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Navigating the CA & AZ Desert ~ Part 2/2

I stopped in Niland, CA after making my way through the canyon and traveling along the Salton Sea. I was searching for Salvation Mountain which serves as a warm welcome to Slab City. The home to those who lived off of the grid by way of not paying rent, taxes, or participating in what you and I know as society today. Even more so, it was depicted in the film “Into the Wild” which I love and made me more enthralled to bring something on TV to surreal reality. Not to mention seeing the Tree of Souls, but we’ll get to that.

Salvation Mountain has a fascinating history. It was created out of adobe clay, donated paint, and years of labor by US Veteran Leonard Knight whose sole purpose was to spread the word of God through a simple message of love.  He dedicated almost three decades of his life to building this mountain in the desert withstanding temperatures often exceeding 115 degrees before he passed on in 2014 at the age of 82.  A picture of Leonard remains inside the mountain and is shown below.

To this day the mountain is maintained with Slab City remaining just beyond it with the Tree of Souls. This place is its own world and remains hard to describe in words. I recommend you take a visit if you ever have the opportunity to experience it for yourself.

Later leaving Slab City I continued on my way home to Arizona and before crossing the state line, I was greeted with sand dunes. The same sand dunes which were seen in Star Wars. More specifically, Return of the Jedi.  And never have I seen so much sand rolling through the landscape as far as I could see. Because I was pressed for time I didn’t want to pay a fee to enter the dunes themselves, I settled on taking a few photos from the roadside before making my way home where I witnessed yet another fantastic sunset.



The photo above is where Leonard Knight lived.

The Tree of Souls. Above and below photos.




Navigating the CA & AZ Desert ~ Part 1

Roughly three weeks ago, I made the journey to California to drop off my daughter for her winter break. This is an eight hour roundtrip trek. I figured since I’m already traveling a great distance, I might as well take a detour on the way back and explore with my camera in tow!

I started near Joshua Tree National Forest and that in itself was a possible destination. I grew up in the Joshua Tree rich Antelope Valley so I wasn’t too keen on seeing something I’m so familiar with. I wanted to see something new! Instead, I decided to head towards the Salton Sea.

Venturing off Interstate 10, I took Box Canyon Road which leads to the city of Mecca. This road also travels near the San Andreas Fault, which makes for some great rock formations to check out as you travel along the fourteen mile stretch before exiting and crossing the Coachella Canal.

Rock formation created by the San Andreas Fault

Rock formation created by the San Andreas Fault


Driving through the canyon

Driving through the canyon


Coachella Canal

Coachella Canal

Driving six miles past the Coachella Canal, I could see the Salton Sea. This large body of water is the largest lake in California. It’s also man-made by mistake! In 1905, some engineers diverted water from the Colorado River to this farming area. The canals were not able to sustain this amount of water and overflowed into the Salton Basin, filling the dry lake bed. For two years, it overflowed before action was taken to correct the matter.

Pelican flying along the Salton Sea shore

Pelican flying along the Salton Sea shore

The Salton Sea became a well sought out tourist attraction in the 50’s and 60’s. People started buying land, building homes, restaurants and even a yacht club! This was short lived. By the 1970’s, the salinity of the lake increased, in combination with pesticides from local farms, which ultimately killed the lake. The fish started dying off in droves, creating a stench that still exists there today. All construction of homes, streets and all else was quickly abandoned.

One area along the Salton Sea is Bombay Beach. It was an up and coming area to reside in until the lake took a turn for the worst. I stopped here to see what was left and was shocked to see people still live here. There are 295 people according to a 2010 census. There are also ruins from unfinished streets littered with power poles. Buildings that had simply fallen apart over time and others still standing with disturbing, interesting graffiti. As many have described before me, it’s quite apocalyptic and I agree whole heartedly.

Welcome! =P

Welcome! =P


This used to be all underwater.

This used to be all underwater.


Unfinished Streets

Unfinished Streets


Ruins of Bombay Beach

Ruins of Bombay Beach (See the stove?!?!)


Ruins of Bombay Beach

Ruins of Bombay Beach

While continuing my drive through Bombay Beach, I did enjoy the local resident decorations that added to the strangeness that remains.



I look forward to another opportunity to spend more time in Bombay Beach and perhaps to interact with the local residents. I’m sure they have some interesting stories that I would love to hear and share. This time I had to move on and continue my adventure home, heading along the Salton Sea and the neighboring train tracks.

The continuation of this blog will touch base on my experience through Slab City, Salvation Mountain, the Imperial Sand Dunes and more. Thank you for reading, share your thoughts in the comments and stay tuned!

Superstition Mountains


Friday evening a storm came through the valley bringing rain that lasted throughout the night into morning. The cooler weather was welcomed and I opened the windows to get some fresh air. I relaxed most of the day and did some quick research on hiking the Superstition Mountains with intent of taking advantage of the lower temps. I found a trail called the Treasure Loop Trail within The Lost Dutchman State Park that would take me to an area with natural rock like sculptures called the Praying Hands which I’ve only seen from a distance. And with the recent rains, I knew visibility would be at it’s best.

On this journey I was hoping to find some some pools of rain water that would give my camera something to play with. I had already pictured a desert floor with a small pool of water reflecting the sky with some saguaros and jumping cactus, but I didn’t find that. To my surprise as I drove along East Dutchman Boulevard, a large still puddle rested on the side of the road. I was ecstatic as it reflected the mountains perfectly along with the sky and I quickly snapped a few photos.

