Paradise Lost- A Visit To The Salton Sea

Is there a stranger sensation than coming upon a large body of water in the middle of a desert. The sight of Lake Mead suddenly appearing after hours traversing the lonely Nevada alkali, or Lake Powell emerging from the Colorado Plateau, studded with pontoon boats and jet skis. And then we have our own version, here in California:

Its surprising how unfamiliar many Californians are with the largest body of water within the state; the Salton Sea. Last month, while down in Palm Springs, I spent the day out near the Salton Sea, a truly bizarre and beautiful place. The Sea is an accident- it was formed in 1905 when the Colorado River, swollen from rain and snowmelt, overflowed the headgates of a canal, and flowed unimpeded into the Imperial Valley and the Salton Sink. The water flowed into the sink for the next two years , thus creating this massive new lake. Here’s the map, and you can just see the Colorado at the far right:

Paradise Lost

This vast new lake soon became a target for development, and a vast recreation mecca was dreamed of, and began to be realized. Huge developments along the north and east shores of the sea were planned and developed in the late 50’s and early 60’s. One can only imagine the optimism as developers envisioned the booming metropolis to the east sending a steady stream of recreation enthusiasts east to these new resorts.

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Urban Ambles Travels Part 1- Desert Ghosts and Route 66

It was time to get away. A recent gig completed, and the current job picture still rather absurd,  it seemed like a good time for a Roadtrip. This trip was a bit more ambitious than last year’s. It again included a trip into the Mohave Desert, but also stops in the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and back in California; Big Sur. This is part 1 , the trip en route to the Grand Canyon. This segment takes us south from San Francisco, through the Mohave Desert and into Arizona, traveling long stretches on old Route 66, through the requisite abandoned places, scrappy enclaves of artists, and some of the delightful oddities of Route 66.Here is the Mohave Desert /Route 66 segment of this journey, (click on it for larger view):

Ghost City

Our first stop took us to California City. It sits in the high desert, north of Edwards Air Force Base. What, never heard of it ? It’s actually  the 34th largest city in the country in terms of area. So why visit a place that, per the map below, looks like just another sprawling bland suburb:

The reason for the visit is that it hasn’t quite turned out that way, here is what it actually looks like from the air. The streets are there, but nothing else- click on the photo to see a larger view:

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Grand Tour.9-Escaping To Treasure Island

Do not fear loyal reader -The Grand Tour (Recession Version!)  continues, after a brief hiatus. To recap, we have made our way south from the Golden Gate Bridge,to the south bay, and back up to the through East Bay. Part 9 takes us to our second island on the tour: Treasure Island. Here’s the route:map

As most know, Treasure Island is a man made island, linked by a causeway to the the “natural” Yerba Buena Island, through which millions of us have passed through on  arriving in San Francisco .The impetus for its creation was the hosting of the 1939-40 World’s Fair.

Being held as it was at the end of the 30’s; the World’s Fair  perhaps unintentionally marked the wind down of the glorious deco/moderne period in American architecture, a period of highly-stylilized and geometrically chiseled building facades and sculptural figurines. There is currently a show at the Presidio Officer’s Club that has some outstanding photos, guidebooks, and maps commemorating the 70th anniversary of the fair. Here’s a few remarkable excerpts.



The World's Fair- buildings to lower right still exist
The World’s Fair- buildings to lower right still exist
The promenade to Pacifica-goddess of the fair
The promenade to Pacifica-goddess of the fair
Pavilion buildings with moderne sentries
Pavilion buildings with moderne sentries

The plan at the time of the island’s inception was  to host the Fair, and then turn the island into the main bay area airport. But the navy offered  a land swap to the city, for some of their land on the penisula, (the future SFO). Treasure Island thus became a naval base, and stayed that way until it, along with the Presidio, were decomissioned in 1996. The island is part of the city of San Francisco, and while the Navy has not yet officially handed over the island, it functions as part of the city. It is home to about 1,500 residents housed in former naval housing, along with the Treasure Island Job Corp, and a film studio. There are very few services on the island, and public transit is limited to one Muni bus line- the trusty 108- that connects it to the city.

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California Road Trip-Part 2: Route 66 and Other Blue Highways

The second part of the road trip took me from Bakersfield down into the desert. The route takes us down into the LA area, then east on Route 66, and then on to Palm Springs. After a few days of R&R, the leg continued north, some more time on 66, then up into the Mohave National preserve. Here’s the route (and if you missed Part 1, its right below this post): Trip Map-2


If  El Camino Real represents the primordial, this route reflects a more recent past, the automotive past and the immense changes that have occurred in Southern California in the last 75 years. As most everyone knows, Route 66, i.e.  the  “Mother Road” ,was a conduit for midwesterners answering the call of a paradise, real or imagined , in California. Some vintage postcards reveal the era of road travel at that time- the roadside attraction (gas,food,lodging) en route, and the promise of California, orange groves and endless sunshine.

Route 66-3
Wigwam Village
Route 66
Fontana??- Really??

Old Route 66 through the inland empire can be generally  traced from Colorodo Blvd. in Pasadena, and eventually out on  Foothill Blvd all the way to San Bernadino. For the most part of course, little remains of the original road and its abundant roadside attractions, but some do still exist, which makes for a fascinating contrast.

Most of this route is the same , mile after mile of mind-numbing sprawl. But every couple miles, you trip over something, either the result of an expressed devotion to preserve it, or the result of a lack of economic development in the area. some communities embrace their 66ness, others have completely eradicated its presence

Unlike much of what one sees today , many of the old attractions bursted with whimsy, vernacular expressions of the uniqueness of the place, or  of what the building offered, up to and including actually becoming what it sold. En route to Route 66, I stumbled on two great examples:

Shoe Repair- Bakersfield, CA: Watch your head
Shoe Repair- Bakersfield, CA: Watch your head
Drive Thru Donuts!!!!- La Puente, CA
Drive Thru Donuts!!!!- La Puente, CA

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Buffalo Tales- Part 2: Ghosts and the Shrinking City

Ghosts, and there are many, abound in Buffalo. They are alternatingly beautiful and heartbreaking. This a brief tour of some of what I saw, with some thoughts on the future.


The old waterfr0nt in Buffalo was the engine that got things rolling in the 19th century. Well into the 20th century, ships with cargo from Midwestern cities would travel the Great Lakes, unload in Buffalo, and then the cargo would be later shipped by train or canal to  East cities and beyond. The grain elevators, invented in Buffalo in the 1840’s, were basically large storage containers for grain  on its way to a final destination.

It must of been quite a site in its heyday. In the early 20th century, the French modernist architect Le Corbusier, who among other things, popularized those  glasses he’s wearing, came to the US and marveled at the industrial beauty before him, simple machine-like forms at a staggering scale. It had a profound influence on him.



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