Day 3: Desert Shores to Borrego Springs - Joshua Tree, Anza-Borrego, Imperial Valley 2016 - CycleBlaze

November 2, 2016

Day 3: Desert Shores to Borrego Springs

I need a rest and today will be a short day. I slept until 8:30 AM. First thing I did was go down to see the shore of the Salton Sea. Most of the buildings are boarded up. There is a large trailer park but most of the town's buildings are vacant. The population is 1100 but it seems much smaller.

The former Desert Shores Yacht Club was fenced but there are big holes in the fence. I wandered through the property to have a look. I imagine it was built in about 1960. At that time the Salton Sea was popular for recreational power boating and recreational fishing. The Salton Sea had more visitors than Yosemite. Palm Springs was growing rapidly even though its low desert climate is almost as inhospitable. Developers thought that if thousands of people bought desert property in Palm Springs they might also buy waterfront desert property in "riviera" towns on the Salton Sea. Developers built marinas and yacht clubs. They dredged canals so that nearly every lot would be waterfront, but almost nobody built homes. The ruins of the attempt are interesting to see. The wanna-be riviera is now mostly a junkyard.

Postcard from a bygone era.
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I never saw a single boat on the water or on the shore.
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Even if you ignore that it's one of the hottest places on earth, a riviera was a dumb idea because the Salton Sea is a basin lake with a salty water supply. Yes, the Colorado river is salty. Who knew? The developers didn't know or care that the lake is guaranteed to get more salty and polluted over time. In the last 50 years the lake has become intolerably salty, polluted, and stinky. The fishery and recreation industry have both collapsed.

The water level has dropped several feet and is dropping rapidly. But tropical storms created enduring floods in 1976, 1977 and 1982! Humans can't reliably control a basin lake. It almost never rains, so it dries up when we can't divert enough water from the over-allocated Colorado river. And it floods when a rare tropical storm dumps a lot of rain in the basin. Evaporation is the only outlet. It's impossible to build an outlet when the lake is below sea level.

Ruins of Desert Shores Yacht Club.
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Marina at Desert Shores Yacht Club. The water level used to be several feet higher.
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Fireplace and waterfall boulder wall inside the yacht club.
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Desert Shores Yacht Club.
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Desert Shores fire department is locked up tight.
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I left town at about 10 AM, heading south on busy highway 86. For the first couple of miles the Salton Sea was nearby but I could barely see it through the clouds of blowing sand.

Fortunately I had a brisk tailwind going south towards Salton City, and the blowing sand was all downwind from the highway. There wasn't much to see but barren sand.

I stopped for an early lunch at the main highway intersection in Salton City. The little shopping center is surrounded by barren sand disturbed by OHV's (off highway vehicles). It appears the only major activity in the area is driving motorcycles and various 4-wheel vehicles in the sand. People build vacation homes here to have a convenient base for off-road desert recreation. Population 3763 and rising, partly because it's dirt cheap.

I saw only a few houses but didn't go east into the main part of town. It has scenes of neglect and decay similar to Desert Shores, but here the highway is much farther from the lake. I wasn't in the mood to do a 5 mile round trip detour to the shore.

Developers planned a city of 50,000 people, as big as Palm Springs. Water, sewer, power, and unimproved roads were built for much of the city. Thousands of unlucky speculators bought lots, but few built homes. The waterfront resort facilities were successful at first, but flooded in the late 1970's when tropical storms and excess irrigation canal runoff caused the water to rise.

Sand for sale in Salton City.
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I can't think of a worse place to live. I can't imagine building a house in bare disturbed sand that goes airborne even in a moderate wind. Most days are less windy but it's miserable on windy days.

After lunch I turned west onto Imperial County road S22, optimistically named the "Borrego Salton Seaway". It becomes scenic later, but the first 5 miles is barren desert disturbed by OHV's. A 30 mph north-northwest wind blew tremendous amounts of sand high in the air. It was not pleasant going uphill with a sandy headwind on extremely rough pavement. But I was confident that the blowing sand wouldn't last long.

