Friday, January 28, 2011

This is What I’ve Heard About California

Note: Our nephews, Alan and Brian Duesterhaus and Brian’s wife Peggy are currently in Brazil on an agricultural exploration put on by the local farmer’s co-op back in Illinois where Peggy works.  Peggy is writing a blog of this unique adventure.  I’ve added a link to Peggy’s Agri Amazon Trip on the left sidebar.


Growing up a Midwesterner, I thought that California was full of grapefruit, oranges, palm trees, earthquakes and some pretty eccentric folk.  I guess after Thursday, we’ve experienced them all, and at least, on the part of the earthquake, didn’t even know it.

Caltech has a website that tracks California quakes and apparently we’ve had repeated quakes while here, including a 3.3 quake centered only about 30 miles away in Calexico.  That one was 9:13am Wednesday morning.  We would have been in the rig at that time. Didn’t notice a thing!  In Illinois that size quake would make the front page!!

I also grew up with the idea that someday California would have such a major earthquake that it would fall in to the sea.  Ok, well, it sounds like the imminent ‘big one’ is still a reasonable expectation but I now understand that the tectonic plates are pushing in at California, not out, so it’s not logical that such movement would cause the land mass to move out but instead should move east and up. Never really ever took the time to do any reading on it until now!

While we have the grapefruit, orange and palm trees in the RV park, we decided to take a little drive today in search of those eccentric California folk.  

I’d heard many years ago about the quirky little place called ‘The Slabs’ and it was a place I always thought would be interesting to visit.  When we were at Escapade last fall, we took time out for an at-home movie night with Dee and Jim at their rig, watching Into the Wild.  A portion of that story takes place at the Slabs so it reminded me I wanted this place on my adventure list.  I highly recommend you find and rent this DVD.  It is definitely in our top-10 all time favorites.

I’d heard repeatedly that its really not much to see, just a scattering of transient shacks and long immobile RV’s sitting out in the desert in a loosely connected community.  We considered giving it a pass but then, when I was in a really restless mood this morning, Ken said, what-the-heck, it’s a nice day for a drive, no expectations, we’ll just see what’s there.

One the way, using my EVO, I found one review, for one restaurant, Ballesteros,  in the little town of Niland, closest to the Slabs.  We found it next to a pretty grungy laundromat with a homeless lady wandering up and down the street mumbling.  I was having my doubts that I was all that hungry.  But, as it turned out we had some really awesome burritos there and a great homemade salsa.  Even better, as usual, we got to know some of the locals. The owner has a son back in the Midwest at the Fort Leonardwood military base.  A milk truck driver sitting at the next table filled us in on the latest local news—that morning somebody snatched a whole case of whiskey from inside the grocery/liquor store  across the street.  He also explained a little about the farming activities we’d been passing.  

The Imperial Valley, despite having only an average 3 inches of rainfall per year, is a mecca of agricultural production, with two crop cycles per year.  The area has one of the highest agricultural yields in the world because of its extensive network or canals and irrigation networks, most coming off the Colorado River via the 80 mile long All-American Canal.  We frequently crossed this canal or one of its offshoots throughout our drive.  This area uses 2/3’s of all of California’s river waters, and as water becomes an increasingly precious commodity here in the West, this water use becomes a bigger point of controversy. 

It was harvest season along our route. Below we got a shot of harvesting romaine lettuce.


The large fires we saw in the fields had us perplexed.  Our dairy trucker friend explained that once harvested the fields are burned to remove the crop stubble before being plowed and replanted.  This is only allowed on certain days and apparently is the subject of some controversy due to impact on air quality.


He also explained that a huge crop here is alfalfa which has brought in a lot of cattle feed lots as well.  Some of these huge lots where the animals were packed in for as far as the eye could see were right along the highway.  While Ken and I are confirmed carnivores, we did find this kinds of production a bit disturbing.





The federal, state and local governments appear to be turning a blind eye to Slab City so the signage is rather unique along the way.






There are thought to be maybe 250 permanent residents of Slab City living in a wide variety of housing configurations. 

The folks below, for example, have their own little compound with netting to provide shade and keep away critters.   There are old sofas sitting everywhere, looking like makeshift front porches.





There is a unique artistic flair to the way they ‘create’ in this community!






Especially this time of the year, the community has temporary residents from across the country.  As you can see, these are not your down-on-your-luck vagabond travelers.


Weekend entertainment takes place on an open stage with some interesting ‘theater seating’.  Apparently they draw quite a crowd and there is some pretty good local talent that takes their time at the mic.  This place is also featured in the ‘Into the Wild’ movie so we stopped by to take a look.


Some folks make this a four-wheeling destination.  The man in the right of the picture below, came up to talk to Ken and me,  offering us a flyer for a special benefit going on that weekend.   As it turns out, he played in the movie ‘Into the Wild’ as the drunken dad of the girl Christopher took up with at the Slabs.  Now I have to go back and watch the movie again!!


The primary attraction of this place in the middle of nowhere is Salvation Mountain.


Leonard Knight had created over many decades his monument to one very simple idea “God is Love”.


Below, Ken walks the ‘yellow brick road’ up Salvation Mountain.





To the side of the mountain are caves Leonard has shaped from desert woods, mud, straw and donated old tires. 



The colors are so vibrant and uplifting.  It’s estimated that there are over 100,000 gallons of donated paints used.


There’s a saying that you can’t leave anything sitting around here too long or Leonard will paint it!

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The highlight of 2011 so far has been getting to spend some time with this amazing little man, Leonard Knight.  You can look in to his eyes and just see love.  I found myself just reaching over now and again to touch him, he gave off this wonderful sense of enthusiasm and love.




When you ask him what he needs (eg., money, paint, etc.,)  he is quick to say that what he really wants now as he faces his 80th birthday is knowledge that his work and his simple message will last long after he is gone.   One step in the direction is that his mountain has now been named a ‘national treasure’ by Congress.


We were very lucky that there were few people around when we visited and so we enjoyed some unrushed time with Leonard.  I walked away feeling very refreshed and happy.

We took our time heading back to our RV park, checking out the 2-lanes we thought would be the best route to head to Borrego Springs with the motorhome.  We were back at the rig in plenty of time to enjoy our own private happy hour on the patio and then Ken grilled some really nice chicken breasts on the grill.

What an awesome day to remember!!

Hugs, C


Chuck-Kathy said...

Wow, my parents used to spend a few months every winter there, and we would pop in for a week or so. Did not have that many permanent residents,back then,and salvation mountain has grown, great to see it once again. Glad you got to see it and take in the wonders, always felt there was a lot of love there, the people were wonderful.

Jim and Dee said...

Thank you so much for writing such a great post on the slabs. I loved that movie "Into the Wild" and we're both wanting to see that area. What a wonderful time you guys are having. See all you can, it's a great country.

JB said...

You are right that is one "interesting" place.

Frerx Adventures said...

Wow Kathy, did you have hippie parents???

Yes, this was one, "interesting" place, JB, and we probably wouldn't have made the trek were it not for the movie, Dee.