Finding Strange on the Shores of the Salton Sea

Salvation Mountain Slab City

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All we were looking for was a quiet hike through Painted Canyon for Easter. We found Jesus (again and again), took a pilgrimage to Mecca and climbed Salvation Mountain. Who knew there was so much strange on the shores of the Salton Sea.

We had been planning to go to Painted Canyon for the better part of two years. It’s a five-mile hike through slot canyons with ladders to aid the technical parts. It has been on our radar so long, we figured we would just wing it when the day finally came. Wandering out into the desert with little to no forward thinking turned out to be just what we needed.

We left San Diego about 3:00 which was just barely enough time to escape using the HOV lanes but we still had to take the “Waze” route through Temecula to avoid Riverside traffic. Pretty soon, we were on the open road. No sooner than we opened the Subaru up, we whipped her around. Something strange caught our eyes.

Ricardo Breceda Gallery

Just off of highway 79 we saw rows and rows of statues. Our first thought was our romantic weekend visiting the sculptures in Borrego Springs and there was a reason why. Ricardo Breceda is the artist from the Galleta Meadows sculptures. Here we were at his high desert showroom. We made a pact, when we settle down and if we have an extra 10K, we’ll pick up a T-rex sculpture for the yard.

Note: If you’re on a mobile device or just want the picture bigger the full size picture in the slider is hyperlinked in the title, just click it 

Every one of these sculptures is for sale, and if that is not enough, you can have one custom built in about a month from any sketch or photograph. On that subject, this demon looks like a sketchy fellow.     Jenn’s spirit animal is a T-Rex. Kind of hard going through life with those stubby little arms. Someday one of these beauties might be in our front yard.     Did anybody else think of H.P. Lovecraft when they saw this?   If you’re looking to have a statue of your favorite Great Old One and don’t want to break the bank this beauty can be yours for $4,000 plus tax. I read a great article about Pleistocene Park in Siberia where they are trying to sequence mammoth DNA with African Elephants so they have a cold adapted pachyderm to clear the encroaching forests off the permafrost and stave off global warming. It also reminds me a joke about a great farmer being outstanding in his field. Originally sculpted by American-born artist James Earle Fraser, The End of the Trail has endured to become one of the most recognizable images in the United States. I know all you ex Tuscons are thinking the same thing. Saguaro cacti aren’t indigenous to these parts. That T-Rex, we’ll let him slide. If  you should meet a crocodile, ignore the welcome of his smile…. Don’t know about ya’ll but this smile doesn’t look welcoming to me. Who do you think would win in a fight – a velociraptor or a demon. One is the most bad ass dinosaur ever and the other has evil supernatural powers.

Road to Coachella

We cleared the routine slowdowns of San Diego but realized we were driving into Coachella, during Coachella. As we realized this very day we were set to head out, the music festival was going on in the same town that we were heading to. We pulled into the Coachella Valley Vista Point on top of a picture perfect hairpin turn. We wondered if the lady we saw playing her violin at the lookout was part of Coachella. We were sure the wealthy European couple was. Their flash BMW with “Road to Coachella” painted on the side was a clue.

Date Night

We picked an iconic location for dinner – Shields Date Garden. The food was fantastic. If you haven’t had a date shake, you’re missing out. The date crystals give the shakes caramel undertones. The signature stuffed dates were a perfect combination sweet and savory. The signature date salad and date burgers were solid too. We would definitely recommend this as a pit stop off of I-10.

After dinner, we had the opportunity to tour the gardens. Suddenly, we were feeling Easter all around us. The Date Gardens feature 23 statues and 14 scenes depicting Christ’s life. We got in just at sunset, so we started at the end. The first vignette was the tomb and worked our way back to the Last Supper. It was beginning to look a lot like Easter.

If you’re not into camping, Palm Springs is the edge of civilization before you enter the strange along the Salton Sea. After diner, you could check out some of the best Palm Spring boutique hotels, and start the next day waking up from a comfy bed and a warm shower. If you’re into roughing it, read on to find out about camping out in the desert. 

