Monday, January 19, 2015

Plumbing the Salton Sea

MotoTog © Laurie Rubin

Recently my good friends and pro photographers Laurie Rubin and Peter Tellone came up with the awesome idea to visit the Salton Sea, about 2 hours east of San Diego. I thought, "what a great way to kick off the new year!" I was IN mostly because I knew the Salton Sea is a mysterious and trés cool place to visit, and partly because one of my resolutions for 2015 is to renew my photography hobby with vigor. To add some MOJO to the trip, I committed to riding my motorcycle out for the day... it had been awhile since the F800GS had been on a long haul and this was perfect. ;-)

I left Buckwheat Manor around 6:30am on a Saturday morning for a 9am rendezvous with Peter and Laurie. I'd chosen moderate layering to protect against a cold I just "knew" was going to diminish the closer I got to the desert. The problem of course were the freakin' mountains between me and sea level on the other side! Wheeling through familiar stomping grounds in Ramona and Santa Ysabel it was getting downright cold, but when the mercury hit 31 degrees motoring by Lake Henshaw and through Ranchita the bones were ice. I pressed on regardless and snapped into *high alert* heading down Montezuma Grade into Borrego Springs.

Side note: Montezuma Grade is one of the most epic roads in SoCal for your favorite motorcyclist. My skills can't possibly do justice to the serpentine curves which seem to sliver endlessly 'til the desert floor. But I try. ;-) 

My sights were set on breakfast in Borrego Springs and Carmelita's didn't disappoint. Had I not been on the bike, a Bloody Mary would have been in order, but I settled for some excellent Machaca and a place to warm my bones. Looping around Christmas Circle, I knew I had some 30 miles of straight run to the AM/PM meet-up point. Soldiering on, I was excited to see so many desert rats out there camping and cavorting with their toys: Jeeps, Razors, quads, dirt bikes, buggies, baja bugs and a myriad of other post-apocalyptic vehicles stretched to every horizon. God I love America!

The ride out was uneventful, with some nice straights where I stretched the bike's legs to an easy 110mph, tucked in behind a short fairing. Passing the Font's Point turn-off, the slot canyons and radio towers, our friendly Salton Sea shone in the distance, then grew ever closer.

The mini-market was busy. I pulled in around 9am, just about 15 minutes ahead of the crew. Talked to a few dirt bikers and slammed a Red Bull, then Laurie and Peter pulled up - great to see them!

Airy Seat (Macphun Intensify Pro)

Pet Graves & Trailer (Macphun Intensify Pro)
Peter has been to the area well over 20 times over the years and we just placed our agenda for the day in his hands. Man, no disappointments there! Our first stop was a former marina on the North end. Only about 8-9 miles up the road, we were there in no time, getting a sense for the pace of the day by taking in delicious RuralEx scenes of weird old dilapidation.

Double T Vision (Macphun Intensify Pro & Nik Analog Effects 2)
Crunching on glass, marveling at the hopelessness of the graffiti (mostly hopeless w/ few exceptions), ever curious we explored several of the decaying and burnt buildings under Peter's watchful guidance.

FishBird! (Macphun Tonality Pro)
Moving onward towards the shoreline, we took in the barnacles and dead fish and weird water chairs, fingers on the shutter, capturing scenes on our sensors and in gray matter that will haunt for some time. The pace was perfect, Peter allowing us to plumb the depths of each scene, wringing the most out of the time spent.

Lake Throne (Macphun Tonality Pro)
Being the novice, I felt a little sheepish about asking him for advice and how he was composing scenes, but figured it was OK. This is how I learn. After each location, we discussed the next couple of moves to make sure the day was well planned for maximum opportunity.

Dance Party (Macphun Tonality Pro) 
Head West 3 Sisters! (Macphun Tonality Pro)
Next, Peter suggested moving on to the 3 Sisters and the Mud Pots. It turned out to be a long-ish ride down to the Southern end of the Sea, but not too bad. After a brief stop for lunch at the bird sanctuary named after singer Sonny Bono (whom I think was also a State Rep out of Palm Springs), we moved on to an amazing spectacle: The 3 Sisters. So named for 3 dead trees standing starkly on a dry, white lakebed, the Sisters didn't disappoint today.

GeoCruise Ship (Macphun Tonality Pro)
With a geothermal plant off to the South, we were delighted to see 5 iron cubes near the trees provided a wicked cool contrast to the otherwise minimalist scene. Our best guess was that it was someone's "art installation" but no matter. It was otherworldly, which in my book is about the pinnacle of the hop. It was at this locale that Peter suggested Laurie put her quadcopter up in the air. There was nobody around and a fantastic aerial video opportunity lay before us.

Copter Worship © Peter Tellone
Soon, "Bessie" was launched and Laurie was in Quadcopter Heaven! Zipping around the artifacts, all of us were electrically charged with the images that were surely coming out of this session. I probably took it too far by doing "snow angels" in the salty dust while Bessie hovered overhead, but hey... what can I say?

