Joshua Tree, Salton Sea, and Salvation Mountain, April 2012 - Willow Hole and Barker Dam in Joshua Tree, Bombay Beach by the Salton Sea
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12 April 2012 Thursday: It seems like every time Lisa and I go to Joshua Tree in the spring, we have beautiful warm weather before and after we go, but while we're there, we have rain, cold, and wind. It was no different this time.

But we managed to slip in through the cracks and get some hikes in while it was not windy or raining. Or even that cold.

We'd go for a four-hour hike along the Boy Scout Trail to Willow Hole and back, and it'd be nice, but when we got back to the cottage in Joshua Tree, the cold wind would start kicking up and it'd start raining.


A Joshua Tree just off the Boy Scout Trail in Joshua Tree National Park in the high California desert.


Geek Talk:
I just purchased a used Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 wide-angle lens for my Nikon D90, and naturally when you first get a new toy, you have to use it all the time. I used to shoot a lot more wide-angle when I was shooting film, so this felt good to back to it. Since the D90 is not full-frame and utilizes a smaller sensor, the lens is at I believe 17.6-25.6mm, which is still considerably wider than my 18-200mm, which would be about 27mm. Almost every single photo on this and the next page are shot with the Tokina lens.

I don't ever get tired of going to Joshua Tree National Park. The otherworldliness of the rocks and landscape look like a planet Captain Kirk and Spock might have beamed down to, and I always feel calmer due to the clean air and peacefulness.

After going up the Boy Scout Trail, we took a right turn, walking very slightly uphill on Willow Hole Trail, which offered beautiful views of Mt. Gorgonio along the very sandy paths, as you see here.

A cluster of the otherworldly rocks and bush along Willow Hole Trail as we continued up the sandy path.

After a while, Willow Hole Trail enters my favorite place in the park, the Wonderland of Rocks, as we followed the wash up further, occasionally climbing over walks during the four hour hike (round-trip).


Geek Talk:

I shot into the sun but got rid of the lens flare because I forgot to bring the lens hood with me. However, I kept the rainbow in the lower left of the photo because I love the way it looks! Why not...


Near the end of the Willow Hole Trail, as it becomes more apparent that any further there is no real trail and requires lots of rock scrambling. We did this for a while and then turned back.

Walking back toward the Boy Scout Trail on the Willow Hole Trail, and back to the cottage before the cold tree-bending winds came back for some homemade food from Lisa.

13 April 2012 Friday: It rained the night before, and the weather forecast had called for rain today. But to our surprise, we looked outside and saw clear blue skies, so we seized the moment, going to Barker Dam, which also enters the Wonderland of Rocks, but from the opposite side that Willow Hole does.

The Barker Dam Loop goes past the Barker Dam, built by cattlemen in 1900. From there, we almost always veer from the loop and walk down the wash that follows a valley that heads toward Hidden Valley. This time, I climbed up some very large rocks to find myself between this rock and a hard place. One of the things I love about Joshua Tree is how you can find a giant boulder the size of a house sitting by itself, as this was on top of the tall rocks.

Cheesebush. Yes. A bush that smells like cheese. I want to name my band Cheesebush. This is a fine idea, is it not?

The clouds advanced. Rain was imminent. We drove back to the cottage, lucky to have squeezed in a lovely hike in good weather. Shortly after returning to our cottage, the cold tree-bending wind again kicked up, and along with it, more rain. But we had flouted the weather again, and were in a warm cozy cottage eating homemade food.

14 April 2012 Saturday: We awoke to good weather. After eating breakfast burritos at Santana's in Joshua Tree, we drove through Joshua Tree National Park toward the South Exit. This tree, which seems like some sort of Biblical tree to me for some reason, is located in a sandy wash in the Cottonwood Mountains near the south part of the park.

Our destination for today? The Salton Sea and Salvation Mountain. We chose to drive through the park because, well, the park is nice, but also to avoid driving east on the 10 Freeway. Why? The Coachella Music Festival had begun! And while it was difficult to miss Radiohead and a holographic Tupac, the surrealistic Salton Sea beckoned.

We drove through the park, over the 10 Freeway, through Box Canyon (which reminded me of Valle de la Muerte in the Atacama Desert in Chile), past Mecca (yes, a town named Mecca), and south along Hwy. 111, which skirts the east side of the Salton Sea.

Our first stop? Bombay Beach.

Bombay Beach, on the shores of the Salton Sea and 228 feet below sea level, was founded as a private development in 1929, but became popular with vacationers and retirees for the desert climate and water recreation opportunities. In 1976 and 1977, storms threatened the community, as the water level rose several feet, taking out part of the town. Today, a large berm protects the tow, but not before the storm took back some of the homes that still lay rotting all these years later.

Bombay Beach is about a square mile, consisting of several hundred people living in about 500 properties, mostly mobile homes. During rainy months, the area here beyond the large dirt dike here, once part of a prosperous fishing town, can become extremely muddy.

California's natural infinity pool.

The remains of a pier, Bombay Beach.

The Salton Sea - California's largest lake

This lake is a shallow, saline, endorheic rift lake located directly on the San Andreas Fault, predominantly in California's Imperial Valley, and is about 226 ft (69 m) below sea level. The deepest area of the sea is 5 ft (1.5 m) higher than the lowest point of Death Valley. The sea is fed by the New, Whitewater, and Alamo rivers, as well as agricultural runoff drainage systems and creeks.

It's this agricultural runoff and drainage, along with the high salinity of the rivers, that make this water rather putrid. Tons of tilapia wash up on shore, and the water has a peculiar odor.

The lake hasn't been around for long, though. The Salton Sea as we know it began in1905, when heavy rainfall and snowmelt caused the Colorado River to swell, pouring over headgates for the Alamo Canal, gushing down the New River and Alamo Rivers, rushing over an Imperial Valley dike, and carrying the entire volume of the Colorado River to create the Salton Sea in two years.

The Salton Sea, however, has no outflow, so all the salt, all the runoff, and all the drainage stays in this salt-encrusted water.


Geek Talk

This is a long exposure shot taken with the Nikon D90 and Tokina 11-16mm f2/8 lens and a B+W ND1.8 filter, keeping the shutter open for several seconds at f/22 to create the milky effect from the water. Shortly after I took this photo, while switching lens, one of the legs of my Feisol tripod suddenly shortened after it had been standing for five minutes, sending my camera plunging lens-first into the sand. Nothing appears permanently damaged, but it took a long time to brush the sand out of the lens, filters, and camera.

The Salton Sea ecosystem is crucial to migrating birds, such as this egret, and since the 1950s, when this lake was used as a resort for celebrities and vacationers, environmentalists and politicians have been trying to figure out a way to restore ("save") the lake.

A Bombay Beach resident walking along the remains of a pier in the Salton Sea. The lake, about 525 square miles, is the largest lake in California.

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Ken's photos of Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as photos of Peru, Burma, India, Morocco, China, Thailand, Ghana, Ecuador, and elsewhere, have appeared in many books, magazines, websites, and galleries.  Visit the Ken Lee Photography Website. Some of Ken's select photos may be purchased through his Imagekind Store.

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Joshua Tree, Salton Sea, Slab City, and Salvation Mountain, April 2012
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