We wondered if this artist was associated with the music festival in the valley down below. She looked stunning and well posed but there are so many musicians at Coachella we could neither confirm nor deny the assertion.
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  Breaking with tradition, we are including a picture of ourselves, well , Jenn at least, staring down onto the most picture perfect hair pin turn you have ever seen.   The sign says that Shields is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, seating stops about 7:00 and date shakes aren’t guaranteed past 5. You can call ahead and ask for a date shake before 5 and sometimes they have a couple left over.   Live music in the Coachella Valley.  We made it. Perhaps not as well attended as that other show going on but the food was better here.   Shields signature stuffed dates combine sweet, salty and savory with touch of spice. Plump Medjool dates stuffed with jalapeño, bleu cheese, and prosciutto, wrapped in bacon, and finished off with a shallot demi-glace and balsamic reduction – delish.   Fresh spinach topped with Deglet Noor dates, dried cranberries, walnuts, pears, crumbled bleu cheese, and house mango vinaigrette gave this dish a decidedly sweet finish but what set it apart was the perfectly grilled chicken.   The signature date burger topped with sautéed Deglet Noor dates, bacon, and melted bleu cheese. I was hoping for the flavors of the stuffed dates on a burger. The results was good but not as intense as the stuffed dates.  
The sun was setting right as we finished dinner so we took a stroll in the garden to enjoy the remains of the day.   We noticed the Christian iconography right away but this vignette took us a minute. A tomb, with a round stone rolled away… There are 30 statues in 14 scenes depicting Christ’s life and we had started at the end.   Roses, ponds and fountains meld with the setting sun.   By now the sun had set and the water slowed. The lights of the garden glowed bright with the long shutter speeds.   Somewhere between the fire of sunset and the blue of twilight…lies the elusive purple hour. – unknown   We tried to take a similar picture at The Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz. It made the Instagram feed then but probably wouldn’t pass the muster now.  

Pilgrimage to Mecca

Painted Canyon is just outside of Mecca. You know Mecca, the unincorporated town of 9000 on north shore of the Salton Sea.  It’s the town where that one Peter Fonda biker film was set.  No, not Easy Rider silly, The Wild Angels. We have been intending to hike Painted Canyon for two years now and have finally made our pilgrimage.

Considered one of the most beautiful hikes in California, the Painted Canyon trailhead is 13 miles down a washboard road of the same name. At the end, we found several groups camping out at the end of the road. The canyon walls glowed under the full Easter moon and the stars, even with a full moon, were super bright. It was a beautiful night for camping.

We woke early next morning to get on the trail before the heat set in. The guidebook  said it’s an extremely difficult five mile hike and the high temps for today were in the 90’s. Our first marker was an arrow marking the turnoff to the slotiest slot canyon of the bunch. Not just a little stack of rocks but a no kidding 4’ long arrow laid out in the river bed.

Ladder Canyon

We came to the first set of ladders almost immediately. They were aluminum and in good repair. The slots were deep and narrow too – so cool. The first mile or so of this hike was super slotty and super fun. The canyon started to open up and then close out. It was an easy walk out of the canyon and up to the ridgeline.

From the ridgeline, you could see the sea, the Salton Sea. Several trails joined in here but the big obvious arrow pointed off to the right. Our guide book said, take every right turn so we made the next right turn too, which was wrong. We knew it was wrong too when we stepped over the rock line, and past the u-turn arrow of rocks, and the rock lettering “DEAD END”. There were literally signs everywhere but we wanted to see where it ended. (spoiler alert – a vista above the marble banding that gives painted canyon its name)
The right turn is to keep heading towards the radio towers at the summit. You will not reach them before the trail drops into the dry canyon but they make a pretty good waypoint. We had reached the halfway mark of our hike, and started to head back down the main canyon.

The map showed two more ladders just before we reached the initial turnoff into the slot canyon. We saw a couple of side canyons with ladders in them. There are probably some more routes and adventures to be had here. I was convinced the guidebook was wrong again but blam, there were ladders in front of us again.

