Archive for the ‘roadtrip’ Category


Do Not Go To Calico Ghost Town

February 21, 2008

My friend Patrick & I went on another road trip last weekend, this time to the Eastern borders of Southern California.  Originally, we were going to break into the abandoned water park on the way to Vegas, but it turns out you have to have balls to do that, since it’s guarded by dogs & men with guns, and I’m not sure we met the minimum ball requirement.  So instead we went to Calico Ghost Town, a crappy ass themed old timey western experience. 

It was not awesome.  The place had been an actual silver mining town in the 1880s, but disappeared to near nothing a half century later.  Eventually Walter Knott, of SoCal theme park Knott’s Berry Farm purchased the place & had it very very very cheaply restored to its former shabby condition. 


I do!  I do enjoy music & gunfights!  The highlight of the trip was the fact that it was “Civil War Days” at Knotts Ghost Town, in honor of President’s Day Weekend.  I know, I know, what does the Civil War have to do with a mining town founded fifteen years after the end of the civil war?  Moreover, what does the Civil War have to do with any city in Southern California?  Your guess is as good as mine, but nonetheless, there were about 50 people dressed up as Rebels & Yankees, all staging a giant mock war.  It was, without a doubt, the whitest thing I’ve ever been to.  Now, normally (according to the official list, at least), I generally am into stuff white people like, but I was not at all into civil war re-enacting.  I would have sooner gone to a Ren Faire or Trek Convention, or a Ren Faire AT a Trek Convention than knowingly attended a Civil War re-enactment.

However.  In that, I was definitely in the minority.  Calico was crazy busy, with a metric assload of my white kin there to see the South prevail at last.  And hey, speaking of minorities, Patrick & I immediately made a bet that the first one of us to spot an African-American would win five dollars. 


I won.  Yes, that’s right. There was a black person at the ghost town.  Yes, that’s right.  He was a Civil War re-enactor.  Yes, that’s right.  He was fighting for the South.  I’m not sure what promises his recruiter made, but this ugly display of re-enactor’s Stockholm Syndrome was good for a crisp Lincoln from my wager with Patrick.  And hey, speaking of Lincoln, guess who Patrick & I ran into on the outskirts of Calico?

Heavy is the head that wears the fake crown.  Ficticious Lincoln was resting up for his big afternoon of freeing the slaves & signing autographs.  We didn’t stick around, so I’m not sure who they were planning on having play the role of “the slaves,” but my money is on a certain Confederate soldier, once the battle ends.  Patrick wasn’t a fan of fake Lincoln, and lamented the fact that Calico didn’t spring for a Robot Lincoln like they have at Disneyland.

Please note: all photos taken by Patrick.


The Day I Walked Into Mexico For Some Tacos

September 8, 2007

Patrick & I wanted to go on another roadtrip, but we couldn’t think of anywhere new to go, so we went back and visited the Salton Sea again, this time on the Western shoreline.  It was much more organized & civilized than the wild Eastern shores, although the place smelled much much worse than the previous trip.  Worst of all, some developer was building homes like crazy just North of Salton City, which made me think of young families just starting out in life, with kids or kids on the way soon, all mortgaging their futures to buy homes next to the Salton Sea, which is a depressing thought.

By the time the afternoon rolled around, the temperature was nearly 110 degrees, and we were hungry so we ended up just taking the shoreline south, and when the Salton Sea stopped we didn’t.  We arrived in Calexico (the border town, not the indie band) in time for a late lunch, and we wandered on foot into Mexico (Calexico’s sister city, a town called Mexicali) & got some tacos for lunch.  When we were done we stood in line for the great Northern exodus & drove home.  As always, there were many pictures taken, and annotations provided.


Escape From Death Valley

April 10, 2007

So, it’s late & I’m very tired, but if you’re mildly curious about how Death Valley went, here’s a five bullet point highlight. 

  1. Death Valley has a LOT of driving between interesting parts.  It’s the Los Angeles of National Parks. 
  2. We quite possibly saved the life of a Russian man & his wife & daughter who were hopelessly lost after dark (and out of cell phone range) in the hills surrounding the valley, driving them to safety & tremendous relief when we reached a highway.
  3. Even if it’s the world’s BEST beef jerky, there’s only so much of it a man can eat.  Next road trip is to the Red Robin for a basket of Clucks & Fries.
  4. If not the least interesting 3,000 square miles in the world, Death Valley must be the least interesting 3,000 square miles in North America.  Counting that part of Canada that’s all white on the map.
  5. When Jim suggested removing the sway bar to better handle the road & Patrick suggested that smoke from the exhaust was caused by excess oil falling on the manifold, my only contribution to the conversation was a wisecrack about dilithium crystals & the warp core reactor that I decided to leave unspoken.  It turns out that I’m not really “helpfull” in a practical sense.

For those interested in a slightly longer version, here’s the Flickr story.


The Salton Sea is a strange place

January 29, 2007

My friend Patrick & I took a one day road trip to the Salton Sea this past weekend.  Since I’m not a good photographer I made up for it by taking about 100 photos, all of which are in a flickr photoset that documents the trip.  Each photo is named & captioned, and they’re in the order of the journey, so it gives a bit of a feel for the sights, but honestly there’s no substitute for being there.  I saw so many things that absolutely didn’t make sense I literally broke my “normal” barometer, to the point where it took about 24 hours back in society before I really felt grounded again.

