Pines to Palms and Salton Sea - November 2012

Ever since I went to the Salton Sea in November 2010 I've wanted to return. It's such an otherworldly place with a "beach" entirely made up of barnacle, fish, and bird bones and the post-apocalyptic feel of broken down and decaying buses at the edge of the water on Bombay Beach. Plus, you just never know what types of birds you'll see.

From the park information page:

"The park is located on the Pacific Flyway, and 400 different species of birds have been counted at the Salton Sea--almost half of the 900 species known to exist on the North American Continent. During winter migration up to four million individual birds are estimated to use the Sea each day. There is a greater species variety and more individual species here than any other place in the nation."

Here's where it is:

View Larger Map

K and I needed to get out of the city Thanksgiving weekend and although we've been trying to visit Mono Lake, we were unsure of the road conditions and I'd been sick so I didn't want to push it.We decided to visit the Salton Sea.

Taking the direct route, the Salton Sea is a mere 3 hours from LA (take the 10 past Palm Springs and then head south). However, I wanted to make the most of our day and test my (brand new) car so we decided to turn south at Banning and take the Palms to Pines Scenic Byway in reverse. This takes you up through Mount San Jacinto State Park and you emerge on the other side in Palm Desert. Taking this byway adds about 1.5 hours to the trip.

K and I left LA around 10:30am on a Saturday. We made good time to Banning and turned into the park to head up to Idyllwild. This weather was so different than my last trip here. Idyllwild sits at 5,300 feet and I'd told K to prepare for snow at the top (T and I had camped up there in 2010 and practically froze to death!) but it was almost 70 degrees even at the high altitudes. Paired with the fall colors and piles of crunchy leaves it was pretty magical up there!

We planned to stop for lunch, but the Harvest Festival was taking place and the town was packed! We continued on and grabbed some food at the Mile High Cafe on the edge of town while carolers sang to us. After a quick lunch it was back in the car to drive down the mountain. K, who doesn't enjoy high places, had been a little nervous on the way up, and the drive down is definitely not for the faint of heart!

I'm glad we took this route even though it was a quick drive through. I really need to make a point to come back when I actually have time to get out of the car and hike around or visit some of the cute little shops in Idyllwild. I see a spring camping trip in the works . . .

We arrived at the Salton Sea State Recreation Area visitor center about an hour before sunset. There is a parking fee, but it was free for me since I'm a CA State Park member. Due to budget constraints, Bombay Beach and the upper loop of Mecca Beach will be closed until further notice and while I was disappointed not to be able to show K Bombay Beach, that gave us more time to explore areas I hadn't seen before.

We spent some time checking out all of the birds near the dock and farther south along the beach. We saw American White Pelican, Black-neck Stilt, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron, Western Grebe, and even a new one for me, a Green Heron.

American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis) and a Green Heron (Butorides Virescens) on the dock

Great Egret (Ardea alba)

American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus)

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
Snowy Egrets (Egretta thula) trying to look menacing
It was cool to see the herons and egrets land on the trees next to the lake to tuck in for the night. I know birds are light, but I'm always amazed when Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets sit high up on unstable-looking trees and they hardly bend.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
Last time I was here we'd seen (and gotten pretty close to) a Brown Booby which is an uncommon visitor at the sea so I kept my eyes out for one, but we didn't see one. At one point, we saw what looked like Great Blue Herons mating, but it's not the right time of year for that. It must have been a scuffle or something.

The sunsets are always beautiful here with the colors reflecting off of the water and it's very peaceful staring across at the mountains. Here are a couple more photos.

The entire beach is covered with barnacle "bones" and the remains or fish and birds. Surreal.

You can see more of my photos from the Salton Sea in my Flickr set.


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