I reached the state park, grabbed my camera gear, and set forth. I’m fortunate to live so close to this scenic area and it’s surrounding destinations such as the Salt River, Saguaro Lake, Canyon Lake, and more. However, this was my first time hiking right up to the very base of the Superstitions. It was amazing to take in such views of the valley and put in perspective how large this mountain range is. It’s definitely one thing to see the Superstitions from the valley floor and quite another to be right there in front of them. But I won’t drag this blog entry any further. I”ll let the photos speak for themselves.

A view of Four Peeks off in the distance.

Working my way up.

Treasure Loop Trail Marker

You can see Phoenix in the distance.

A panorama to try and capture what it’s like up there.

The sun was setting as I hiked back down.

Sedona, AZ ~ An Unexpected View


Nothing prepared me for this experience a couple of months ago. It was one of those majestic moments where no matter how much you’ve read about it or the number of photos you’ve seen…you can’t compare it to the actual experience. Knowing this, I made every effort to capture a piece of that moment. In this instance, it was the exhilaration of standing on the edge of a cliff overlooking Sedona. My camera sitting on the tripod with a near half mile drop two feet away in three directions from where I stood.  Was I nervous? No. I should’ve been but I was hell bent on getting my photos.

Backtracking now; a few weeks ago my buddy Jason left California for better opportunities here in Arizona. Within a couple of days of his arrival, I introduced him to some of my favorite local areas including the Superstition Mountains, Canyon Lake, Granite Reef Dam and more. He’s an aspiring photographer and promptly took to the landscape with his camera and snapped hundreds of shots. He was impressed with the Sonoran Desert and I knew introducing him to Sedona would flip his lid. So I sent him a few Sedona photos I had taken in the past and we made plans to head out there the following weekend.

The evening before the trip, like any trip, I prepped my camera gear. Sitting at my desk I cleaned the lenses, formatted my SD cards, and ensured all the batteries were charged. During this ritual my buddy Trent sent me a text asking me if I had plans for the weekend. He’s a photographer as well so I happily invited him to join us for the trip.

Saturday morning I spent time with my family, got my haircut, and made sure the car was ready for the trip. I picked up Jason at noon and proceeded to Trent’s. When I arrived at Trent’s, he was sitting in his Nissan Titan with the door open. I popped the trunk to my Civic and told him to load up. Per usual, he placed a couple firearms along with his camera (this is Arizona!). We were ready to hit the road.

We made our way out of the valley heading north on Interstate 17. Little to Jason’s knowledge, Trent and I knew knew to stop  at Big Rock Cafe for pie. Now, the pie there is absolutely amazing. So amazing in fact that they have a website where you can order pies for FedEx delivery. So while Jason thought this was an odd stop at first, he quickly understood after having a slice of blueberry pie. Fun fact for you…Big Rock Cafe has been known to sell up to 50,000 pies in any given year. That’s over 4,000 pies a day. So after stuffing our faces, we continued on.

Nearing the town of Campe Verde and starting to get low on fuel, I decided I would gas up in Sedona since it was only thirty miles away. But after passing Campe Verde, Trent asked if I wanted to see an amazing view of Sedona. I took him up on the offer and we continued along I-17. I started questioning Trent’s destination when he told me to keep going as I passed Sedona to the west of us. We went so far north I was nearly thirty miles from Flagstaff before he told me to take the Schnebly Hill Road exit. Finally I thought, we’re nearly there. But I was ill prepared for the road ahead…the dirt road.

Schnebly Hill road is only paved for 400ft. After that, it’s a dirt road through the Coconino National Forest. At first the Civic was fine as I trucked along. Further down, the road became riddled with large rocks half buried in the ground. I found myself white knuckled, concerned about the dwindling gas, and veering left/right as needed to avoid the large rocks that would surely immobilize the vehicle. Why didn’t we take Trent’s truck!?!? Trent and Jason cracked jokes about my driving and concerns. I was only hoping our efforts would be greatly rewarded and Trent assured me they would. Still, I was questioning his judgment.

Through the forest I traveled uphill, came around a bend and there it was. The mountains of Sedona. It was an amazing sight and I immediately thankful for Trent’s suggestion. It was worth it. He smiled at me smugly. I stopped the car and we took a few photos before Trent suggested we continue onward for the next area which was our true destination.

We pulled off the road into a dirt area where a Pink Jeep was parked. For those unaware, the Pink Jeeps are for tour guides located in Sedona and charge $59 a head. I took a few photos of the jeep and headed on over to the cliffs edge. This is where the experience became unreal. The view of the red mountains with Sedona itself off in the distance left me breathless. Clouds were slowly heading north with the sun randomly peeking through. How do I capture a photo that truly represents this I thought to myself? I snapped photos immediately and climbed down the cliff a little. This isn’t an easy feat with a 20lb backpack and a tripod, but I managed it carefully and with perseverance. You see, there is always that one shot you have to get. The one shot that makes it all worth it. Even if that means taking on calculated risk.

I found an area where the cliffside was protruding further and further out onto the edge. This was my ticket for the must have shot composed in my head. I wanted the cliff to the right with the tree near the top right of my frame. The canyon bottom frame and the clouds top frame. In the distance I knew Sedona would be captured. But I had to get to the furthest edge. I slowly worked my way out to the spot with little room to setup the tripod, let alone stand. I remained mindful of what little room I had knowing it was a half mile drop to the bottom. I snapped my photos. There was this moment where I just stood there…attempting to take it all in before I made my way back. Surreal.

On my way back to the car, Trent and I heard people wondering how the hell a Civic made it up there. We were going to drop down into Sedona the way the Pink Jeeps came, but if they were impressed I made it up here in a Civic, I thought better to go back the way I came. So back to the dirt road it was. Timing was fortunate since it started snowing on our way out. I dodged the buried rocks again and made it to the freeway…and a gas station.