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Published: November 30th 2014
We spent a small part of our Thanksgiving afternoon strolling on Playa San Francisco watching a large group of dolphins frolicking in the waves about 30 yards off the beach. A formation of pelicans soared effortlessly just inches above the light surf. Tiny pastel pink conch shells littered the nearly deserted beach. The temperature was perfect and hardly a cloud shown in the sky. The sun would set in a couple of hours behind the beautiful mountain that rises dramatically out of the small natural harbor beneath it. We have been in San Carlos, Mexico for 3 weeks doing not much more than we are doing today.
San Carlos is located about 5 hours south of the Arizona border in a dramatic location where the Sonoran Desert meets the Sea of Cortez. Sharp, cactus covered peaks rise aggressively from the natural harbor filled with sea-ready sailboats gently rolling in the light breezes.
Like most of Mexico, it is beyond beautiful. In the past 3 ½ years we have travelled nearly everywhere in Mexico. Yucatan, Baja, Bajio and Chiapas. Beautiful beaches, magnificent mountains, crystal blue oceans, smoking volcanoes and dark green jungles are accessible. Ancient civilizations,
beautiful colonial cities and a unique mixture of Native American and European cultures are all found here in abundance.
We left the deserts of Southern California bound for Mexico 3 weeks before. The desert weather had begun to change and while the days were still warm, the nights had taken on an early chill. Winter was on its way and the sunny climes of Mexico seemed like the obvious place to go.
We spent our last couple of weeks in Joshua Tree busily visiting relatives and seeing some of the unique attractions of the Mojave Desert. We decided to visit the desert on the spur of the moment and it actually turned out to be one of our favorite places we have been. The funky pace of life and interesting people had grown on us. We continued to visit the National Park often during our stay and never tired of the primitive landscape of giant granite boulder formations and unique, oddly shaped trees.
We spent a couple of days touring nearby Palm Springs, once by ourselves and once with David’s sister who visited from Los Angeles. Palm Springs is famous for
its celebrity homes and mid-century architecture. 100 foot palm trees and giant power-generating windmills welcome the visitor to this artificially green oasis created by developers in the desert valley between the parallel mountain ranges that frame the area. Palm Springs has a style of its own. Sunlit days around a trendy hotel pool or shopping the art galleries of its busy downtown area followed by nights of neon in one of the trendy clubs or fine restaurants. It’s easy to picture the 1950 glory days of the town when celebrity encounters were quite common and intrigue was easy to find.
On another weekend we took off for the Salton Sea. The Salton Sea is actually an inland lake created many years ago by an accidental diversion of the Colorado River into one of the lowest points of elevation in the United States. Developers attempted to create a recreational paradise from the mistake. The sea has become progressively saltier over the years, to the point it no longer supports fishing or boating. The developments died off except for a few hardscrabble people who refuse to admit defeat.
The town of Bombay Beach is a good
example of the failed enterprise. Where once stood resorts and yacht clubs, the town is mostly abandoned houses and cars and an empty beach covered by cast-aside objects. The apocalypse-like setting attracts photographers and sightseers who try to imagine what might have been.
If Bombay Beach is the apocalyptic world, you can find the post-apocalyptic world a short way down the road near the town of Niland. Salvation Mountain is a small desert hill that was been turned into a religious tribute over a period of 30 years by a single faithful desert dweller. He used found or donated items, lots of adobe and 10’s of thousands of gallons of paint to construct the massive monument.
A little further down the road is Slab City, a deserted military base that is now used by squatters who live in trailers. Some stay all year, but most only arrive in the cooler winter months. Slab City has no water, sewage or electricity. The residents must create everything themselves. They even have a makeshift nightclub that hosts bands and their own radio station.
At the furthest end of the road, we met a resident
of the town of East Jesus. He gave us an interesting tour of this very unique enclave. East Jesus is best described as a year round Burning Man festival. It is populated by artists and progressive thinkers who definitely break the mold of anywhere we (or probably anyone else) have ever travelled.
We noticed many small abandoned houses in the Wonder Valley area near Joshua Tree during our visit. They are known as Jackrabbit Homesteads. In one of the last opportunities in the United States to get free land, plots of desert land were given away for free to hardy people who would make improvements within an allotted time. Most people built simple cabins on their new acquired land. For most settlers, the desert and lack of water proved too challenging and most moved on. Visiting the remains of many of these houses was a unique experience. Stoves, refrigerators, beds and dressers are silent reminders of dreams that must have been left behind in the desert landscape.
We left Joshua Tree and California with the intention of moving back to Mexico until Spring. After San Carlos we intended on visiting some of the colonial
mountain towns in Central Mexico where we have been in the past. As beautiful as Mexico is and as much as we enjoyed being here in the past, a strange feeling came over us during our stay in our small apartment near the marina in San Carlos. I think we realized that we didn’t really want to go back to somewhere we have been before. We enjoyed our few months travelling around the Southwestern United States and even though winter was coming, we wanted to be there more than we wanted to be in Mexico.
We will head north tomorrow morning. We are not looking forward to the chilly weather. We will have to purchase jackets as we did not even bring any with us; it’s been such a long time since we have had any use for them. Perhaps that is a small price to pay to be doing what you want to do. I think that having the ability to make an occasional U-turn is what living our vagabond life might be all about.
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