Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Visiting the Salton Sea

Ever since I was a kid, I have been fascinated by the Salton Sea on California maps. I was in the area last weekend so I thought I'd make a detour and finally see the sea.

The southeast portion of California is a Land of Contrasts(tm). I landed in Ontario and all I saw at first was exurban sprawl. Many working class neighborhoods. This 1980s Corolla zoomed past me at 80+. I rented a Hyundai Sonata, which was a "full-sized" vehicle. I had no idea it was so big. It felt like an Avalon. And compared to the last Sonata rental I drove ten years ago, this one is light years ahead in build quality and fit-and-finish.

Once I pulled in to Palm Springs, I spotted this Cosworth Mercedes.

I had a lunch meeting at noon but I was simply starving by 10:30. So I went to a 24 hour Mexican restaurant and got a machaca. It's basically your regular Mexican meal, except you've got shredded beef mixed with scrambled eggs. It was so-so.

Poor XTS with a landau top. I saw quite a few fancy cars, and a beat up 1970s Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, in the affluent towns of Palm Springs, Palm Desert, and Rancho Mirage.

Had lunch at a country club. Everyone got around the gated community in golf carts. Because it gets so hot down there, the carts have air conditioning.

I once watched an old episode of California Gold with Huell Howser and I recall him visiting a date farm near Indio. The region is perfect for date cultivation because the climate is so dry and hot but there is plenty of ground water to feed the thirsty plants. I went to a touristy store, watched this very boring film, had a date shake, and bought a box of fancy medjool dates for my step-dad, whom I was going to see the following day. The Arab influence here is funny. There's a town called Mecca and a street called Bagdad. The local beauty pageant has girls wearing I Dream of Genie outfits.

South of Indio, there are miles of date farms. The populated areas reminded me of Mexico-- a bit run down, every business sign in Spanish. And in the rural areas, it reminded me of the frontier region between Chile and Peru.

And finally, I reached the Salton Sea! There was no one around, and it was beautiful. I sped down the east side of the sea to have dinner. The accidental lake is 40 miles long and 10 miles wide. A century ago, a dike for the Colorado River broke and flooded a low portion of the desert for two years. A sea was born. Tourism flourished. But due to evaporation and runoffs from nearby farms (dates, grapefruits, grapes, lettuce), the sea slowly died. It is an environmental disaster now, like the Aral Sea.

I got to Bombay Beach just before it got dark. It's a small collection of rusting trailer homes. I went to the Ski Inn. It was featured in one of Anthony Bourdain's shows. I had a PBR and a patty melt. The food was okay. The guys hanging out at the bar were old and tired. One guy didn't know the difference between "internet", "YouTube", and "laptop". His friend slowly tried to explain it to him.

My motel was on the west side, about an hour away. Problem was, it was cash only and I was $5 short. I drove forever, looking for an ATM. Here was the door to my motel room.

The next morning, I decided to walk to the beach. At the height of the sea's popularity with tourists, the shoreline was right across the street from my motel. Now, it's 200 yards away.

I walked alongside the defunct boat ramp. You can see Salton City in the background. It was a huge planned community. The streets are paved and street signs are everywhere, but 95% of the lots are still empty. You can buy one now for less than $5,000. You can buy a house for just $35,000.

The entire west side, by the way, stunk of rotten fish. When I got home the next day, my dog wouldn't even greet me. The motel manager told me that in the summers, it wouldn't dip below 100 degrees even overnight for weeks. I guess the residents just got used to the stink and the heat.

The only fish left in the water is tilapia. There was a pile of dead fish next to the water.

And this dead bird.

400 species of (live) birds can be found here.

After working non-stop for three weeks straight without a day off, sitting on the broken concrete by myself in silence was so nice.

Then, I jumped up and booked it back to the motel to check out. I had to be in Orange County by 11. I stopped by this Indian casino on the way for breakfast. This old Jag was left running in the disabled spot. The food (chicken fried steak and eggs) was pretty good, although I didn't appreciate the middle-aged Korean couple arguing at the table next to me. I suspect that they were the only Koreans who were not in church that Sunday morning.

I was in Orange County to celebrate my step-dad's 90th birthday. I took him out to a Uyghur restaurant-- Omar's in Artesia. It was authentic, but not as good as the original Omar's in San Gabriel.

And finally, I flew home while the Super Bowl was taking place. When I landed, I saw this Nissan Pulsar NX parked near my Volvo.

The end.


mtc said...

I want that Cosworth.

Ed Kim said...

That's a fantastic writeup! I've always wanted to visit the Salton Sea...I have no excuse since it's not that far. I've been to Palm Springs more times than I can count (and there are always interesting cars there because of the older, affluent demographic that keep their cars garaged and well maintained), but never to the Salton Sea.

I live very close to Artesia. I had no idea there is an Uyghur restaurant there. I will have to check it out!

Maxichamp said...

@Ed K: Yeah, the Uyghur place used to be a Korean eatery. There are still Korean words on the door!

And when did all these Hanmi Banks pop up all of a sudden in SoCal?