Blog Update 1/12/12
Recently we spent some time in a couple of pretty interesting places where I took lots of pictures, so I thought I should share them with you. The first place was Anza Borrego State Park, where we boondocked near Pegleg and took the car out for a drive towards Borrego Springs. Our first goal was to find the fruit stand where we had bought some oranges and grapefruit in the past, because they were so sweet and juicy. We found it and it was a corner stand with bags of fruit in stacks, prices posted on the wall and the honor system for payment. We bought 2 bags, ate an orange immediately and were again pleased with the quality of the fruit.
The second goal was to find some of the metal sculptures which our friend Laurie Brown had posted about on her blog. (She writes an awesomely interesting blog called “Semi-true Tales of Our Life On The Road”. Google it and click on it and you will enjoy reading it a LOT.) Apparently there are 129 of them in total. When you see signs on plots of land both south and north of town that say: “Galleta Meadows Estates, you will see behind the signs, huge, rust-red, metal sculptures of prehistoric animals and birds, horses, giant tortoises, and mastodons, some set well off the main road on winding, sandy tracks.
The sculptures are crafted by Ricardo Breceda. Beginning in early 2008, Dennis Avery, who owns about three square miles of undeveloped property throughout the desert town, commissioned Breceda to create a menagerie of metal beasts. Most are life-size or larger sculptures of creatures that once roamed the Borrego Valley when it was a lush forest. Mammoths, camels, turtles, wild horses and giant sloths are some of the pieces that have been attracting the curious to town.
Early last year Breceda installed an awesome 350 foot long serpent, with a dragon-like head, which even spans Borrego Springs Road. It took 7 months to build and install and cost Avery $40,000.
We definitely agree with Laurie when she says: “As interesting as the sculptures are, I am equally amazed by the generosity of Mr. Avery. Each of the Galleta Meadows Estates signs say the same thing: “Hiking, horseback riding, picnicking, photographing, bicycling – no motorized cycles, camping limit three days. Privately owned desert estate.” When was the last time you saw a sign inviting you onto private property? Inviting you to camp for up to three days? To stick around, explore, enjoy the interesting sights he has commissioned and installed for your pleasure? In a world of liability fears and “No Trespassing” signs, it seems miraculous. Borrego Springs has a great benefactor in Dennis Avery.”
The second place we visited was The Slabs, or Slab City, near Niland, CA. Our across the street neighbors at Park Sierra, Mary & Rich Baughmann, usually spend their winters there, and they invited us to stop by. We had never been there before and were curious about it. It was quite an amazing place, once we saw everything that was there.
When you drive into the area, the first thing you pass is this old guard house, now painted with a welcoming message and if you look at this picture carefully, it says “the last free place”.
Yes, it is a free place – it is an area that is now owned by the state of California, but between 1942 and 1946 it was a marine base called Camp Dunlap. The marine base was for artillery training and there is still a very large and active artillery range nearby. After WWII the camp was deactivated, the buildings were removed, leaving just the concrete floors and thus giving this area the name, The Slabs. People in buses and RVs started coming here and using the slabs for patios, gathering areas, etc. Over the years, different areas have developed to meet the needs of the various people who come here for extended periods of time.
The second thing you notice upon entering this area is a huge, colorfully painted area on the side of a mesa called Salvation Mountain.
Leonard Knight started painting his Biblical messages on the sides of this “mountain” in 1985. He used to sleep in the Salvation Truck, a decorated vehicle with a house on the back. The truck, like the mountain, is lettered with biblical quotations and a large "REPENT" warning. In December, he had to relocate to a care facility as his health deteriorated.
There is a large area for members of the LOWS (Loners On Wheels). The area where year-round residents stay is called Poverty Flats.
Not very many people stay here all year because the temperature gets above 125 degrees in the summer. But it is very nice in the winter and lots of people stay here between Oct and April, thus saving a lot of money to use the rest of the year.
Driving into the area, this is a picture of a typical camper there:
It often gives a bad impression to middle-class RVers, and they turn around and leave. Mary & Rich have been coming here for years and love it! They have an area where friends from years past come and camp with them. When we arrived, there was plenty of room for us to park and not be too close to any regulars. Their nearest neighbor, Larry, was almost finished building his little unique home:
It is on a flat bed trailer and he hauled it down from Oregon! Mary had arranged a very nice Happy Hour so we could meet their friends.
