The Salton Sea and Joshua Tree National Park

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In southern California, we don’t have to stop doing outdoor stuff just because of winter. While it’s pretty cold in the high desert where I live, all it takes is a short drive to reach a climate more to suitable to adventure. I spent a weekend where desert regions meet and the climate seems like summer in winter.

The Salton Sea is an experiment in management gone wrong. Orginially created by the Colorado River, it has been filling and drying up for centuries. All the salt and minerals from the surronding hills are carried into the lake and remain there when the water evaporates. The changes in chemisty kill fish in huge numbers in giant “fish die-offs,” which leave countless fish carcasses washed up along the beach. The area supports over 400 species of birds with this life cycle and harbors 30% of the U.S. Pelican population.

In contrast to the abundant life, is a number of abandoned business ventures, homes and infrastructure. Dotting the shore are buildings, docks, cranes and homes that have been left to the advancing layers of salt.  Graceful three foot tall birds stand on top of  one leg, on top of  little fish faces, on the scaly beach. Every object on the shore for long enough takes on salty tumors that cling to the skin. Lift your head and again, you see a million birds in the distance, an amazing meeting between living and dying.

Anthony Bourdain came here for the patty melt. John Waters narrated a documentary about the Salton Sea’s forgotten America vibe. This place definitely has its own appeal. Hard to be on the shore of this giant salt lake and not think about the big stuff. like time and mortality.

Not to far away near Palm Springs is my new favorite sanctuary from the cold weather, Joshua Tree National Park. There are more miles of hiking trail than you can shake a stick at, the park has numerous campgrounds and the weather was fantastic in late January. The landscape is amazing, covered in enormous boulder piles that punctuate the desert for miles. The rock mountains make for perfect camp sites, great hiking and attracts climbers from everywhere.

From Keys View, you can see Twenynine Palms, Palm Springs, the Salton Sea and on to Mexico on a clear day. The size and scope of this place is fantastic to see laid out in front of you. Like many of the great National Parks, you could spend a lifetime here and never know this place. Though I left a little over a week ago as I write this, I want to go back. What a vast place.

At night, Kangaroo Rats were shooting through the camp like kamakzes with bad aim. It didn’t take long to realize that this is yet another animal that survives off of our trash and crumbs. Usually this leads to overweight, balding mammals with little or no health insurance.

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