Snow Angel © Laurie Rubin (Macphun Tonality Pro)
Silent Iron Boxes (Macphun Intensify Pro)
Peter's normal sure-footedness left him momentarily as we searched for our next destination, the geothermal mud pots. Fortunately, it resulted in 10-12 miles of high speed dirt road riding for me, awash in dust from his Toyota truck. Yippee! When we finally arrived, I was amazed to see actual mud bubbling and spitting from the ground. Wowsa... Love Mother Gaia! I might have also mumbled something about needing gas for the bike...

Upchuck (Macphun Intensify Pro)
Since we were close, a quick visit to hippie/God-fearing mecca "Salvation City" was in order. It's a weird spot on the planet where over the years a deeply religious man named Leonard Knight painted and shaped the desert into a massive shrine to our Lord in Heaven. Pretty moving, colorful and labrynthine, and one helluva scene of devotion; especially from the youth shooting a music video under the massive "God is Love" mountain. Sheesh...

God's Truck (Macphun Intensify Pro)
Next stop was a place that Peter called Alien Ranch, dubbed as such due to the "rocket" that was somewhat unceremoniously perched on top of an old windmill on a ranch. While it used to have an amazing reflective Alien figure that was stolen long ago, the Ranch still proved decently photogenic. And, another place for Laurie to fly her camera machine contraption. ;-)

Launch Ready (Macphun Intensify Pro)
Our final photo destination for the day was arguably the most beautiful - maybe because it was another water destination but for sure because of a vibrant sunset and a plethora of migratory birds! Bombay Bay is one of many dying water-side "resorts" that just exists, but the people are mellow and seemingly happy. Any place as desolate as Bombay that has an American Legion chapter is cool by me. So... the structures in the water, the reflections, the incredible sunset, the birds and the cliffside populace hanging out just made this a sweet spot to end our photo expedition. We were there well past dark.

Reflective Angel (Macphun Intensify Pro) 
Serene Twins (Macphun Intensify Pro)
In the back of my mind as the sun went down, of course I was thinking about getting some gas for the BMW and the long cold ride home. Nothing I could do though - I was way far out, but balanced by the awesome day we all had. The town of Mecca was only 29 miles away and my gas range indicator read 31 miles left on the tank - no worries. And famous last words! Despite tucking behind the faring, going slower, drafting where I could, for the FIRST TIME in my life I ran out of gas. Hey, the range indicator said I still had 4 miles on the tank!

When that engine quits on a lonely, dark two-lane highway miles from nowhere, it's eerily silent. I pushed the bike off the road and dialed up Laurie on the mobile phone to explain the situation. The stars squeezed in while semi's roared by and a freight train rumbled by, 30 yards away. My bike was silent. I ate a PB&J sandwich to pass the time. Fortunately, town was just 4-5 miles ahead; Laurie and Peter motored back w/ some gas to get me revving again in short order. Wahoo!

A quick gas-up and dinner at Del Taco, left me looking at a 7:40pm departure time and facing a cold daunting ride homeward through the mountains. Obviously up for the challenge (what else?!) but still had to be looked at as something to simply "rise up and get through." Montezuma Grade, upward in the dark and chilly, was a terrific challenge - anticipating the arc of the road and modulating throttle accordingly was great practice. I'll confess, I hit some decreasing radius corners a little hot, but the bike is sheer magic and saved my butt a couple of times.

Rolling in at 9:45pm — fully 15 hours after leaving my house in the morning — I was proud of the 2:05 run home, while respectful and taking a moment to size up the high-speeds needed to make that happen. Why didn't I just chill on the homeward leg, take it super-easy? Errrr... not my nature. Someone "upstairs" was definitely looking out for me today! ;-)

Super Happy: Me & the Nun (Macphun Intensify Pro)
After parking the bike, my family welcomed me home and proffered up "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." An apt ending to a Salton Sea day, methinks...


Peter Tellone said...

Great post about an awesome trip. Love your photography from the trip. Such a different perspective than mine which I love when that happens.

Let's do it again
PS Sorry about the gas...oh and the bees...umm and the dust...LOL

Kevin La Rue said...

I feel exactly the same way about perspectives - very much looking forward to the next one, amigo! Oh yeah, forgot about the bees... I'll have to add that - ha!

Laurie Rubin said...

I've read this a couple times now because you have done such a stellar job collecting images and words that bring back memories of this day. Love it!

Steve Hadeen said...

Great blog. Vivid storytelling both with the blog and photos

tdl1501 None said...

Like your new Facebook page, too. But I do not use Facebook. You're taking chances but I know you know you've a family at home awaiting your arrival. We've new things going on too, too boring for you and your bike. Hey, keep writing about this bike and my husband will get another Mary Lou. His Beemer, first "girlfriend," college. Cheers to you and the family. D

tdl1501 None said...

btw you're a great writer. Photography is spot on as well. Book. Listen to your big sister. Book. Dee

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Richard C. Lambert said...

it had been awhile since the F800GS had been on a long haul and this was perfect. ;-)
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A.D.Wheeler Photography said...

Wow brother!! I am absolutely adding this one to the bucket list! Great story and killer shots!! Nice work! ~AD