April 12, 2011

Photo Essay: Hidden Treasures of the Salton Sea

When Edith and I first stopped by the Salton Sea State Recreation Area (the green strip on the map, east of the big blue lake), we were stopped at the entry driveway by a park ranger who asked what we were looking for, since most people go there to fish or camp. We didn't really know, so as we stammered and shrugged, he pointed us to the Visitor's Center, where we promised we would be able to discover and examine all sorts of treasures.

But the Visitor's Center is really just a starting point for what you might find around the Salton Sea, if you keep going back, and you know where to look.

After several visits, I now consider myself somewhat of an expert on the Salton Sea, but after my kayaking trip last weekend, I managed to find even more treasures in the area, just beyond the sea: the Dos Palmas Preserve.

"Wait, how do I get there?" I asked the ranger, after having read the driving directions and examined the map printed on a brochure.

"See you go straight out of here, past the railroad tracks, up the hill, and turn right, and then follow the signs," she said, repeating what I'd just read.

"Wait, this exit, or the one down there?"

"Go straight."

"And where do I turn?"

"Past the railroad tracks, up the hill."


She looked up at me from her desk when she realized I wasn't going anywhere. "Actually, after you turn right, the road won't let you go straight, it'll kind of take you left. And then just follow that."


So I embarked on a journey farther east, leaving the Sea behind me. I found the first road and drove straight. I crossed the railroad tracks. I went up a hill. But where to turn right? Down this driveaway? Down this road? I pulled over a couple of times, trying to get my bearings, looking for signs, of which there were none. So I just kept driving straight until I couldn't go straight anymore, reaching a T-intersection. I turned right.

Faced with a "Pavement Ends" sign, I veered left down a dirt road not unlike the canal roads near the boiling mud pots. My GPS told me I was driving on Power Line Road, not surprising given the scenery. And then I was driving on Unpaved Road, waiting for a sign.

I spotted a marker off the side of the road, and turned left.

I looked for the locked gate where I was to park. I passed several on each side of me, but I kept going until the dirt road emptied into a parking lot with a locked gate straight ahead.

In one direction, the Dos Palmas Oasis and adobe ranch house. In the other, the San Andreas Oasis trail.

I headed down the longer path, towards the ranch house.

Suddenly I heard a truck rumbling behind me, and I walked to the side of the road to let him pass, but he stopped, and introduced himself as the caretaker, Bill.

"You lookin' for the ponds?" he asked.

"Am I? Are there ponds?"

He proceeded to tell me where to look, equally as vaguely as the park ranger - past the house, follow the road, behind the palms. "I had no idea this was out here," I said, shaking my head, squinting at the sun.

"Nobody knows this is out here!" Bill said as his wife Cindy nodded, and they sped away.

They vanished down the dirt road, never to be seen again, but somehow out there all alone, I managed to find the house, the palms, the ponds, and much more.

The nature trail to the San Andreas Oasis is an easy, well-marked, clear path to a lush palm grove, another hidden treasure, way off the beaten path.

Past a few wildflowers, the trail takes you on a loop through the palm trees, under the palm trees, over dead palm trees, through the shadows and towards the streaming light.

I thought I'd seen everything the Salton Sea had to offer, but now I suspect there are lots of other hidden treasures tucked away, waiting to be discovered by me, by anyone...

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