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These ladders were actually the sketchiest of the trip. They were set far enough down the slope that you need to work to arrest your slide. This is by far the sketchiest part of the trip. We moved with caution and cleared the crux. Soon, we were back in familiar territory by the trailhead.

It took us less than 2 ½ hours to leisurely tour the canyons and take a lot of pictures. I wouldn’t call this “an extremely difficult trail” but there were several groups of novice hikers heading out as we were getting back. i.e. heading off into the heat of the day. They looked light on water and generally ill-prepared. We eagerly suggested that they could get a slot canyon experience by taking the first turn off and then turning around before climbing out to the ridgeline where the blazing afternoon sun awaited. For a more in-depth account of the hike as well as a cool video check out this link from Josh from California Through My Lens.

Sunrise and moonset in the same frame. A great way to start a hike and beat the heat.This is the view up canyon from the trailhead. The canyon is still quite wide here.Around the next bend is the full light of morning. The air was still cool and very pleasant. The canyon wasn’t bad either.The slot canyon route is a left turn off the main trail. Here Ed is going up into the slot canyon. Don’t worry too much about memorizing the scene, there is also a 4′ long rock arrow in the wash pointing to the turnoff.Actually more ladder than chutes but we found all the the ladders were aluminum and looked about like this.There was about a mile of slot canyon that looked like this. How cool is that!!!Here is a view from the top of a particularly slotty section. The ladder is just off frame to the right.Ladder canyon climbs gently up to the ridge line. From here you an see the Salton Sea. We  had a very pleasant breeze  blowing the entire time we hiked the ridge or it would have been hot, even early in the day.More views from the ridge. Notice how big that trail is. And the cairn. This is a well blazed path for sure.We stepped over a rock line, passed a u-turn arrow and DEAD END written in rocks. We had a feeling this wasn’t the way, even though it was right turn. Ed’s curiosity pushed him to the end of the ridge.  It really was a dead end.This ladder wasn’t described in the guide and led off into another side canyon. I think there is more fun to be had out here.We exited the canyon about 10:30. There was still shade in many parts of the canyon but the ridge would had definitely been hot by now.

International Banana Museum

The eating choices are scarce in Mecca so we cruised back to Indio for another lunch stop worth pulling off I-10 for, TKB Bakery and Deli. We are leaving the location on the map because we are so excited to get to the next stop  – The International Banana Museum.

Yup, 20,000 banana related items in one small shop off the shores of the Salton Sea. We spun the subi into the parking lot and debated if we should enter. We weren’t sure if it would be empty or a biker bar with the Wild Angels hanging out. We figured we have stopped the car already, so in we went. It was quaint, fun and, if you buy some of their delicious banana treats, you will not be charged a $1 photo fee. We even saw Jesus with a banana to keep up with our Easter theme.

  Not really sure what this means, or who would even make a figurine of Jesus holding two bananas. But, somebody did and here it is on our Easter visit to the International Banana Museum.   Would you be happy or sad if you peeled a banana and found a kitten looking up at you? Again, not sure why, but here it is. Our good taste censors say I can’t comment on this picture… We can understand a cat liking lasagna….but bananas?? After a while, you stop asking here. Finally something that makes sense, UC Santa Cruz’s Sluggo. See…. it’s a banana slug and ergo able to be included. Beer, bait and bananas.  We could also imagine bikers. The sign doesn’t show it but it’s very kid friendly. The Banana Museum sits of the edge of the Salton Sea. This is a typical view from the highway 111 as we cruised by.
Salvation Mountain is Leonard Knight’s tribute to God and his gift to the world with its simple yet powerful message: “God Is Love.” The artwork is made from adobe, straw, and thousands of gallons paint. Many visitors bring paint to donate to the project, and a group of volunteers has been working to protect and maintain the site. A public charity, Salvation Mountain, Inc., was established to support the project Of course, with all that paint, more than mountains get painted. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. A shrine to one of the most famous slabbers. Things were starting to go from biblical to Seussical…
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This artwork was incomplete. The artists are having a hard time keeping up with the maintenance of the site and don’t have a lot of time to add to it. There is an internal order to this place. I wonder who would climb this ladder and if they would not climb it because the sign was here? We returned to Salvation Mountain in the time of sunset and long shadows. As the light fades, the colors of Salvation Mountain change and shift. Stay off the Hill. Not only does it respect the art it keeps you from falling off. There are rules to anarchy and they make sense. The sun sets directly across from Salvation Mountain. That means the sun rises directly behind the mountain. There is probably a certain time of year the sunrise comes right over the cross.

