I pulled into a spot in the crowded and cramped state campground, Silver Strand, in Coronado, California, yesterday. I was not in the best of moods, having pulled a trailer through the web of highways of Southern California the last five hours. My neighbor approached, too close for (my) comfort. “Hey,” he said, gesturing to the front of my truck with a beer can. “I see you’re from Maine. You drive all this way?”
You drive all this way? How to respond to that? So many options.
I smiled, so as to put my best face on, and pointing to the Airstream, said, “Didn’t fly it here.”
We came to southern California to stage our trip down to Baja. Then the do-do hit the fan. Or perhaps I should say, hit the Wall. I’m not going to wade into the politics here. The Trumpian dust-up regarding Mexico gave us pause. We grew apprehensive about pulling our fancy-pants silver trailer into a land possibly–and suddenly–less hospitable. (We’ve been to Mexico numerous times. The people are warm and honest, the culture inviting and gracious, the food outstanding.) I’ve done a good bit of adventure travel the world over. The Airstream project does not fit that profile and is not the goal of this project. Rather, we seek the opposite of adrenaline and excitement: peace and quiet, privacy, and harmony. Consequently, we decided to stay state-side. Why fix something that’s not broken, as the adage goes. (I’ve encountered two other travelers who also altered their plans as a result of current events.)
Regardless, here we are, knocking around the San Diego area for the next several weeks. It’s been a mixed bag. We spent a few days camping on the beach at Elijo Beach State Park. It was sunny and warm and we fell asleep to the breaking waves. It was also crowded and noisy. Night was interrupted by a commutor train that blew its whistle through town several times, dusk to dawn. Subsequently, we escaped up into the mountains, where the nights were cold (in the twenties) and the campground empty (just the way we like it). Currently we’re a few miles east of San Diego at the beautiful Sweetwater Summit Regional Park. There are hiking trails in abundance and world-class birding venues, as well as amenities like movie theaters, restaurants, and grocery stores.
The plan for the next few months: As weather permits we will start to creep north. We’re meeting friends in the Bay area late March, after which we will contune on to the Pacific Northwest. We plan continuing north to Alaska where we hope to spend the summer of 2017. From there we’ll likely head east. We have another grandchild due in September in Maryland. We won’t miss that.
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There has not been much to report of late. I suspect it is going to remain that way for a while. Consequently, I’m going to take a break from The Airstream Diaries. I plan, however, on keeping the “Where Are We?” widget up to date. I invite you to tag along with us on Instagram. You’ll find us at @themainesituation. If you’re interested in my bird photography from the road, you’ll find that @traveling_birdman. And of course Carole and I are both on Facebook where we occasionally post updates.
We had hoped to make our way to San Diego for the Women’s March today, but we fell short by 150 miles. Suffice it to say, though disappointed, we could not be more pleased with where we ended up, the Salton Sea of southern California. We’ve been here five days and tomorrow we’ll be heading up to Joshua Tree. When I say “up” I mean, yes, we will be going north. But also up in elevation. J Tree is a big park and the elevation ranges from 2000 feet up to 5000. The Salton Sea rests at 226 feet, 4 inches, BELOW sea level. So indeed, up we shall go.
This place, the Salton Sea, is heartbreakingly beautiful. I say heartbreaking for many reasons. First, there is no one here but us and three or four other campers to enjoy it–and the local ranger told me it’s the height of the season. Back in the day this place was a busy recreational community. There was fishing and swimming and boating. The lake was spotted with local villages and little communities. But today that is pretty much all gone–all gone but the lasting beauty. The “sea” has a surface area of over 340 square miles. The salinity is twice that of the ocean and half of the Great Salt Lake of Utah. Therein lies part of the problem. As the lake continues to evaporate the salinity increases. The shore is lined with the desiccated remains of thousands of tilapia, though an estimated 40 million remain in the water’s depths. In the summer, with temps soaring to 120 degrees, imagine the smell. As the lake fell in popularity so too did the local communities. Mecca, the largest town by any measure is 9 miles north. Here’s what I mean by “any measure.” I ran out of bourbon the other evening. Next day we went into town for a refill. There is but one liquor store, Pete’s. Their selection consists of three short shelves of stock behind the counter. A small plastic bottle of Jack was as close as I could get to my Bulleit Bourbon. Cry me a river please, the burdens of the road are so very heavy!
A future threat to the Salton Sea is complete evaporation. There are three inlets and the politics of the situation are pointing to diverting the inlets, fresh water, to agricultural use. This would kill the ecosystem of the Salton Sea. The birds–American White Pelicans and Brown pelicans, in particular–gone, the fish, gone. But the trouble only begins. The Salton Sea, shore and muck
bottom are laced with DDT from the days of its heavy usage. Some of us remember those days before the EPA, environmental awareness and regulation. DDT was used widely before Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1961) shamed the government into doing something. Currently there is no danger as long as the water keeps everything in place. But if the water evaporates then the muck turns to dust. I talked to three scientists doing research at the water’s edge, shovels and boots type research. They are trying to determine the dangers of the DDT-dust. “Nobody seems, to care,” the researcher told me, an environmental scientist from UC. “No one lives here,” he continued. “They don’t get how far this stuff could travel. LA, for instance.” Sonny Bono made the comment shortly before he died that he intended on saving the Salton Sea. It was to be his legacy, he said. As I said, it is heartbreaking.