Christian Kemp's USA travelogs

< Previous | List | Next > Around Salton Sea, then into Joshua Tree

Sunrise over Salton Sea Not surprisingly, I woke up around 4am this morning; a clear consequence of both jetlag and the fact that I'd slept since shortly after 7pm. I think I slept like a rock, too; I probably woke up less often during the night than I do at home (but then again, there's no downstairs apartment with crying babies here).

It was still dark, and would still be for quite some time, so I thought I'd start writing the trip report for the previous day. This didn't take as long as I'd expected, so I went to take a shower. I'd planned to only do that in the middle of the morning, after exploring the lake, but then decided that I'd brave the cold and be more flexible later. The cold wasn't so bad - the outside temperature was around 10°C, but of course the shower was all cement and had no heating whatsoever. At least there was warm water. Thus refreshed, I left the campground - still before sunrise - and managed to get to the other side of the river just in time for the sun to show. I didn't know what I was looking for specifically in Salton City, so at first I just drove around aimlessly. When the sun rose, I had just passed some dilapidated structures on a small side road close to the water, so I jumped out of the car, grabbed the tripod and the 70-200mm lens to hopefully get some nice shots.

One of several dilapidated chairs I saw on or around the Salton Sea shoreline I did get a few shots of the sun as it rose over the lake, which was teeming with birds. I'm not sure yet if the birds added to the scene, or distracted from it. After that, I still walked around a little, but of course a 70-200mm isn't universally useful, and I went back to the car. I didn't find much else in Salton City. There were lots of streets - all laid out in a grid by what may have been some overzealous developers hoping for a boom that never happened - but only very few buildings. Most of these looked reasonably new, but a lot of them also looked empty. Either way, not very interesting to shoot.

I had intended to do a counter-clockwise loop around the lake, but I could have saved myself the trouble - the entire lower half didn't have any special highlights (at least none that I knew about, or that presented themselves to me). As such, my next stop was only at Bombay Beach. This place, I'd heard about on a few photographer's websites, and I'd seen a few pictures of trailers half sunken into the salty earth. The sun was already a bit too high to still have good light though, so while I took pictures I doubt they're portfolio quality.

I continued North, and briefly stopped at Salton Sea SRA (where I'd spent the night) to let them know I'd been there (since I had paid for the stay, anyway), to use their restroom facilities and to try using their WiFi. The latter didn't work, so I was soon on my way again. My plan was to drive to Joshua Tree, driving through Box Hole Canyon instead of the more boring Interstate route. My fuel gauge was nearing empty, but I pushed on, confidently that there would be a gas station near where I'd cross the Interstate. I was wrong, of course, so I had to drive about 22 miles back to Coachella to fuel up. I wasn't close to emptying the tank, I discovered, because even though the car said "0 miles left" I only managed to put slightly over 19 gallons into the 21 gallon tank. While I was at it, I also had an early lunch.

Wildflowers in full bloom near the south entrance of Joshua Tree National Park The 22 miles back to the Cottonwood Canyon Rd exit that would take me into Joshua Tree were boring, but directly afterwards I was in for a treat. The hill side near the park entrance was full of wildflowers, which very in full bloom. Obviously, I stopped several times to take pictures. It wasn't very far to the Cottonwood Visitor Center, where I bought an "Interagency Pass", the former National Park Pass, for $80.

I didn't have any solid plans for the rest of the day, so I thought I'd do a short hike. Cottonwood Springs had a short trail to Mastodon Peak, so I thought I'd do that. It was marked as 2.5 miles, but after a short while I realized that this was entirely too short and decided to head on to Lost Palms Oasis. This put the total distance that I'd cover at slightly over eight miles, which I did in slightly over three hours. I met a fair amount of hikers - the slightly annoying part about Joshua Tree is that the park brochure only lists very few hikes, probably going for the Disneyland approach of keeping uninformed people out of the backcountry and on just a handful of maintained trails.

After I was done hiking, I still had about an hour of daylight left. Since all campgrounds north of Cottonwood were full, and I didn't feel like spending the night in a full or almost full campground anyway; I decided to head back to just south of the park entrance, where I'd seen a few RVs. On the way, I stopped at the wildflowers again, and then started looking for a camp site. As luck would have it, all RVs were on the west side of the road, but on the east side there was another road that was probably too bumpy for something as large as an RV... not for me though, and after a bit of driving I found a nice spot next to a tree. Sunset was fairly unspectacular, so I was happy just writing the first part of this trip report, reading a little, and then calling it a night.

Miles driven: 223mi (359km)

Accommodation: Primitive camping (South of Joshua Tree NP): $0.00

Written Sunday, February 17th 2008 at my primitive campsite just outside of Joshua Tree NP; finished Monday, February 18th 2008 at the Barker Dam trailhead.