odd, macabre vestiges of the holiday destination Salton Sea used to be that make for beautiful photographs. The shoreline, nonetheless, was just as covered and cluttered with decomposed bodies of countless tilapia who died, most likely, gasping for their last breaths. Many of the fish were mummified from the intense arid heat. The putrid water lapped up the shore and salt crusted sand cracked under and around our feet.
Whereas Salton Sea used to be a destination of leisure and pleasure, I couldn’t stop my mind from focusing on the scale of death and the slow process of nature reclaiming the basin as it was intended to be, not the desert lake it was made to be decades ago. The persistent and punitive flies didn’t do much to settle my mood. And the smell!
I was forewarned of the smell. Yes, it smells. It probably smells as bad as you expect it to. Not pleasant, but tolerable. That is, for a short time. Although, I think Edie disagreed with me.
What is one smell that dogs universally become disgusting little junkies for? Dead fish. And we were standing on a shore that was nearly entirely composed of dead fish bodies. To borrow the words from Summer Roberts, “Eww!” Oh, but for the life of me (I think she still smells of it), my sweet little babe became a filthy mongrel rolling and wiggling IN the mummified fish carcasses! Oh, Edie.
Had I not been on the very cusp of full heat induced misery, I would have liked to stop at some of the abandoned shoreline sites and stayed at the sea quite a while longer. But Edie was hot, too, and showing signs of heat stress. Edie has just enough hair to shed like a cat, but not nearly enough to be functional. Edie’s fur does not help her regulate her body temperature. She is desperate for shade and air conditioning in the summer and lives in sweaters in the winter. Ok, obsessive dog mom tangent done! Long story short-er — I didn’t want her to become too physically stressed.
We picked up several hitchhikers getting in the Volvo and I think we were back in Phoenix before the car was fly free. One of Edie’s skills is she is an excellent fly hunter. While she’s quite proficient, her process and focus is comical. I had a hard time staying focused on the highway a couple of times as a result of her earnestness to get those flies. You bet I cheered each time she caught one. You bet I was slightly disgusted each time she ate her kill. “Eww!” Good girl. Oh, Edie.
Lucky for me, on a side note, I came across a fruit stand on the side of the road in Mecca. I am delighted to report communication success! I navigated the entire transaction in Spanish. Not broken Spanish. Effective, conversational Spanish! I’m on my way to continue my studies and prepare for my eventual move to Oaxaca (but first, I must finish this dang dissertation). Mixed fruit, chile, fresh coconut, and a bag of coconut water. Thanks to my week I spent in Belize SCUBA diving, I am undeterred by water in a bag. I developed expert skills drinking water from a bag during several dives along that reef!
Stick around for another post about East Jesus and take a look at Edie’s and my visit to Salvation Mountain!