As I write this, the most exhausting scouting trip as of yet is coming to an end. On the train back to LA, I have been sifting through pictures of Tuesday’s exploratory jaunt – images of eviscerated rattlesnakes, once threatening, now crisp from long neglect in the Imperial sun, once purposeful structures like boat launches, docks and footbridges, suspended now over specters of former water, and landscapes so martian that the images would be more fitting as transmissions from spacecraft rather than from a Gopro in Southern California. This particular trip, which for me was an entirely new experience as I had never been to the southern end of the Sea, highlighted the enormity of Randy’s undertaking.
After checking out the Whitewater River confluence, Randy and I drove south on the 111 from where we had previously began and finished exploratory walk one at the North Shore Yacht Club, with a quick stop at a “connivence store” – “convenience” being used rather loosely here as neither the location nor the selection of products, was particularly of use, except perhaps to the occasional lost traveler, who, to quote Principal Skinner from The Simpsons “was only in there to get directions on how to get away from there”.
Passing Corvina Beach, with which Randy had been well versed as a child on family vacations, we now entered uncharted territory. It was my job as passenger extraordinaire, to jot down detailed notation as to whether each checkpoint had water hookups as well as the distances between checkpoints, distances from road to Sea (crucial should emergency extraction be necessary), and other geographic foibles of humorous and/or consequential nature.
Approaching Bombay Beach, Randy adopted a more somber disposition as he peppered me with brief anecdotes concerning the pathetic nature of this town, perhaps in an effort to prime me emotionally for what I would witness. As we entered the “booming metropolis”, as he so affectionally referred, I understood. There was no less subtle reminder as to the state of affairs than the graffiti which admonished, “abandon all hope ye who enter”, tagged rather thoughtfully above what would have been the doorway of a burned-out meth laboratory. This particular point in the space-time continuum, this geographic locus, is the sum of all fear in the collective human consciousness – a worst case scenario – perhaps the most heinous civic failure in the annals of western human civilization. We stopped at yet another convenience store, to take a supply inventory, where we were greeted by a shirtless tweaker and female companion complete with stained cloths several sizes too small, who looked none the more enthused. A shirt for sale above the register read “Bombay Beach = Paradise” – not sure who checked the math there. We bid an unconscious “god-bless” to the store clerk who was surprisingly lucid and articulate given the circumstances and left to explore the waterfront “promenade”. Particularly striking was the juxtaposition and lack of consistency between the homes – hollowed out trailers adjacent to respectable, single-family dwellings with carefully manicured lawns – as if hope still lived somewhere in the heart of Bombay. Lamentation aside, this town will be of crucial importance as a water refill location, as it sits roughly equidistant between Corvina Beach to the north and Niland to the south – and for that I am thankful.
Back on the road again, attempting to void my short-term memory, we came across a border checkpoint where we, in probably suspicious fashion to the authorities, made an abrupt right, and drove 2 miles down the dirt before hitting what would have been a marina. A cross, hand-forged from wood, tape and dock pylon remnants, marked the water’s edge. Three concrete structures here will provide much-needed shade and serve as a rest-stop between checkpoints. Another long stretch of blistering sun and desolation separates this once aquatic playground from the next stop, the Wister Wildlife Area, where signs remind “tourists” (again a term used liberally) of rattlesnake danger.
Further down the coast is Niland, which comparatively was the first sign of civilization since the fast-food beacons of Coachella, and where we stopped for gas. Both Randy and I balked at grabbing lunch due to circumstances sketchy, and I instead opted for the banana and generic Costco fiber bars that I had packed. Some distance down the 111 from Niland we made a right towards the sea, where would encounter the most bizarre and surreal circumstances of the trip (which says a lot btw). Down a specific combination of dirt roads, adjacent to a humming geothermal plant lies the infamous mud-pots of Imperial Valley lore. These volanco-esque piles of…well…mud, gargle and spew their earthly contents in a projectile manner out the top of their lids and stand otherwise alone on a plain of crunchy, futile, salt-laden soil. We had but a few minutes to film these foreign monuments before taking notice of a stern security guard, standing cross-armed, aiming suspicion in our direction from the plant’s fenced perimeter. Randy commented that he was most likely hired for “loss prevention”, in an effort to deter non-locals from falling into the pots of roiling mud and therefore avoiding a potential lawsuit.
Scurrying back to the car, we were nonplussed; apple maps, which we later found to be unreliable, informed us that a road which they had purported to dead end, actually formed a T-intersection – “right or left” became the conundrum. Randy followed his gut-instinct and followed the phantom path to the right. We soon crossed our first legitimate river, the silt-laden Alamo. Soon thereafter we came to yet another navigational conundrum – a road that seemingly didn’t exist ran towards a geological outcropping that resembled Ayers Rock. Following yet another whim, we would stumble upon one of the Salton Sea’s most bizarre offerings….to be continued in Pt. 2