One of their friends was Chili Bob, a guy who has been camping there in the winters for 6 years, and Mary arranged for him to take us on a tour the next day. By the way, lots of people we met had nicknames, such as Chili Bob, Half Pint, New York Larry, etc. No one’s last name is ever used, and lots of people do not want their picture taken. Perhaps there are a few who have outstanding warrants, etc???!!!
He has a 4 wheel drive car and we needed that feature often. There are paved roads near the slabs, and firm and level gravel roads in other parts where people camp. But if you get off the beaten track at all, the surface gets soft in parts. He started by taking us to the library:
A woman had built this wooden structure, maintained it and organized the books until her death. Now it is still functional but deteriorating. Chili Bob said there were 4 libraries in Slab City.
Then we drove to the Gopher Flats Golf Course, an 18 hole course complete with flag pins in the holes, and tee areas. Of course, there aren’t any water hazards!
Right near it was the aqueduct which runs along the edge of Slab City with the artillery range on the other side.
It is fenced off, but the residents find a way to get in there and go swimming, especially in summer. On Jan. 1 they had a Polar Bear Plunge here. The water is irrigation water for the many large agribusiness fields in the area.
There is an area set aside where residents who have lost their pets have established a pet cememtery:
Further on are 2 huge water tanks which used to store water for the Marine base, and which now have been painted by local artists. One of them has big business logos on it,
while the other one is completely covered with fornication poses such as you would find in the Kama Sutra.
From the hill where the tanks are you can look down on some people who choose not to park in the more congested area of the actual slabs:
Next we drove to the hot spring
The water looks a little cloudy in this picture but there was a guy enjoying it and it usually is between 104 to 108 degrees, depending on where you are in the spring. As you would expect, it is a clothing optional area.
Leaving the Slabs area, Chili Bob drove us south to a geothermal plant where there were many large grayish mounds sticking up in a field. Here is a picture of me standing next to one,
which shows how tall they were. We climbed up on the top of one where there was an opening and we could see a large, bubbling mud pot.
The very hot water just under the surface, pushes up through the soil and makes these mud mounds. Bob told us that there were 9 geothermal plants in this area which collect the 550 degree water from under the ground, run it through turbines to create electricity, and then pipe it back into the ground to be warmed up again.
On we went to the nearby Salton Sea. It was created in 1905 and here is an explanation about it:
The water is very far from the previous shore line now, so there is a huge expanse of salt from the evaporation as it receded.
Just off shore there was a little island that was covered with sea birds. And not too far off was a big pile of salt left over from the days when they used to mine salt here.
There is an obsidian mound around the bend from the road in, which shows the extensive volcanic activity here. And near the shore there is also a nice wildlife preserve and small interpretive center named after Sonny Bono who used to be the congressman for this area. The funny thing was that there were hardly any birds in the actual wildlife area, while the 2 fields just before we got to the wildlife area were loaded with snow geese:
On our way back to the Slabs, we went through the town of Calipatria, where we saw a VERY tall flagpole, and this sign:
Heading back to the Slabs, we passed a natural gas plant which has set aside an entire acre of land which it is in the process of covering with solar panels.
We were happy to see this because they get so much sunshine down here, it is a shame to keep relying on fossil fuels when solar energy can be easily obtained.
Back at the Slabs we visited the Sculpture Garden started by some artists in the past and which has workshops and tents for ongoing art projects, as well as a viewing yard for some completed works. Here are just a few of the displays we enjoyed: a wall made of bottles and cement:
an artistic house just a bit on a slant
an art car
the sign on the back of the art car says: "beer, 4 out of 5 people prefer it to prozac".
Our last stop was at the Oasis Club. Membership dues ($20) cover the whole year, and meals, twice a week,have different prices. There is a library
and a roomy lunchroom. Mary & Rich play cards here several times a week. There is a nice garden, and it seems to be an enjoyable place for people to gather and interact with other residents.
The last night we were there, Mary & Rich had us over for a very nice dinner. We ate outside and it was getting pretty cold because this is the desert and it gets cold as soon as the sun sets.
Every night they have a campfire, and all the people staying in Mary & Rich’s area come over to share and chat. On Saturday nights, there is also a large slab area called The Range that has been set aside for musical groups to play under some large lights, with lots of old chairs and couches scattered around for people to sit and enjoy. Dances are held there too.
We were very glad that we visited The Slabs while we had friends there because we had a whole different impression of it than we would have had if we had just driven in there. And we saw a whole lot more thanks to Chili Bob’s tour. THANKS Rich & Mary, and Chili Bob!