In two days, I drove 570 miles through Southern California’s deserts and came across 22 mirages. All of which turned out to be real.
1. My first vision, at the edge of Palm Springs along Tramway Road, was a four-person crew dismantling this artwork, conceived by Nicholas Galanin for the Desert X exhibition that ended in May. While I walked in a circle around the words, the crew members pulled apart the “I.” Then they rested, and I went off to find a shadier hike, which turned out to be on Native land.
2. There’s nothing like a real oasis, and the creek in Andreas Canyon trickles even in triple-digit heat. It’s managed by Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, about five miles from the manicured palms and pools of Palm Springs.
3. Most of SoCal’s palms are fakes, imported species to make the place look tropical. One great exception is Washingtonia filifera, the California fan palm, and they’ve been growing in Andreas Canyon more or less forever. These are profoundly native — unlike, say, the Salton Sea.
4. Call this the Big Goof. In 1905, somebody tried to dig an irrigation ditch but spilled Colorado River water into the desert south of Indio — a lot of water, which we call the Salton Sea. It’s bigger than Lake Tahoe. It prospered into the 1950s as a vacation place.
Now the sea is foul and shrinking, and the artists of half-abandoned Bombay Beach are free to play on the shore and among the old vacation homes. Maybe, about a year after the apocalypse, all of Earth will look like this.
5. I keep wanting the couch to blink. ...
6. … Or one of the TV images to flicker.
7. I’d love to know who put this swing set here.
8. This is “Lodestar” by artist Randy Polumbo. And yes, it’s been to Burning Man.
9. Behold: the saddest Cialis ad ever. And the sea smells like someone has been mopping up rotten eggs while wearing dirty socks. I could barely tear myself away.
10. Read closely. INTERNATIONAL REALITY. It’s a fake real estate office. And while we’re reading ...
11. This sign at the Casa del Zorro in Borrego Springs, about 75 miles west of Bombay Beach, made me read twice. No, three times.
12. The next day I got up early to see sunrise over artist Ricardo Breceda’s bestiary. There are more than 120 metal creatures scattered around town. I think this one’s a sloth.
13. This is everyone’s favorite: a Breceda serpent that’s visible in segments like a sea monster breaching.
14. I probably came across 20 Breceda critters, mostly from inside the car with my AC cranked. When you roll out of town, it’s a little sad not to see them anymore.
15.When did you last use one of these? At the High Desert Motel in Joshua Tree ($84.36 per night), they’re still standard issue.
16. Room 105. Wait. Is anybody else craving avocados?
17. Meet the Integratron. A guy named George Van Tassel built this in Landers in the 1950s to communicate with Venus. Thanks to the acoustics inside, people come from miles around to take sound baths, $50 a head, and buy souvenirs.
18. From upstairs inside the dome, you recline (clothed but barefoot) on a mat while a host plays these bowls with mallets. They sound like church bells. Or feedback. Or the dial tone of creation. But no answer from Venus.
19. Once you’ve reclined, you can either close eyes or admire the dome: all Douglas fir. And once the insides of your ears are all clean ...
20. Why not dirty them up with the clink of steak knives, Mason jars (holding beer) and some live music at Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown?
21. To get into the patio area where the bands play at Pappy and Harriet’s, you show ID and proof of vaccination (and pay the cover fee). I wore a mask. Most didn’t. No extra charge for stars above.
22. That’s a pink brontosaurus foot in the foreground, because you can’t get back to L.A. without passing the cement dinosaurs at Cabazon, built in the ‘70s and ‘80s to promote a restaurant that’s gone now. Kids still love them. So do Instagrammers since management went to bolder colors in 2020. What’s not to like about a road trip that ends with a big, green Tyrannosaurus rex that loves California?
It's a date
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