-Today wasn’t like any holiday i’ve ever experienced. We hiked in the desert among yucca brevifolia, drove to an accidental sea, a forgotten ex resort wasteland, ate fast-food tacos for thanksgiving dinner, saw a mountain covered in 100,000 galloons of paint in Gods honor, and slept amongst other nomads in a the last free place in the US. We became Slabbers.-
Happy Thanksgiving! It’s not really Thanksgiving for us. It’s 75 degrees out and theres palm trees everywhere, there’s no family, no football, or turkey. We start the day off with a McDonald’s breakfast, not very traditional and kinda sad. We head to Joshua Tree National Park, where we expect to be the only ones hiking while the rest of the country is being glutinous with family. On the way west on interstate 10 we run into a windmill farm. This one wasn’t as big as our last one but is was more compact. The frequency of windmills was a lot greater and they were all spinning in sync, making for a really neat drive.
It must be a so-cal Thanksgivng morning tradition to go to Joshua Tree cuz this place was packed. Long lines at the entrance stations, filled parking lots, and no empty campsites. I had originally wanted to spend the night here. Plans had to be adjusted accordingly. We hiked a couple super short hikes and got a feel for the park, without spending all day. When we first got into the park we were warned of killer bees in the area, and not the type from Staten Island. The Park’s namesake tree, the Yucca brevifolia’s, makes for a unique display of desert vegetation. it’s rarely found in the rest of the world outside of the Mojave desert. Some of them are tall, single and thin and others are fat, branchy and mimic real trees. The trees are everywhere throughout the desert park and are backdropped by awesome smooth jumblely rock outcroppings and mountains in the distance. But the Joshua tree isn’t the only cool plants in the park. There’s all types of yuccas, cacti and shrubs. The rock formations reminded me a lot of our Vedauwoo hike on Day 59 . There were a lot of climbers enjoying the cracks in the rocks. It’s a beautiful desert park.
From atop key’s view you get great views of LA’s smog
Driving through scottsdale, Liam warned us about a certain type of cactus that is a pain in the ass to detach once you’re pricked by it. In Joshua tree there was a section of the park that is littered with this cactus, the Cholla Cactus. For whatever reason I was really interested in getting pricked by one. I touched a couple chollas lightly and nothing happened. As we walked among them I got more and more aggressive with the plant. I was getting impatient. I didn’t understand what Liam meant and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. So with the back of my hand and the lack of timidity, I back handed the cactus. Of course the needles went in as one would expect, but what happened next was interesting. The tip of the needles are barbed. So pulling the needle out is a lot harder then going in. Also when I jerked my hand away reacting to the pain a piece of the cactus broke off and came with it. Its made to easily break off once the needle’s barb has attached. This is a clever cactus. I couldn’t grab and pull off the piece because its sphere shaped and covered in barbed needles. My hasty idea was to swing my hand at a neighboring rock in hopes to knock the ball of thorns off of my hand. Instead, what that did was roll the cactus across my skin sending more needles in and making the old ones deeper. It all made sense to me now what Liam meant. I solved the problem by pinning the cactus between 2 rocks and pulling really hard, those suckers were in there. That dislodged the sphere, then all I had to do was pull out the individual needles. Piece of cake. Wilderness cactus survival skills Vol 1 by Ricky Saetta, OR how about don’t intentionally punch a cactus.
With an itchy bleeding hand we left Joshua tree through the southern exit and Jillian took her rightful place in the back in the bed for her daily “nap while I drive.” Driving Miss Jilly Vol 96. We were hungry, it being thanksgiving and all. The only places open are fast food joints. We decided to checkout the famous In N’ Out Burger. I’ve been wanting to try this place forever. Figured it would be a funny story eating it for our first time as Thanksgiving dinner. By the time we got to In and Out we were starved, and unfortunately it was closed for the holiday. Desperately we went across the street to a Del Taco (Shitty taco place, worse then Taco Bell). So it was a shitty taco Thanksgiving, charlie brown.
After dinner the plan was to go see a roadside attraction along the Salton sea in a town called Niland in the California desert. Beside this attraction is Slab City, and thats where we would spend Thanksgiving night. Salton Sea is the largest body of water in California and is there by accident. It’s man made. Irrigation problems, flooding and dam breaching of the Colorado river led to the creation of this sea. The imperial valley desert region of mid southern CA is below sea level so there is no where for the sea to run off to. Flooding of this region continued to occur until the Hoover dam in Nevada was built. In the 1920′s the area turned tourist trap and was the premier spot for hollywoods celebs. It was labeled “the French Rivera of California.” With yacht clubs, golf courses and spas popping up along the coast it was on the fast track to becoming a major vacation destination, and for a short period was. Salty prehistoric ex-ocean desert sand, Toxic waste runoff from Mexicali, and agriculture pesticides eventually turned the lake into a poison pitt. Birds and fish died in the thousands, some flooding continued and by the 70′s the place was abandoned. The beaches are made not of sand but of broken down fish and bird skeletons. The resorts and boom towns are now decaying shells and habited by the poor in little make shift homes, trailers and RV’s. It’s a run down ghost town. Its California’s bastard child.
Hidden in this run down shithole of a desert oasis is Salvation Mountain, another outrageous creation by a psychotic/motivated american in the name of god. Leonard Knight apparently accidentally landed here in a hot air balloon and decided to go to work with the message “God is Love.” For the past 26 years he has been continually painting this hill along with another structure he built from haybails, mud, trees, and car parts. He’s out there everyday hard at work, and most visitors get a chance to meet him. He requests that all donations be in the form of paint. Estimated 100,000 galloons of paint cover his work. It’s a welcoming sight.
Adjacent to Salvation Mountain is a squatter village made up of retirees, drug addicts, hippies, snow birds, nomads, and drifters. They live in RV’s of all types from brand new to rundown from mobile to stationary, even in old buses and make shift structures. They put them where ever they please and do what ever they like. It’s the closest thing to the wild west that we have today. Theres no running water or electricity, no government, no rules, no property rights. The site is decommissioned and uncontrolled. The concrete slabs left behind by the Marine military camp from WW2 give the place its name sake. We pulled in to the bulk of trailers and parked the van. Tonight we would be know as slabbers. Parked next to us was a permanent resident, Cowboy Bill. He was bent over hands on his knees as if about to throw up when i went over to him to ask if it was ok to park where i did. He told me “i don’t care if you park right here” (pointing to his “backyard” 10 feet from his trailer. Then he told me not to let anyone tell me what to do, that around here i could do as I please. I talked to Bill about Slab city for while. About our neighbors, the ins and outs, the drug addicts, the good people, the christian center, salvation mountain, all while bill lay bent over. Turns out this is how he lives his life, bent over at a 90 degree angle, shirtless, with only 1 thumb and 1 lung, an ex gold panner from Alaska turned slabber, smoking cigs and enjoying the heat. I wish we coulda walked around a bit and met other slabbers but Bill scared me a bit talking about the drifter drug addicts that move in from San Diego and do what drug addicts do, rob and steal. The sun was setting, so we climbed into bed and watched a movie. Before falling asleep I set up the bear spray and baseball bat in reaching distance, in case i had to go to war.
ContrastSlab City You Tube Vid.
“Jesus I’m a sinner. Please come upon my body and into my heart”
Next Stop: Cabozon Dinosaurs