The Wild Desert West, Sis & I – Hangin’ At Salton Sea, San Jacinto Mountain & Joshua Tree

Sis and I hiking at Joshua Tree National Park

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?

Joshua Tree magic

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

On the shoreline of the Salton Sea

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.

Salvation Mountain at The Slabs

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!

Now that’s natural beauty!

** 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

Posing for the view at Wellman Divide

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

The lovely 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.

Sis takes a shot of the valley from Lost Horse Mine trail
Bushwacking in the desert by the Salton Sea

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 :)

Serenity at the Salton Sea
Inside Salvation Mountain at The Slabs
A bloomin’ wonderful Joshua Tree
More Salton Sea beauty
The “fishy” side of the Salton Sea
Hanging at Batt Cave Buttes
Perfect sunset at the Salton Sea
And yet another great RV sunset
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    • libertatemamo says

      The day we went was just PERFECT. There are actually some very nice (full water-view) primitive campgrounds along Salton Sea State Park which would be just lovely on a day like the one we were there. Really made me want to go back and camp there.

  1. says

    You must buy your sister a hat like yours!
    I saw a film the other night about the study of happiness, they claimed that according to surveys the happiest people on earth are the Danish. It must be true, you two certainly look very happy!

    • libertatemamo says

      I think she would look rockin’ in a hat like mine too, but it probably won’t be too useful back in the UK haha. We are happy gals.

  2. says

    Sounds like you two Danes are having a fabulous time. Salton Sea was being a very bad girl when we were there. Looks like you had better luck. Happy Birthday to you Nina. Hope you have a great birthday and a grand finish to your time with your sis. :)

    • libertatemamo says

      Oh yeah…when she’s bad, she’s bad. Thanks for the Bday wishes & look forward to seeing you guys again soon.

    • libertatemamo says

      It’s such a great experience. I’ve been twice now and everytime I go I notice details I missed the last time around. Amazing how much work went into that place. I do hope it gets preserved.

    • libertatemamo says

      You know she’s digging it. I think she found it a bit barren and bizarre her first day here, but having driven around and seen the sights she’s starting to appreciate the grand beauty of the place. She definitely loves the space and views, and has been totally awed by some of the sunsets. Then again, she IS my sister so she does have inherently good taste :)

    • libertatemamo says

      Haha…yeah, I’m pretty happy about the bathing suit too. Hopefully won’t have to worry about that for another 5 years or so.

  3. Rattlesnake Joe says

    At the bat cave it looks like a carved falcon above your Sister. Was it carved in modern times or perhaps a secret Spanish treasure symbol of long ago? What better birthday present than a cave full of Gold.

    • libertatemamo says

      You know I love thinking about the stories that abound in a place. So much hidden and crazy history out here in the desert. And did we find gold? Well, maybe we did and maybe we didn’t….:)

    • libertatemamo says

      Oh cool! We’ll probably be boondocking just west of you in Borrego Springs when you guys get there so if you fancy a day-trip let us know.

  4. says

    Ditto Jim’s question… such an environmental/geographical/geological “culture” shock coming to the desert from jolly ol’ England. Some people don’t “get” the southwest, however, my niece is from England and she loves Arizona. Of course if everybody loved it out here there’d be too many people :))
    Great bird shot at the Salton Sea!!!
    Box Canyon Mark

    • libertatemamo says

      Yeah, I think she’s warming up to it. When I first came to the US I was blown away by how BIG and EMPTY everything was…but I just loved it right from the start.
      The bird shot is my favorite too….that sunset was just SPECTACULAR!

  5. says

    Looks like you had a great time! We will have a relative visiting us during some of our time in Desert Hot Springs and now I have a whole list of places to take her. Thanks for the ideas.

    • libertatemamo says

      Oh you guys will have a blast!! I haven’t even listed all the stuff there is to do right here in town -> Palm Springs Thurs night fest, Cabot Museum, Art Museum, Air Museum, Sat flea market, Indian Canyons….soooo much around here.

  6. says

    Love your description ‘doesn’t own sunglasses, needs SPF 50 to stay alive’. Fun post to read and a great set of directions for anyone wanting to have fun in that neck of the woods. Thanks!!

    • libertatemamo says

      Poor girl hasn’t seen the sun in months, so the desert came as a bit of a shock. Good thing we have an extra set of glasses :)

  7. says

    Spectacular photos (as usual!). Sure looks like you and sis are having a great time!

    I’ve only zoomed by the Salton Sea and Desert Hot Springs before, so I’ll now be sure to stay awhile and see some of these pretty sights next time I’m out there. thanks!

    • libertatemamo says

      If you catch her on a good day she is DEFINITELY worth a stay. Nothing quite like the sunsets at the Salton Sea.

  8. says

    Loved your pictures! You have a wonderful way of making everything and everywhere beautiful through your eyes. Thanks for sharing! Have a very happy birthday! I, too, get one day older this weekend! –Linda

    • libertatemamo says

      Well Happy Birthday to you too then. 21 again I assume? Personally I’m getting younger each year…or perhaps it’s the wine. Either way there ain’t no such thing as aging in this house :)

  9. says

    Happy Birthday, Nina! Great photos, as usual.

    I have to say I think the Salton Sea is a handy scapegoat for the stink arising from all the pollution from agricultural interests in the area. I just can’t believe the smell from decomposing fish can travel all the way to L.A. It wasn’t very smelly at the Sea when I was there, but driving through the chemical smog on the other side of it was unbearable! That dirty yellow haze can’t be from fish skeletons! So that’s my defense for the Salton Sea!

    I’m so glad you have this time with your sister. Wish I could do the same soon with mine.

    • libertatemamo says

      You know you may well have a point there. I OFTEN wonder if it really is just the fish or the agricultural pollution in the area. Last year I drove around the south side of the Salton Sea and was totally blown away by the stink…right around where all the farms are. This year we stopped at the north end and it was beautiful. Who knows!

  10. kerry says

    always enjoy your artistic eye when taking photos. What software do you use for editing? I don’t as yet have a camera that has RAW formatting, use both a MAC and windows operating system. Any suggestions?
    thanks, kerry

    • libertatemamo says

      Thanks! I’m a huge fan of Photoshop and have used it for many, many years. It’s a steep learning curve, but if you’re really into photography it can’t be beat. For simpler editing I’d probably recommend something like Picassa…free and a few easy editing tools.

  11. says

    Weee! I finally have something similar – Joshua Tree National Park! 😀
    And i have heard about the other two. Salvation Mountain sure is a very unusual place to visit in California. You took me aback with all the saltiness of Salton Sea. But if your sister can get through it, I guess I can too. 😉 Thanks for making me more excited on going to those other two locations.


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