I’ve had funny dreams about deserts and salt seas for a few years now. They’re about the desire to drive … and then something holding me back and I never quite get to my destination. I imagine this is the subconscious speaking to dreams not quite reached. For fear of … what? With that question on my mind, I head south and east to spend a day and a tank and a half of gas driving out into the San Diego desert, out to mountain towns, desert wildflowers, to the Salton Sea, and towards the subconscious.
I start out of Los Angeles on a Saturday morning east along interstate 10 for 45 minutes – and then hook south on interstate 15 for another hour and a half. That takes me past Lake Elsinore (where I recall my Dad took me camping every other year for a long weekend of exploring and swimming and building spears with a swiss army knife, in the vein of Shwartzenegger vs. Predator, for fear of what might come out of the lake, and Dad reading novels) and past Temecula wine country (which I have heard is a fun weekend visit on its own, and may serve as the source material for a future dispatch). That takes me to Escondido, just north of San Diego, where I leave the freeway for Route 78.
That highway twists and turns and eventually becomes a nice two lane road heading out of town and, after 20 or 30 minute, into Ramona, which looks to be some sort of wild west town. That a few fast food joints and auto mechanics. Keep on straight through there and it becomes a real desert mountain two lane road, one lane going each way, up and into the mountains, and another 30 minutes out of Ramona and you arrive in Julian. I recall visiting here too on weekends. Julian is famous for apple orchards, apple pie, everything apple. I decided to skip that, and went straight into Miner’s Diner , sat down at the soda fountain counter, and ordered a six dollar real ice cream shake. It was the real deal. I took my shake to go and walked around town, into the gift shops, past Mom’s Pie House where a man was sitting out front strumming a guitar and singing away, and with families and couples walking up and down past the two main streets of town. The town is up in the hills a bit, 2000 or 3000 feet elevation, and the air is cool and the sun was out.
I asked the proprietor at Miner’s Diner where I could find wildflowers nearby. He asked me how much further I wanted to go, and I told him 30 minutes, an hour or so, would be fine by me. He told me the only place to go was to Anza Borrego, straight up Route 78 and then left onto Yaqui Pass Road and into the Park. So I took my shake with me in the car and set off further. I had made good time all day. Even leaving late, stopping off for gas in Escondido, and a long walk up and down Julian’s streets, it was now not even 1pm. 35 minutes took me into Anza Borrego and then a left onto Yaqui Pass Road. Everything here is barren. It’s out of the first Stars Wars movie with the Jawa’s keeping a close watch on a nervous C3PO and R2D2. A sign says “dips next 22 miles.” Indeed, driving out 60pmh into the desert you can feel your stomach lurch up and down over these dips, catching air, up and down, up and down.
I turn out along the road, where there is a sandy patch, enough for a car or two to park for a few minutes. There is a sign for a trail and another one warning against shooting and advising to make fires only in approved areas and inside a metal ring. The air is clean. The clouds are a lilly white. The mountains are deep colors of grey and blue and rocky and they reach right into that clean sky and cut through those clouds. And the air is warm and the sand crushes under your shoes. I walk for a few minutes. I see yellow and blue and red wildflowers. I snap a picture on my iphone. A car or two comes zipping by. Living in LA, I have not breathed clean air like this in weeks, or months.
Here in Borrego Springs there are a few bed and breakfasts, in the vein of 50’s style motels. And a development or two with signs advertising “now showing” from the housing bubble of a couple of years back. And roads. Roads lead on and on. I see “salton sea” straight ahead some 30 or 40 miles and head straight towards it. East, east, past sand dunes and ATV parks and over rough patches of road. It is two hundred feet below sea level. It sits directly on the San Andreas fault, so wikipedia teaches. And there is nothing here but trailer parks. Fantasies of buying land out there play out in my head. A snake slithers in front of the car, across the hot asphalt.
There is heading back the way I came. Back from this sea, over rough road, through Borrego Springs park and to San Diego and up to LA. But the needle still shows two thirds of a tank of gas. And the map shows that the highway meets the Salton Sea, and then hooks up with more road heading north into Palm Springs, and from there, back west towards Los Angeles. And apart from all of the above, on a drive like this, out here in the west, can there be any turning back? Or can there be only the drive. And forward.
By: Laine Mervis