Andrew and I made our first trip to the desert early into our California vacation. We spent our first days in Laguna Beach and Encinitas, and while there was something intoxicating about the ocean, the amazing and cheap Mexican food and the surfers walking barefoot around town (actually that last detail weirded me out), we wanted to see something we hadn’t seen before. Andrew had recently heard of the Salton Sea, so with that destination in mind we drove inland.
It’s strange how quickly the landscape and the climate changes within the span of an hour or two – from ocean breezes and lush plants to unescapable sunlight and pale green and yellow, low-lying shrubs.
The desert didn’t look the way I imagined. I pictured vast, empty stretches of whitish, bleached out sand and the occasional cactus, but when we pulled the car over to explore, the dirt was hard beneath our feet. Dusty and dry. There was more vegetation than I expected, but not many cacti.
I liked the feeling of being in the desert. It’s kind of scary, prickly – you feel so small. There is so much open land, hardly any other cars on the road, and the heat is astounding, a huge, thudding presence, but dry so that you don’t really start to sweat until you’re back in your car with the air conditioning cranked up. We liked to press our hands against the insides of the car windows to feel the warmth.
We made it to the Salton Sea, and it was a strange place. The sea is actually a large, highly saline lake. What was once a bustling resort town in the 1950s is now desolate, even the palm trees burnt out. It smells bad too – there is an impossibly long strip of dead tilapia along the sea shore. Try to imagine the putrid smell of thousands of dead fish in 105 Fahrenheit degree heat and you know why the tourists stopped coming.
We also drove through the Mojave desert on our way to and from Las Vegas with Soraya and Chris. On our return journey, we took a detour to get a closer look. We spotted a few dust twisters, and followed a particularly large one off the highway until we realized that maybe chasing a twister was not the brightest idea.
The foliage was slightly different in the Mojave, and I saw my first Joshua trees, such interesting, fantasy-land like trees.
There were some mountainous sand dunes in the distance and Andrew insisted that we drive over so that we could touch them, so we did, first down a gravel road and then parked the car and walked up a path. As we approached the dunes it started turning into the desert of my imagination – soft, deep sand. Hot.
I liked it.