Slab City Library

The Slab City Library is a cool place to hang out and talk with people, like Cornelius Vango, who is the proprietor. B.C. (before Cornelius) we found ourselves looking for signs of chaos. Afterward, we found there was a natural order to the place. She said how the world loves victims, but in the slabs, the first question is, what did they do to bring on the malevolence?

We stayed for about an hour chatting and hanging out. We even considered coming back to camp here for the night. We ultimately didn’t come back in person but we did check out her fully entertaining youtube channel.

East Jesus

On the far side of nowhere is East Jesus, a funky art collective with no particular religious message. Its namesake colloquialism accurately describes its placement at the back edge of Slab City. We came, met some folks and saw some art.

We also saw more of the underlying order to the chaos. The East Jesus crew had recently purchased the 30 acres of land the gallery sits on. I didn’t think anybody owned anything out here.

My mind races to Rudolf and the island of misfit toys. On second thought, I’ll go with the abused toys from Toy Story for my movie reference for the Church of Broken Toys. The door was open…. We did not go in. Maybe we should have but we’ll never know. We saw my daughters favorite childhood stuffed animal here and sent her a picture. Does that make us bad parents? I should say she is legally an adult now. Yogi Berra said when you come to a fork in the road – take it.  I am not sure if he would have ended up in East Jesus or West Satan or maybe just with a 4′ fork statue in the bed of his pickup truck. I could totally imagine this in a video game. BTW, did you know that Salvation Mountain actually was in GTA V? Home to the Saturday Night Open Mic of Slab City. The musical quality is only so so but the people watching more than makes up for it.
The symbology here is that we all can’t be Ken and Barbie waving our hands in the air like we just don’t care. We should enjoy the parts we are given. And also that clear acrylic holds really well. Han Solo frozen in carbonite on the hood of a VW Beetle because…. you can. How do you tell if it’s fake news? This is what happens when your paper mache’ goes bad… I have a great idea for art. You start with a VW bus, a bag of trash and a bunch of glue…. I remember how impressed I was with a tire swing horse cut from a single tire. This trumps that ten fold. Sure anybody can glue legs to the top of a car but the art magic comes from the attention to detail. Notice how the heads are glued onto the inside. One thing was for dang sure in East Jesus. I didn’t think we were in Kansas anymore. Dolphins killed Jesus so they could invent evolution and prove that Santa Claus doesn’t exist…. So long and thanks for all the fish. I am thinking something out of Hannibal TV series in Will Graham’s nightmare sequences. Wow, you made it to the end of our sliders. This is the sunrise from our Lake Wiest camp out. BTW. Thanks for hanging if for a bunch of pictures.

Below is our embedded map.  If it doesn’t show up try reloading the page. Each location has an embedded picture. Don’t forget to check out our GPS track of painted canyon 😉



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Hi! We are Jenn and Ed Coleman aka Coleman Concierge. In a nutshell, we are a Huntsville-based Gen X couple sharing our stories of amazing adventures through activity-driven transformational and experiential travel.



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Meet Ed & Jenn

Hi! We are Jenn and Ed Coleman, and together we are Coleman Concierge. It is our goal to inspire you to get out, expand your world, and to seek adventure, even in your own backyard.

We deeply believe in the transformational power of travel. Our tagline is amazing adventures for ordinary people because we believe that you don’t have to be super rich, super fit or super anything to have an amazing adventure. Expanding your comfort zone and trying new things will pay huge dividends in both health and happiness.

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