Heading into Palm Springs by air or land it is shocking to see encrusted sand and baked dirt turn immediately into green grass, manicured lawns, golf courses, and fountains fit for a Versace mansion. There is no gradual transition; it is instant. No border through which the passerby can acclimatize. Brown to green; it’s side by side.
Driving in from the desert we passed from the unusual isolationist characters who inhabit the twilight zone and into a world of luxury and decadence.
I will admit to having a preconceived idea of what to expect and it wasn’t one I embraced. I imagined a town of unbridled hedonism where the streets were constantly filled by those seeking a party. In my mind it was noisy, crass, and pretentious. I was wrong.
Palm Springs won me over upon arrival. Granted, it is a little like making nice with elective plastic surgery but if a boob job or a set of collagen lips made me feel as good as Palm Springs in the summer swelter, I’d be OK with that.
Everywhere you look there are reminders of the past. Mid-century modern is a term bandied about Palm Springs with such rapidity that you soon learn to come to the party and scrutinize those buildings that are not quite as mid-century modern as others…and you may just find you’re doing it like a snooty wine snob.
Continue reading Oasis of the Desert
Salton Sea, Salvation Hill, and Slab City. I swear the desert never stops laying at your feet the gifts of isolation and food for thought. While Salton Sea doesn’t appear to fall into the isolation category, parallels between all three exist. All three are driven by man’s determination and all three have quite the stories to tell.
South of Palm Springs, behind acres and acres of date trees, on the other side of normal, lays a lake shimmering the bluest of blues. To admire the water for its gentle waves and its color would be a mistake easily made. This body of water in the Southern Californian desert is an anomaly, a tragedy, and a killer.
Just to the east is a mountain; painted from foothill to peak in donated paint of all colors. With a backdrop of deep blue sky the contrasting cross of white looms large. The story of one man’s religious passion to spread the word, he created a landmark so bold that to bypass and not investigate may just be akin to blasphemy.
Head a little further east and a community off the grid comes into focus. An old military base upon vacating the site left behind its concrete foundations. It is upon these that nomads, recluses, and those in no mood for mail, phone calls, or strangers, have set up their lives. Camper vans, caravans, tents, and the shade of a single tree provide shelter. Continue reading America’s Dead Sea
The town of Barstow is often hailed as the official west coast gateway for those traveling east along Route 66. Unfortunately we were now heading west as we looped back toward Joshua Tree so for us only a small section of the famous road was left available. We made the most of it and she proved to be every bit as quirky and enchanting as expected; probably more-so since we had no idea really what to expect.
Route 66 signs began to appear frequently on Main Street Barstow; on power poles, flags, buildings, and most obviously on the road beneath our wheels. Big numbers in white surrounded by the outline of an interstate shield; the routes badge of honor.
This section of the route still appears to be a regularly used secondary road and a pleasant artery between Barstow and the next town over, Victorville. There is of course Highway 15 but road trips, in my opinion, should avoid these; especially when an alternative like the “Mother Road” is available.
I remember a book I read many years ago by William Least Heat-Moon called “Blue Highways”. It is the story of his journey around the continental United States in a van traveling solely on roads identified by his map in blue. Major highways and thoroughfares are in red. Continue reading Bottle Tree Ranch Route 66
Once upon a time Baker, CA was a thriving junction town famous for the Mad Greek diner, full service gas stations, hotels for the weary, a gateway into the Mojave Desert Preserve, and center-point between L.A. and Las Vegas. Today however, Baker is beaten up and casts a sad shadow, reminding all who can remember that it once did have a heyday.
The town’s most prominent feature is a 134-foot “teller of temperatures”, dubbed “the world’s tallest thermometer”. Visible for miles, and recently restored, its height commemorates the hottest day ever recorded; 134 °F. Let’s hope we don’t see 135 °F anytime soon!
Baker has a population of 735 but it’s dwindling.
We rolled into Baker from the north which is a route few take as it’s the back of the town. We drove past a mirage we thought was a lake, fields of desert grass, and an impressive new school on the towns outskirts. On first impressions Baker seemed to be doing just fine.
Main street runs parallel to the highway and was at one time the road used by many to scoot out from the coast to Vegas looking forward to a weekend of gambling in Sin City. Today it is a hub of fast food eateries, old unused buildings, and vacant lots; traveled only by those who exited the interstate in need of fuel for themselves or their car. Continue reading No Butcher or Candlestick Maker
The desert plains beg the imagination to run wild with ideas; to speculate on outlandish scenarios. The ease at which you can do this is because so much of what the desert offers up is far beyond the norm of a regular life; beyond the norm of a comfort zone. It provides to the passer-by a glimpse into times past, reclusive life styles, and the occasional entry point into what can only be referred to as the “Twilight Zone“.
A town by the name of Amargosa, population two, sits at a crossroads known as Death Valley Junction. Here isolation morphs with the unexpected and the creepy; combining to open the window, just a crack, into another world. Just a few miles east is Area 51…just saying!
Amargosa is home to a gas station, a cafe, a hotel; all of which are in disrepair and slowly returned to dust; yet the hotel retains a receptionist to promote the town’s history and direct the more curious to a small musty snack shop located in a back room.
Oddest of all though is the Opera House. It was here where current resident Marta Becket staged dance and mime shows from the 1960’s. Marta makes up fifty percent of the town’s population; she is now in her early 90’s. Continue reading Marta Becket’s Amargosa