salvation mountain and the salton sea

a week ago saturday we rolled through the wind farms and swap meets of yucca valley and palm desert, and made the salton sea in the late afternoon. we stopped at the northern most beach, at the state park recreation center. the scene was gorgeous, a serene sea, silhouettes of families fishing on the jetty, the alignment of jupiter and venus, and a colorful sunset (thanks, wildfires!) splashing pinks and purples onto the sky above the mountains and reflecting on a stretch of white sand.

wait. that’s not white sand, it’s crunchy. like, barnacles. and fish bones. millions of fishbones. and dead fish. good lord. it’s fish bone beach. are those people fishing? is that ok? what’s that putrid smell?

and that’s the salton sea. it’s fascinating. i love it. i love it up and down, and i wish i had more time to love it more.

the whole place is a tragedy which arose out of a disaster. before it was the salton sea, it was the salton sink, well below sea level and nearly as low as death valley. a massive flood occurred in 1905, drowning the sink and didn’t stop filling it for 2 years.
by the 50s and 60s, communities popped up, boat leisurers and water skiiers came in droves, money was poured into this inland desert riviera, and the place was hip for about 15 minutes. now there are a few nearly ghost towns, tracts of land divvied up with no sellers in sight, and a polluted sea of a dead fish and pelicans with botchulism. water rights being diverted to LA and funding for the wildlife and environmental restoration are constant battles. their favorite politician skiied into a tree.  life is hard at the salton sea.

the people who hold out are the strong survivors of the salton sea. many are there because they can’t sell their house and move away. we visited the ski inn at bombay beach, and the locals were incredibly friendly. we had seen plagues and pleasures of the salton sea (narrated by john waters) and made this our thanksgiving weekend destination. sadly, hunky daddy met his maker a couple years ago in an unfortunate dune buggy accident.

the next morning we headed south to niland. i have been looking looking forward to meeting leonard knight, the visionary behind salvation mountain, for at least 5 years. after a couple wrong turns, the mountainous rainbow palette of latex paint and haybales rose out of the barren scrub desert next to california’s favorite hobo depot, slab city. hearts and rainbows and waterfalls and a general meaning and feeling of love. and god. much to my dismay, mr knight was in town for his weekly errand.  , devin, and i frolicked among the folk art and leonard’s collection of disabled automobiles, coated with adobe texture, primary colors, biblical passages, a shoutout to jesus, and love. to the right, there was what seemed to be a newer project underway. i saw a young boy drilling holes into the ground. i’m not sure how to recreate his character here, but let’s just say he would do really well in a david lynch film.    

We figured leaving the site at 3pm would get us back home by midnight. We were grossly incorrect. Tip: when going away from home on a holiday weekend, leave 6 hours earlier than you think you need to. devin popped in wil wheaton’s "just a geek" on audiobook. all conversation and negative focus on traffic ceased. i had no idea what time it was or how long we had been listening until his commentary at the end when he made a passing comment about it being compressed do to something like 9 hours.  "NINE HOURS?! WE"VE BEEN LISTENING TO THIS FOR NINE HOURS!?" awesome. it was good. and that’s exactly how you want 9 hours of holiday traffic to pass. wil wheaton’s life story in one sitting. thank you sir.

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