In 48 desert hours, I found these 22 Insta mirages

A road in the desert
Borrego Springs Road, Borrego Springs.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
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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.

A header reading "Palm Springs"

A giant sign reading "Indian Land" held up by scaffolding
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

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.

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Palm trees in a desert
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

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.

A creek with rocks and trees around it
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

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.

A header reading "Bombay Beach"
A sunset scene on a beach with a sign reading "Bonolith" and a wooden monolith figure
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
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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.

An abandoned couch in Bombay Beach, a community of artists and retirees.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

5. I keep wanting the couch to blink. ...

A variety of painted televisions in Bombay Beach.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

6. … Or one of the TV images to flicker.

A swing in the middle of the Salton Sea.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

7. I’d love to know who put this swing set here.

A massive, metal sculpture made from scrap.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

8. This is “Lodestar” by artist Randy Polumbo. And yes, it’s been to Burning Man.

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An abandoned tub in the Salton Sea.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

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.

A building with a Sotheby's International Reality sign in Bombay Beach.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

10. Read closely. INTERNATIONAL REALITY. It’s a fake real estate office. And while we’re reading ...

Borrego Springs
A sign reading "Slow comma adults at play"
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

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.

The silhouette of an animal sculpture at sunrise
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles 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.

A dragon sculpture out of the ground
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
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13. This is everyone’s favorite: a Breceda serpent that’s visible in segments like a sea monster breaching.

A giant elephant sculpture with mountains in the background
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

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.

Joshua Tree
A key linked to a keychain with a tag for Hi Desert Motel
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

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.

A bed with a painting of horses above it
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

16. Room 105. Wait. Is anybody else craving avocados?

Landers
A white dome
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
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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.

A round window at the peak of a rounded ceiling
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

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.

A hardwood floor with white maps on the ground
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

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 ...

Pioneer Town
A hand holds up a glass of beer in front of a crowd
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

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?

People stand in front of a wood stage on a dirt ground with string lights above
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

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.

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Cabazon
A giant dinosaur with a shirt saying "I heart CA"
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

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?