It was a fair drive to Salton Sea, which had been recommended to us by the guys we met at the Drivers Wanted VW Club in LA. It sounded pretty interesting though, a former lakeside resort that had been popular up until the mid 1950’s was now mostly abandoned. However, it all started to go wrong when the salinity in the lake rose to a point where it killed all the fish and by the looks of it most other living things. The resort was abandoned and now is a semi ghost town, with a few houses and people living in trailers and great big gaps in between.
We arrived and having spent a large part of a day driving, decided that we would camp up for the night and see the sights in the morning. We stopped by an RV park, that we thought was abandoned but actually was very much open and cost $30 a night. Not feeling any need to pay, we researched a bit and found that there was actually an abandoned site only a 10-minute drive away. This in reality was more like a 20-minute drive as the roads here were not in the best condition. We were pretty happy though when we pulled up and realised that we could just camp on the beach. There was a couple of other people, but not that close to us and we enjoyed another lovely sunset.
As it started to go dark we went on a cat hunt to go and find Aimee who was definitely enjoying the freedom of the beach after being cooped up in a city. The van next to us warned of coyotes in the area, and we definitely didn’t want to leave her outside at night!
It was a lovely peaceful night, no traffic, no trains and no other kind of noise until the early hours. This was when the local, and rather scrawny sounding, cockerel woke us up. Fortunately, my ear plugs are always close at hand for van life, and I can’t say it ruined my sleep that much.
When it was a more acceptable time to get up, we enjoyed the peace and quiet of the beach while drinking our tea and watching our van neighbour. He was there in his camper, which towed a trailer that was full of all the toys. He had a bike, a dirt bike, an ATV and some kind of air boat beach buggy thing that looked quite intriguing. We decided that due to the crappy roads it would probably be kind to our suspension to drive along the beach. The sand was pretty pack down and we thought we should be ok.
It was pretty fun off-roading in Ruby, although there was a few moments when I nearly lost traction and one encounter with a large ditch, we got there without mishap.
Salton City was indeed a strange place. Apart from a few people living in trailers it is a mixture of abandoned buildings and destroyed buildings alongside a barren wasteland full of dead and dying palm trees.
There’s the usual kind of vandalism, not that you can really tell the difference.
Walking down to the waterfront it’s also apparent how much the lake is shrinking. Apparently the lake used to be topped up by the run off from all the nearby farmland, however this agreement has now stopped and the lake will now be left to slowly evaporate. Not only is this increasing the salt levels, but it also allowing a load of pesticides that have run into the lake to evaporate into the atmosphere too. Maybe it’s no wonder that people don’t live here.
It was time to keep going. We had a lot of driving to do still and we wanted to reach Buses by the Bridge later that day. We still had one more place to stop though, Slab City. Built on an abandoned military base, this is a place that advocates true freedom. There are no police, no laws and barely any kind utilities. Populated by snowbirds, drug addicts and everything in between, it sounded like an unusual place to visit. With an hour to go, we set off.
It took a bit longer as the sat nav took us on a shorter route where the roads were particularly terrible. So much so that it was better to drive next to the road, rather than actually on it. We also drove past some rather horrible looking cattle farms.
It doesn’t look like much, in fact for some time I thought the road was going to end up going nowhere, but sure enough we got to the entrance. Looking back at the sign as we drove past, I saw that it warned people leaving of “Reality Ahead!”.
The first part is really just an open wasteland, littered with odd trailers, campers and tents.
You then get to salvation mountain, which is kind of a large artwork meets a church. In fact, any kind of description is difficult, you probably should just go and see it.
Driving further through, you get to East Jesus, which is the local art gallery.
We parked up and briefly chatted to the three residents on the entrance who gave us a little bit of information on how this place started. Apparently it was once a communal rubbish dump, until someone bought the land and decided to upcycle the tip into artwork. This is the only bit of land out here that is actually owned, and therefore ‘safe’ from any potential developments.
Over 2,000 artists have come and contributed to this unique place, it’s not like any art gallery I’ve visited.
For a start, we were encouraged to touch things, climb on them and have a good nose around.
There was a lot of stuff going on, from man-made structures, to decorated cars.
Some Wizard of Oz inspired housing…
Someone clearly doesn’t like dolphins either.
And someone else was casually doing a naked photoshoot.
In short, there was a lot of crazy art and it was pretty cool to be able to wander around it all.
There was a bus than had a surprisingly solid looking chassis that made be a bit jealous. It even had the original under seal, but no engine.
And a bug that still had the engine!
After a good poke around, we headed back out. It was getting on in the day and we still had a few hours to go.
Not too far down the road we reached our first checkpoint. We got pulled over to side the and grilled about where we had been, where we were going and what we had in the van. They checked our passports and sent a sniffer dog around the van too. None of this is too much of a problem as we don’t have anything we shouldn’t, so before too long they were happy to let us on our way. We weren’t expecting a border control point here as we weren’t crossing state lines or anything like that, but then we realised how close we were to Mexico. There was an Enterprise truck pulled over too with blankets all over the floor where they had tried to smuggle two people in illegal who were now being held in a cell. That made it kind of clear why it was there.