Extremely rough county road with a sand-filled headwind.
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Scott AndersonThis is such an awful road alright. We rode it going the other direction some years back.
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1 year ago
Wayne EstesAll county roads in Imperial County have awful pavement. It's an impoverished county.
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1 year ago
Scott AndersonTo Wayne EstesJust an observation, in case you weren’t aware. If you respond using the Reply option, it will be emailed back to the person you’re replying to; but if you add it as just a new comment, it will not. Your reply to the Grampies is another example.
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1 year ago

I escaped the blowing sand when climbing above the valley floor into the badlands. It was still windy but the undisturbed sand doesn't blow in the wind. Fortunately this was the only day of the tour with strong winds, and this was the only place during the tour where blowing sand was a nuisance.

I escaped the blowing sand when climbing into the badlands.
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Partway up the badlands climb I could look down on a big OHV recreation area.

This OHV recreation area is not a fun place to hang out on a windy day. The disturbed sand blows easily.
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Near the top of the climb I looked down on a totally barren wash draining to the Salton Sea. I wonder when it last rained here? 9 months ago maybe.

Amazingly barren wash draining towards the Salton Sea.
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I had heard that the badlands are scenic and it's true. The badlands are the southern flank of the big Santa Cruz mountains. The alluvial fans remind me of Death Valley in some places. The colors would be more vivid near sunrise or sunset. I was there during the dull mid-day sun.

Badlands south of the Santa Cruz mountains. I passed miles of stuff like this.
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Soon after entering the badlands I entered Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California's largest state park. I will pedal 20 miles through the park today and most of day 5 will also be in the park. It's huge. The park road has better pavement than the county road.

I pedaled about 20 miles in the state park today.
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The Anza-Borrego desert has more cactus than the Colorado desert. Still quite arid, but not totally barren like the areas around the Salton Sea. Vegetation becomes gradually more dense as I gain elevation and travel west. Ocotillo appear above 500 feet elevation.

Santa Cruz mountains rising above the Anza-Borrego desert.
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Near the first of 3 summits I stopped to have a long chat with the only other touring cyclist I saw during this tour. Richard is from Fairbanks, Alaska. He flew to Palm Springs to start his tour 9 days ago. He's going the opposite direction so I won't see him again. He said that I was the only other touring cyclist he saw. We were both thrilled to have a 30 minute roadside gathering of the entire community of southern California desert touring cyclists. He picked a spot with a good view. It was my last view of the Salton Sea for several days.

Richard from Fairbanks, Alaska.
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Getting across the badlands and into the Borrego valley was a bit frustrating because there was a triple summit. The first two times I descended some distance and resumed climbing. Even after the third summit there was only a 400 foot descent to the Borrego valley. The climbs are actually small and relatively gentle, but the strong headwind and my state of exhaustion combined to make them seem difficult.

This rocky area would be terrible for OHV's if they were allowed.
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Most bushes are dormant because it hasn't rained in 8 or 9 months. Creosote bushes are the only plant that is green.

The trend was uphill most of the day, from -200 feet to +960 feet elevation with many rolling hills and a strong headwind.
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In the distance on the right is Clark dry lake. Most bushes are dormant this time of year because it hasn't rained in 8 or 9 months.
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Mature Cholla and Clark dry lake.
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Once in the Borrego valley the road turned south for a couple of blissful tailwind miles, then resumed going west into the wind.

It's difficult to get a good photo of rippled sand dunes.
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Scott AndersonGood enough. Nice!
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1 year ago

The Borrego valley is relatively populated. On the way into town I passed farms, a few houses, and two big trailer parks. Borrego Springs is a low-key resort town. Much more attractive and prosperous than Salton City. The economy is based on tourism but it's on a very small scale compared to tourism in Palm Springs. The population is about 3000 but it's unincorporated San Diego county. No traffic light, no chain restaurants or motels. But it has a trailer park exclusively for restored vintage trailers.

Borrego Springs at sunset.
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In Borrego Springs I got a room for 2 nights at Hacienda del Sol. $86/night in a resort with beautiful landscaping and a heated pool. In the middle of town very close to the grocery store and restaurants.

Today was the first truly warm day of the tour. This is a warmer climate zone than Joshua Tree and the weather is returning to normal now. High of about 85F. It was also the only day of the tour to have a strong headwind.

I was tired when I started the day and very tired when I finished the day. Tomorrow I will take a rest day to hike the nearby Palm Canyon trail. I didn't have enough daylight or energy to do it today.

Distance: 40.5 mi. (65 km)
Climbing: 1728 ft. (524 m)
Average Speed: 9.4 mph (15 km/h)

Today's ride: 41 miles (66 km)
Total: 183 miles (295 km)

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