Monday, November 24, Lake Havasu City, AZ
Monday. A day of contrasts.
Joshua Tree National Park was not finished with us. We left the park through the southernmost entrance/exit. As we were driving down to a lower elevation, the Joshua trees disappeared. In one particular spot, a profusion of cholla (teddy-bear) cactus made a garden-like presentation with an easy walk through the area. But a visitor has to beware, the cholla cactus has microscopic barbs at the end of each spine which easily penetrate through your clothes into your skin. Removal of the barb is difficult and painful. This one particular spot has the right conditions for the cacti in grow in abundance. After the cholla, we came across a car stopped by the side of the road, with a group of young people protecting a tarantula as it made its way across the road. We drove around the trantula.
Our second destination was the Salton Sea. To get there, we drove southwest to Mecca, CA. Just before Mecca, the Imperial Valley begins and this green expanse unfolds before you. Agricultural products are on both sides of the road and a large lake (Salton Sea) appears in front of you. For my reference, the Salton Sea is larger than any lake entirely within Minnesota borders (excludes Lake Superior).
A brief history/geology lesson. The Colorado River way back when emptied into the Gulf of California (the waterway that goes up into NW Mexico). The land area from the Palm Springs area down to the Gulf of California over time has been inundated with water, building up the soil content. The Colorado, way back when, silted up and cut off the Imperial Valley from the Gulf of California, making it dry land at 200 feet below sea level.
In the late 1800s, a private company saw a chance to make an agricultural empire here, utilizing water siphoned off the Colorado River the irrigate the fertile, but dry, land. It worked. But, as things frequently happen, their irrigation canals were not properly constructed and in 1905 a higher than normal Colorado River broke through the canal and dumped ALL of its water into the area where the Salton Sea is now located. This went on for TWO years until the breach was filled. By then, the Salton Sea was created, the largest lake in California.
Birds flocked in. Tourists arrived. Everything was peachy keen. Until problems developed. The lake has no outlet so salts in agricultural run-off and evaporation have combined to make the water 25% saltier than the Pacific Ocean. Droughts have reduced the water flowing in from nature or from agricultural irrigation. Result, the lake is shrinking. Plus, in two years, the only two rivers that feed water into the lake are going to be diverted to provide water for San Diego-that eighth largest city in the U.S. Realistically, the lake will dry up, eliminating an important wildlife refuge in the Pacific flyway, leaving behind dead fish and toxic levels of fertilizers in an area with high winds that will blow the dust and smell around. This struck me as similar to Owen Lake (on our 2013 trip from Death Valley to Independence CA on the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountains) sucked dry by Los Angeles. (see 2013 Trip Four, May 9-10). Of course there is no fix planned at this point.
Back to our trip. We stopped at the Salton Sea state park and observed the waterfowl and the dead fish along the beach-there are still 3-4 million tilapia in the Sea supposedly. Further down the lake is the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is home to thousands of birds and we hiked two miles out to the shore and back. It was amazing to see so many birds yet so close to desert lands. The refuge actually grows crops to keep the birds eating here and not on the agricultural lands all over the Imperial Valley.
On our drive to the refuge, we passed 6-8 electric power generating plants. These are geothermal plants, drilling down to 8,000 feet below the surface to tap into the heat of the earth and generating power. The plants are also in the midst of the agricultural zone, intermixed between grazing sheep and fields of various crops, within sight of the Salton Sea. Again, a mix of uses in the middle of the desert.
Between the state park and the national wildlife refuge was an even weirder experience. Salvation Mountain. Located in Niland, one of the poorest towns we have come across. Salvation Mountainn is one man’s tribute to God with its recurring message of “God is Love”. The “mountain” is 50 feet tall and 150 foot wide made with adobe clay and donated paint. The creator died earlier this year and so far volunteers have maintained the site. The Folk Art Society of America has deemed it a folk art site worthy of preservation.
Our last experience of the day, on our 330 mile journey to Lake Havasu City AZ, was Imperial Sand Dunes in southeastern CA. Chris had discovered this location and we made this a stop to view. The sand dunes are part of the Algodones Dunes, the largest sand dunes in the U.S., and are a large, active dune field created by prevailing northwesterly and westerly winds. The Imperial Sand Dunes are managed by the Bureau of Land Management. One of the activities allowed is off highway vehicle riding. We passed camps of RVs and trailers of people staying here just to ride on the dunes.
The dunes were amazing. Think of your typical movie-style, African sand dunes with camels riding across them, only small motorized vehicles are zipping around and blasting off sand ridges. Today was windy here, so we had to keep our mouths shut and hope our eyes would not get too much sand in them. It looked like great fun, but not to be experienced by us today. These dunes were used by General Patton training his troops for battle in the North African campaign in WWII.
As we left the dunes, we passed a checkpoint where a uniformed man asked if we were U.S. citizens and then waved us on. Not sure if it was military, we were right across from a military gunnery range or if he was with the INS. But we were north of the border by a decent distance, well north of the “floating fence” constructed by the U.S. on sand dunes south of I-8 by the Mexican border. Anyway, we kept going and made it to the CA-AZ border in time for a quick bite as the sun set. Our drive up to Lake Havasu City was pretty much in the dark, so no sights seen.
Ed and Chris Monday Nov. 24 midnight