The Salton Sea is a giant salt basin that filled up with water due to break in a levee on the Colorado river back in 1905 that took two years to dam up.  The end result was a gigantic freshwater lake (literally, once you discount the great lakes, the Salton Sea is the 2nd biggest lake in America in surface area, just behind the Great Salt Lake in Utah) 40 miles long & 25 miles wide. 

As Los Angeles grew in population, specifically the post WWII boom, this accident of nature became Southern California’s version of Lake Tahoe, with an entire industry servicing the sportsfishermen & watersports enthusiasts who flocked to the lake in droves.  Unfortunately, like most things that don’t occur naturally, the lake had some issues.  There’s no proper circulation of new water replacing old, so what water that does flow in from farm irrigation, etc, arrives with a reasonable measure of salinity & a reasonable measure of toxicity (pesticides, etc).  What water that exits does so via evaporation, which takes the liquid, but none of the salt or poison.  So every year the water that remains gets saltier, and more toxic.

In the mid 1970s, things went south, and by the 1990s the whole area was largely abandoned.  A series of fishkills had lined the beaches with tens of thousands of dead fish, even as the government restocked with hardier species like tilapia.  Eventually the entire area became predominantly known for being a haven for societal outcasts, methamphetamine makers & users, and the very poor.

I won’t go into too much detail – if you want the entire travelogue, the Flickr set is the best place to get it, since a picture’s worth a thousand words, there’s just over 93,000 words worth of description contained within.  However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to list the 5 most interesting things I saw on my trip to the Salton Sea.

5. Wild dogs.  In West L.A., if you see a dog roaming the street with no owner, quite frequently people will stop, check for tags, see if there’s something they can do to help the pup.  On our way to the Salton Sea, once we passed Palm Springs we entered a downward spiral of less & less mainstream society with each mile & an increasing amount of freedom, most directly represented by the dogs.  We passed a few live wild dogs by the side of the road before we came upon the first corpse of one in the middle of the road.  But the highlight was when we drove by a dog eating the corpse of another dog in a ditch.

4. Bombay Beach.  A six block by 8 block group of homes in the Eastern shore of the Salton Sea, the occupancy rate is currently between 30% to at most 50% of the buildings.  A resort town that no longer has (nor ever will again) a tourist trade, the town is an even mix of fixed homes & trailers, with maybe two active businesses in town – one restaurant & one market.  The nearest gas station is 20 miles away so what few residents we saw out of their homes were driving golf carts.  The abandoned homes are left to rot all around the few remaining occupied ones.  Somehow water, power & other services still seem to be in place, even as the town sinks into a post apocalyptic miasma.  Several streets had one occupied trailer surrounded with burned out, rotting or otherwise derelict abandoned properties on all sides.  In the mid 1990s, the Southern half of the town flooded away as the Salton Sea breached its banks.  Since then, the town has constructed a ten foot high sea wall, obscuring any view of the cursed lake that gave birth & a reason to exist to the town in the first place.  And yet the survivors continue to remain, despite the complete absence of any chance of a turnaround.

3. Slab City.  Several hundred people spontaneously built a city on desert land that was owned by the government, and continued to occupy it for decades despite the absence of any services that are taken for granted in civilization, such as water, power, gas, sewage, garbage, phone, postal or governmental authority.  Since the marine base outside of Niland California closed up shop just after WWII & left behind only the concrete slabs that the quonset huts were built on, Slab City has continued on in a smaller version of Burning Man’s Black Rock City.  Despite the absence of any fixed structures at all, there are three nightclubs in Slab City, including a singles bar.  Also, there’s a stage for live weekly rock & roll shows.  The seats in front of the stage are a Frankensteinian mixture of lazy boys, airline chairs, school workdesks, park benches & anything else with back support, all stolen from the local trash dump about four miles down the road.  I imagine a live action re-enactment of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery is how major ballot initiatives get decided in town.

2. Salvation Mountain.  A mountain made from bales of hay & mud, located in the middle of nowhere, built between 1984 & now (still under construction).  The man behind the mountain is Leonard Knight, a veteran of the Korean War who fell into religious fervor & built a monument to Christ in the Southwestern desert.  The mountain is painted with a thousand different bright New Testament messages, but it’s the museum that’s most compelling.  The museum is a second mountain, built adjacent to the first, again out of bales of hay & mud, and supported by a forest of artificial trees that Leonard, now 75 years old built from telephone poles that he lashed together & driftwood lumber that he drilled to the poles using rebar.  All done by one man, all done with no power tools, all done under extreme desert heat without running water, all done non-stop every day for over 20 years, it’s the most impressive & unbelievable sight I’ve ever seen.  Here’s a great shot Patrick took of me sitting in one of the unfinished rooms of the museum.  You can see a tree in mid construction – when it’s done, the roof will be added and more paint will be applied.

1. Jesus Dinosaurs.  The Cabazon Dinosaurs give Salvation Mountain a brief run for their money in terms of one man’s lunatic devotion to a project.  A Brontosaurus & a T-Rex sit by the side of the 10 Freeway in Cabazon, just outside of Palm Springs.  For years, they sat abandoned after the original creator passed away, until recently, when they were purchased by an evolution denier who uses them to push his message that Adam & Eve were chased by dinosaurs around the garden of eden.  Inside the belly of the giant brontosaurus, what used to be a restaurant is now a gift shop & museum dedicated to proving how the fossil record is being misinterpreted and that dinosaurs & humans coexisted for quite some time.  There’s even a tableau of medieval knights fighting the dinosaurs, which is such an awesome idea I wished it was true, rather than just a crazy desert jesus-freak’s wild justification of fossils.