The Wild Desert West, Sis & I – Hangin’ At Salton Sea, San Jacinto Mountain & Joshua Tree
Since my lovely sister arrived last week I admit I’ve been having too good a time to blog. Not only is it ultra-cool to have her here, but there is SO much to do and see in the desert that we’ve had mega-full days of activity followed by Happy Hour with our RV buddies, dinner, spa-time…and well, who has time to do anything else?
So, it’s time to catch up with my 101 photos and stories of what really happens when you bring a Dane from rainy England into the wild desert west. Apart from the sheer visual danger of taking something so blindingly white into the wilds, there are basic problems such as the fact that my sister does not own a pair of sunglasses and requires SPF 50 to stay alive. And of course, no-one understands what the dickens she’s saying. OH dear, what is a sister to do? Thankfully I’m here to translate and keep the curious wildlife at bay so despite these inherent obstacles we’ve managed to break through and enjoy some mega-cool adventures within 50 miles of our spa-home in Desert Hot Springs.
Most folks are amazed at how much variety the desert has to offer. At first glance it can seem quite monotone, but if you’re willing to explore and drive just a bit you can go from one awesome environment to the other. So without much more ado I’ll give ya just a taste of what we’ve been up to:
1/ Salton Sea & The Slabs
The Salton Sea is a 376 sq mi (974 km2) inland sea that lies ~50 miles SE of Desert Hot Springs….and she’s a fickle gal. When she’s good she’s quite fine, but when she’s bad she’s very, very bad. She’s basically a big ‘ol sink that was filled by accident, became popular as a beach-spot in 50’s, but lost her charm by the 60’s due to increasing salinity and massive fish die-offs leading to the infamous Salton Sea stench (sometimes reaching as far as LA!). Despite all this she remains a key migration spot for thousands of birds and when the stink isn’t acting up she is THE most beautiful, THE most serene, THE most mesmerizing desert sea anywhere. Oh goodness she can be so fine.
We headed out there on a perfect day and spent several hours basking on the white-shell shore & enjoying the bird songs. From the ~110-mile shoreline of this inland sea you can do a bunch of smaller and fun outings. Besides kayaking in the water at the State Park, there is nearby Bat Cave Buttes** (very cool), the Mud Pots (rather blah, especially since there was no mud) and the unique and always-interesting Slabs (see my post from last year HERE). We did them ALL and ended the afternoon soaking in an ephemeral late afternoon glow by the water. Ahhhh, perfection!
** To reach the Bat Cave Buttes park at the abandoned Corvalis Estates Cafe and bushwhack across the railroad tracks ~1.5 miles to the Butte at N 33.431141, W -115.814995.
2/ San Jacinto Mountain & The Aerial Tramway
I’ve written about San Jacinto Mountain before and it remains one of my fav outings around Desert Hot Springs. The Aerial Tram, the world’s largest rotating tram-car takes you from the desert floor up ~2.4 miles, through 4 different climate zones to lush pine forest at 8,500 feet. At the summit you’re greeted by spectacular valley views and access to 54 miles of hiking trails. The past times we’ve visited the ground has been covered in snow, but this time around the mountain was perfectly clear and we were able to take advantage of a hike. Sis and I chose the fabulous ~7-mile roundtrip to the Wellman Divide. A moderately strenuous stroll through pine forest to an open and spectacular valley view. On a good day you can even see the gleam of the Salton Sea in the background. Nice!
3/ Joshua Tree National Park
No visit to Desert Hot Springs would be complete without a day-trip to the fabulous Joshua Tree National Park. This 790,636 acre park dominates the hills behind Desert Hot Springs and preserves the special habitat of Yucca brevifolia, the zany-looking Joshua Tree that made U2 famous (or was it the other way around?). Either way these trees, or rather very large Yuccas, are something else. They grow up to 40-feet tall and bloom once a year. The more a tree blooms, the more branches it has so you could say the biggest and wackiest trees are the most bloomin’ wonderful. You pass through huge forests of these things as you enter the park and they really are quite mesmerizing.
But that’s not all. Joshua Tree also happens to have the most amazing rock formations which actually formed from the bottom up. Over 100 million years ago molten liquid oozed upwards and cooked into granite formations (called monzogranite) that were slowly revealed by water and time. The massive boulders have since become a rock-climbers paradise and decorate the ground in fine symmetry between the Joshua Tree forest.
Sis and I went for a full day of exploration, stopping to gawk at the climbers at Intersection Rock, pose with the trees and do a hearty 6-mile hike at Lost Horse Mine Trail. The latter has some spectacular and deserted views of the valley, especially if you chose to do the loop rather than just the out-and-back to the mine.
And that pretty much wraps up our week. In between sightseeing madness we’ve managed several happy hours with our RV buddies (and solid doggie-friends) Sue and Dave, seen a few not-too-shabby desert sunsets and caught up on life in general. I’ve even (believe it or not) settled on a swimsuit and have survived my month at the spa without any embarrassing youtube-worthy moments. In a few days I’ll be one day older and we’ll head out of civilization and back into the boonies. In the meantime I’ll be giving my sis a few final wild desert experiences before we ship her back to the English. It’s the least I can do