Carolina: Cruising Past 70: Exploring the Southwest

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Exploring the Southwest

From the bustling metropolis of Los Angeles, we reached the city of Palm Springs where ''snowbirders' were already congregating for the winter. Located in the Coachella Valley desert region, it is sheltered by the San Bernardinos to the north, the Santa Rosas to the south, the San Jacintos to the west and the Little San Bernardinos to the east. This unique geography gives the city its hot, dry climate, with 354 days of sunshine and only 5.23 inches of annual rainfall. The coolest days in winter are in the lower 70s °F and the nights fall to the lower 40s °F. No wonder.

The City of Palm Springs' best-known mayor was Sonny Bono and though celebrities still make it a place of regular retreat, many others like Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage have also become as popular. Bill and I were treated to our first deluxe campground with hot tubs, pools, recreation rooms and lots of activities. Towering date palm trees dwarfed our little Star. On a Saturday potluck dinner and disco night, we found our first buddies on the road. So we decided to buy into this lifestyle and bought into the Thousand Trails+ system with over 300 in North America!

This is a place to come back fact, maybe even settle in later!. The world's largest rotating aerial tramcars in the Aerial Tramway, climbs to more than 8,000 feet, with a 30 degree decline in temperature, a 360 degree view of the valley, and a top-notch restaurant at the top, a most welcome treat in summer! The Palm Springs Follies stage-show features performers that are over the age of 55 (I knew can still be a star!). Every Thursday evening downtown is transformed into a Village Fest on famous Palm Canyon Drive. Vino 'scootered' us through streets named after Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, and the like!

And only a few miles east is Joshua Tree National Park, named for the Joshua tree forests native to the area. Covering a land area of 789,745 acres the park is, in fact, two deserts, each a separate ecosystem supporting diverse life, both vastly different from life we know!. The higher, drier, and slightly cooler Mojave Desert is home to the Joshua tree (the biggest one we found stood at 50 ft!) and hills of bare rock, formed a million years ago, of quartz monzonite, a very rough type of granite (because there is no snow or ice to polish it like in Yosemite), are very popular with rock climbers. 
Below 3,000 feet, the Colorado Desert features habitats of such dense cactus that form natural gardens. The California Fan Palm, only native to the state, occurs naturally in five spectacular oases in the park, areas where water occurs naturally year round, supporting many forms of wildlife. The southern lookout point at Keys View offers breathtaking views of the Coachella Valley and Salton Sea. We dry-camped at one of the nine park campgrounds. Unlike Palm Springs though, this is definitely not one that we will consider to settle in, but it was exhilarating at dusk and specially at dawn.

South of the park is the Salton Sea, a saline rift lake located directly on the San Andreas Fault. Like Death Valley, it is below sea level, at 226 ft. The sea is fed by three rivers, as well as toxic pesticide laced agricultural runoff drainage systems and creeks from nearby farms..Covering about 376 sqmi, it is the largest in California. But it should really be called the Dying Sea. It was certainly sad to see multitudes of dead fish on the expanse of beaches. In just two weeks, we had moved from a city of upscale living, to lonely desert life, to a sea of death. 
The Salton Sea was created in 1905, when heavy rainfall and snowmelt caused the Colorado River to swell. The resulting flood poured down the canals and breached a dike. Over a period of two years two newly created rivers sporadically carried the entire volume of the Colorado River into the Salton Sink. This basin was formed for 3 million years as the Colorado River built its delta in southwestern US, creating a massive dam, excluding the area. Depending on the balance between inflow and evaporative loss, the Sink has long been alternately a fresh water lake and a dry desert basin, 
The Southern Pacific Railroad attempted to stop the flooding but the effort was not fast enough and a massive waterfall was created. It rose to a height of 80 feet before the breach was finally stopped. As the basin filled, the town of Salton, a Railroad siding and some Indian land were submerged. The sudden influx of water and the lack of drainage resulted in the Salton Sea of today. But by the 1925s, the Salton Sea developed into a tourist attraction, because of its water recreation and the waterfowl that flock to the area.

Called a "crown jewel of avian biodiversity”, over 400 species have been documented. The Sea even supports 30% of the remaining population of the American white pelican and is a major resting stop on the Pacific Flyway. With relatively high inflow salinity and lack of an outlet, the Sea's salinity has increased by approximately 1% per year. Currently, at 44 parts per 1000, it is saltier than the Pacific! Many species of fish are no longer able to reproduce or survive in the Sea as the runoffs have resulted in elevated bacterial levels and large algal blooms, major food sources for migrating and wading birds!

The Salton Sea is definitely not a place for us to settle in but we thought, 'It was good to be able to see the miracle that, unfortunately, will probably not last.'. This segment of our cruising lifestyle was truly learning about different conditions that support life!' And that is what traveling is all about!

Next Stops: Julian, Ramona, and San Diego, California plus Casa Grande, St. David, and Arizona