After that we drove on for several hours without much happening. We stopped off to get fuel once we had crossed back into Arizona as it was so much cheaper, and then kept going on past Quartzite towards Lake Havasu. We arrived there in the dark and after a bit of confusion as there wasn’t really any signs, we found the entrance. The people on the gate recognized us from our interview with Hot VW’s. They remembered our names and were shaking our hands, welcoming us to the festival. Before we knew it they waived us through the gates and we realised we had been let in for free!
Inside we drove around for a while, not sure where we could or couldn’t park. It was pretty full up, judging by the fact we were bus number 458. In the end we found a gap and pulled up. Both being pretty tired from a long day driving we had an early night.
Friday was a busy day for us. We set up our little table to sell cards outside and spent all day speaking to different people about our trip. I made a start at wiring in our new roof rack lights. This was made more complicated by the fact that I also decided to wire in a fuse board too. We managed to get other little jobs done like filling up our water and spent some time chilling in our camping chairs which doesn’t happen very often.
It’s been a while since we managed to find those elusive butane cylinder in Walmart, so we also went for a short bike ride down to West Marine to try and get some more. It takes a pretty long time to make our morning cup of tea if the Wallas hasn’t been on overnight, so we normally use our portable little gas ring. The only problem is that the cylinder is uses are not that easy to find, Walmart stocks them, but more than half the time you try to buy them you are greeted by a space on the shelf where they should be. We decided to take Aimee with us for a change of scenery, but she was in a pretty bad mood and we thought she might like it. She did not. Luckily it was only a short distance away and we did actually managed to get gas, so the pissed of kitten was not for nothing.
We went for a bit of a walk around the impressive collection of buses that had turned up.
Some more ‘interesting designs’.
We met a surprising number of English people, and got invited over to drink with a club called Team Amigo that evening. Firstly we went down to the lake to watch the sunset.
Before we left our van, a procession of lamps went past us, apparently something that they do every year, there must have been several hundred people involved. I found out later that they used their lights to spell out of the name of someone who had passed away, which is a nice tribute.
Soon we grabbed our beer and headed around to Team Amigo’s camp spot. They music was already on full blast and a couple of people looked like that had started pretty early. We enjoyed a full range of music genres and met a load of nice people. It turns out that the club is from Reno, which is on our route up north and they invited us to drop in when we passed through.
The 10pm curfew was rather ignored tonight, as we continued drinking until the early hours of the morning.
Saturday was the busiest day of the festival and we had wanted to walk down to London Bridge. If you don’t know the story, this is actual London Bridge that was brought over here, brick by brick. The only thing is the Americans thought that they were buying Tower Bridge, so were a bit disappointed when they got a fairly standard looking bridge instead.
In the end we never really got a chance to leave our campsite. So many people wanted to come and chat to us, and as we are trying to build up our YouTube following and so on we were glad for the opportunity to meet lots of new people. The highlight of the day was probably when Leo, who we had previously met at Bugjam, turned up wearing one of our t-shirts!
We debated buying raffle tickets as they had some pretty awesome prizes including two CBS Performance engines, but they thought that it would be pretty hard for us to take anything with us. The raffle however was very popular.
Quite a few people bought some of our cards and donated a few dollars to our trip which was nice. We also met Rick who was a lovely guy to chat to and also gave us a very generous donation!
I finished by lighting wiring, after another run down to the shop when I realised the wire I bought was to short. Testing the lights at night, we were pretty happy when we lit up half the campsite!
We were also treated to another lovely sunset over the lake.
As the day drew to a close, we cooked some food before heading back over to our drinking buddies. This time we ended up walking around the camp and meeting a few more people, including Paul who apparently knew Ben and Leah from Kombi Life quite well.
We hadn’t realised until we got there, but the festival pretty much shuts by midday Sunday, after the last raffle draw. We had a final wander around everyone’s buses and chatted to a few more people. We just missed the point at 9am, where a load of people jumped in the lake, which slightly hungover me wasn’t too sad about but I think Lee was actually going to do it!
Another late night brought us to Sunday morning. This was where I properly met Melissa, who had a stand opposite and was surprised to see she had a Brighton Breeze fridge magnet from 1999. As we were the only people who understood what it actually was, she gave it me and it is now mounted on our fridge with our own one from 2017.
I then decided we should walk over to the nearby state park campsite to see if it had free showers. Excitingly it did, so I walked back again to make use of them. Just as I had got in, Lee called outside to say that Hot VW’s wanted to interview us again. At this point we had thought they weren’t going to, despite the fact that we had met Eddie again on Friday and he had said he wanted to speak to us. This was pretty exciting, and coupled with the fact that the water had just gone completely cold, I finished my shower pretty fast.
After the success of our last Facebook interview, we’re excited to see how many people this one gets too. Our YouTube channel near has 100 subscribers, so we were getting there. Before we left, we pulled up by the lake side and lighthouse for some nice pictures of Ruby.
After not that much sleep and a lot of socialness, we found some local BLM land just down the road and after a brief stop in Walmart, headed out to camp. It was a lovely day, and we fancied chilling out while we planned our next stops.
I’ve got that lawless commune on my radar. Thanks for all the pics, and I’ll check out your channel.
Fascinating blog and great photo’s