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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 😉