Salton Sea – Mecca Beach

Blue skies and blue water. What’s not to like.

What I knew about the Salton Sea primarily came from my kids’ second grade California cookie project. I needed to volunteer to help with that when it was our daughter’s turn so that everything could be gluten free and Celiac friendly. Thus, through the creation of a ginormous, California shaped dessert, I learned of the sea’s existence by the required placement of a blue jelly bean. (I also learned not all jelly beans are gluten free) Later, we saw a movie called, “Salton Sea” (2019 version) and we became fascinated with the place.

It’s easy to imagine how resorts here became a thing.

A little history that you may know, but I didn’t …. The creation of the sea has been dubbed California’s worst environmental disaster ever. In 1905, a series of poorly executed irrigation plans led to a flood caused by the accidental diversion of water from the Colorado River into the Salton Basin. For a while, in the 50s and 60s, this was heralded as the fortuitous creation of a brand new resort destination. Communities and tourist accommodations popped up all along the banks of the huge water feature. Then things all started to go south when the combination of high salinity and runoff from farming caused massive wildlife die off and all the smells that would naturally go with that. Plus, there was major seasonal flooding that would decimate the newly established vacation sites. Now, it is a striking combination of ghost town, mixed with small rugged communities, surviving in an environment that was never meant to be. It has the feel of an illusion. Even the vast beaches that look like endless stretches of inviting sand turn out to be sharp, jagged salt deposits, exposed and dried out as the water levels slowly recede. If you time your stay unluckily, you might experience choking toxic dust events, or find yourself at ground zero during a “rotten egg” period where the smell can reach all the way to the coast.

Temps in the 80s sent us searching for the aluminet.

Our timing was not unlucky and it was actually quite pleasant. I would go back. Temperatures for us were in the mid 80s and there was only a strange, ‘what is that?’ smell if you stood right next to the water. The campground at Mecca Beach has a couple of hookup sites with great water views that don’t seem to be in very high demand. Every time I’ve looked to reserve a site there, when reservations somewhere else had gone horribly wrong, there always seemed to be availability. To a California camper, that is a concerning sign. And when we first arrived and were the only ones around, it was creepy. But then later, as other normal looking campers started filling in, it was just like any other campground. Except definitely don’t wear flip flops if you want to walk on the “beach.” Ouch.

Richard in his happy place.

Richard had the pleasure of riding up Box Canyon on one of the days. We’d driven through it before and it is just a stunning, E Ticket ride. I’m surprised it is not some kind of state park. And on the other day, we drove through Bombay Beach. This eccentric neighborhood strikes me as the place where people who go to “Burning Man” come home to live. Not that I have ever been to “Burning Man,” that’s just the vibe that I imagine. Some of the lots are filled with abandoned stuff, anywhere from trailers (so many trailers) to just junk. But some are clearly inhabited and have been turned into art projects. Some art projects have a theme, like a collection of painted televisions, or a drive in movie scene, to random collections of things, artistically assembled in someone’s yard. And then there are the big impressive metal sculptures. It’s confusing and fascinating and has enough of a unifying theme that outsiders are easily spotted.

Bombay Beach

One such glaringly out of place tourist group was actually a band, filming a music video. They were putting away their big band instruments when we arrived and were moving on to the individual singer shots, strategically positioned in front of any of the visually interesting structures on the beach. There was enough equipment, expensive looking bus, crew members and a drone, that I figured it must be a band someone had heard of. I took some pictures, planning to post them on Facebook and see who they were. They gave me some nods and waves, as though that would really thrill me. We then just had to ask, to satisfy curiosity. The drone operator said, “Night Ranger,” and when that didn’t seem to have any effect, he added, “an 80s hair band.” Still nothing from us but vague nods, so he went on, “Sister Christian.” We thanked him and googled it. It turns out all my facebook friends knew who this was and we were lame-o in the 80s. That is not news to me.

That’s a pretty nice blue jelly bean at the bottom of the state.

This was a winner of a spring break destination. Of the three reservable state recreation campgrounds, I liked this one. There is another place a few miles further north called the Headquarters Developed campground, but the sites are quite far back from the water, with a huge (empty) parking lot in front. There is a loop there called the New Camp that has a couple of hookup sites amongst the dry sites and that also seemed nice. The one down the road at Corvina beach looked more primitive and doesn’t appear to be reservable online, but also right by the water. There are long freight trains that run right along the shore, but I have the benefit of being mostly deaf when I take out my hearing aids. We used the dump station up at the Headquarters before leaving to track back home. Sigh. Home again, home again, Spring Break is too short.

Total miles from Anza Borrego: 108.5, 14.8 mpg, 3 hours, 5 min. Site 138 hookups, water view. Right by bathroom. Good LTE for both. Great solar. No dump – go a few miles north to Headquarters. Good dump.

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