December 2010 Vacation / Joshua Tree NP – Part 1 of 5

A couple weeks ago my wife and I started a vacation in southern California sun with the hopes of escaping the -7 to 5 degree Fahrenheit that had been at our house in Anchorage for the last week; as well me meeting her family for the first time at the tail end of the trip up in Reno/Tahoe area. The plan was pretty simple; fly into Palm Springs, go to Joshua Tree, then San Diego, then Disneyland, and then work our way up the Pacific Coast Highway and 10 day later end up in the Reno/Tahoe area; with approximately 1150 miles to drive over 10 days..

The plan:

The Original Plan

Just prior to departure we looked at the weather forecast for the next 10 days.. and unfortunately it was almost all rain. We decided though we would make the most of it and go with the flow. I was still hoping to get a chance though to capture some good photos during our journey, with the important caviat of that my wife doesn’t have a whole lot of patience for me taking advantage of photo opportunities most of the time.

So after flying into the overcast skies of Palm Springs we drove to high desert of the Joshua Tree area that first afternoon and arrived at the north end of the park just at sunset.

Joshua Tree about Sunset

The next morning we started out from Twentynine Palms, CA (Random Fact: It is also where the Marines train for Afghanistan due to similar terrain) with the goal of general exploration of the National Park prior to the wind an rain kicked up. We took a couple short hikes off the road on the north end of the park.. in the higher elevations the sky was partly cloudy but windy and you could see the clouds moving across the valley below.

When we descended into the valley at times the fog limited visibility but still gave a nice look and feel to things and though it isn’t visible in this shot below at times on the Barker Dam trail visibility got down to a 20 yards in the fog and was a pretty neat feeling as it was almost dead silent. One thing to note about the Barker Dam trail is that the damn lack and the stream pictured in the brochures or web is almost completely dried up in December so isn’t as picturesque. There are also Petroglyphs on the trail, but they have been vandalized and painted over; most likely in someones attempt to make them more visible.

We then drove through Joshua Tree North to South from the Mojave of Colorado desert transition. The main difference seems to be the height of the vegetation and the Mojave was rockier. There were no Joshua trees in the Colorado desert that we saw.  Right at the transition point there is a neat batch of cactus at the Chollo Cactus garden that is worth checking out if driving through. It is only a couple minute loop trail walk.

An IR pano shot from a couple miles down the road from the Chollo Cactus Garden.

Our last stop in Joshua Tree National Park was Cottonwood Springs Oasis; which was pretty cool with large Palms coming out of the desert and a nice casual out and back trail that you get to see a variety of colors and desert plant life on. Our entire time in Joshua Tree we didn’t see any animals, including no snakes, but the signs all over the place do suggest there are quite a number of different types in the park.

By the time we got out of south end of the park though the park the dark clouds of the California storms were over the park. So with a couple hours of daylight we decided to head towards the Sultan Sea as I had read about the oddities around the man made sea and hoped to maybe get a glimpse of them.

We reached the north end of the Salton Sea by driving through the Mecca California area which seemed to be a mesh of tropical agriculture and desert.

We stopped at the first state park we came across, at which there was a visitors center and a beach. The beach was basically abandoned other than some RV’rs in the parking lot, but it was sunny at the time, but could see the rain storms coming over the mountains.

From the visitors center we found out the Salton Sea claimed the old 1950s resorts some time ago and when the sea gets low sometimes pop out of the water, but generally the salt and humidty has destroyed them. So opportunities to photograph salt encrusted travel trailers and buildings there supposedly no longer exist; or they didn’t want to tell us where they were. Check out Google Images and Flickr for examples of what I was looking for.

At the south end of the Salton Sea, near Niland, CA you can drive past the power plant and find Slab City. A small informal town on the site of  an old military base where people have setup on the old cement slabs of quanset huts. The town itself is a mixture of quite allaborate and long standing semi-permanent setups, people in their old sedans or vans living in them, and people in modern RV or 5th wheel trailers that have setup shop.

Most of the place is up on a gravely plateau that reminds me of a gravel pit.  The ‘city’ has no power, sewer, or other services; as well what looks like no forms of employment in the area; including Niland itself.  Though a good number of the ‘homes’ in some fashion or another having a directTV dish. In come cases it was even mounted to a 50 gallon drum.

You are officially in Slab City once you pass the old guard station, and between the entrance and the most famous landmark of Slab City you pass a series of signs / graffiti and other statements which probably help maintain the order of the town. Such as for example “X is a thief” , “Y is a Child Molester”, “Z is a doesn’t repay loans”.

The most famous landmark of Slab City is “Salvation Mountain”, a single mans dedication to his faith and possibly his insanity. The mountain looks like it has been artificially been built up over time using mud and straw to even contain rooms. There is also several broken down cars around it that have also been painted. The public is welcome, donations appreciated, and encouraged.. even if it is just some paint. The ‘mountain’ seems to mostly be painted in household interior and exterior paint.. which can’t be good for the environment.

We arrived Slab City right before dusk so we only spent a very brief amount of time there as our goal for the evening was San Diego. The drive in the dark and over the mountains being in strong cross winds and rain as we basically drove along the border of Mexico.

Day 1/2:

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