Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Trip Story: Anza-Borrego and the Salton Sea

Last Saturday, we drove out to see the "super bloom" that is underway in the Anza-Borrego desert. We have had a lot of rain in Southern California this winter, and that means that there are more flowers than usual in bloom. We don't go out to see the desert wildflowers every year—it is a long drive, so the trip takes an entire day, and we get busy. But I really wanted to see them this year.

The advice was to go early, but the kids do gymnastics on Saturday morning, so we went in the afternoon. We headed out as soon as we could get organized after gymnastics. We stopped for a quick lunch in Ramona, and then drove to Anza-Borrego. It was a pleasant drive, until we were about halfway down the mountain pass going into town: then we caught up with the traffic jam. We crawled forward, which at least gave me the opportunity to take pictures like these:

Sadly, the best view of the desert lupins we got all day.
At least, I think that's what those purple flowers are.

If you aren't used to seeing ocotillo, you maybe don't realize how weird it is to see them this green.

Desert mountains

A little bit outside of town, we saw a lot of people pulled over, and decided to join them. We walked along looking at flowers, and even climbed a small hill.

Yes, Petunia wore her Elsa hat on the hike.

Pretty little flowers, like a carpet!

Pretty flowers intertwined with a cactus.

Close up on a flower whose name I do not know.

Cactus in bloom.

Happy to have at least seen some flowers up close, we decided to go to the park visitor's center. We didn't make it there. The line was too long, and Petunia needed a bathroom. So we went instead to a town park for a break, then decided to go see a couple of the flower fields that had been mentioned in the park info I'd looked up.

The second stop was amazing. It is hard to describe how beautiful it is to see a field of yellow flowers in a desert. My picture doesn't do it justice.

This was more impressive in person.

After that stop, we decided we'd seen enough flowers. We were also only about 30 minutes' drive from the Salton Sea, an inland lake that was created by an accidental water release from the Colorado River in 1905. (I won't go into details here, but although this particular event was man-made, there is evidence that similar events happened naturally over the centuries. If you want to know more, the Wikipedia article has some details.)

On our way to the Sea, we stopped to admire a little canyon that is popular with off-road vehicles.

We didn't see the dirt bikes while we were stopped, but we could hear them.

We approached from the Salton Sea from the west, via Salton City, which is a weird mix of inhabited and uninhabited buildings. Mr. Snarky said it reminded him of the computer game he is playing right now, which is set in a post-apocalyptic Nevada. We parked at an abandoned dock, and then walked out to the sea... over a field of bones.

At first you think it is shells.

Then you notice the little skeletons.

The bones are from fish, birds, and barnacles. The kids alternated between being excited to find cool bones and thinking it was creepy to be walking on so many dead things.

The sea itself is calm, and beautiful.

The water was eerily calm.

The Sea is a bird sanctuary.We didn't see many birds on our visit, though.

Oh, and there was dried mud. Petunia LOVED that. I still haven't cleaned that off our shoes. They are sitting in a plastic bag in the garage. It did, however, vindicate my decision to pack some wet wipes in the car bag.

Petunia thought the big mud flakes were super cool.
Pumpkin is looking at a bird skeleton, I think.
We lingered for awhile, then walked back to our car and drove away. We drove back west through Ocotillo, and drove back into the mountains. The drive through the desert towards the mountains may have been my favorite part of the day. The late afternoon light on the desert, with mountains in the distance turned purple-blue by the disappearing light is something special. I don't have any pictures of that, and I doubt the pictures would capture the magic, anyway. It was the sort of view that made me wish I could paint.

My plan was to have dinner in Julian, but in retrospect, that was a bad plan once we decided to stop at the Salton Sea. I knew that everything in Julian closes early. I knew that there was really only one restaurant that would be open and acceptable to my kids. There was no particular reason to go to Julian that day. We could have continued south from the Salton Sea and joined up with the 8 in El Centro, having dinner at one of the tried and true chains we've stopped at before on our many drives to Arizona.

But, for whatever reason, we drove to Julian. The road through the mountains was windy (I knew this, too) and Petunia felt a little queasy by the time we arrived. The restaurant wouldn't have a table for us for an hour, and there was nothing much to do since all of the shops were closed. Inexplicably, instead of just driving on to Wynola or even all the way to Ramona, we waited. We were seated and got our dinner eventually, but by that time, the kids were too tired to really eat. Mr. Snarky and I enjoyed our meals, though. Then we loaded the kids into the car and I drove us home. The kids got to bed very late that night, but that didn't really bother them the next day. So I guess all is well that ends well.

Still, I wonder if I'll be able to convince them to go back to Julian during the daytime someday, or if I've spoiled it for them. It really is a cute little town when things are open, and they might not eat the apple pie for which the town is famous, but I do.... Maybe I'll put it on next year's family fun list.

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