Visiting the Mecca Wilderness and Salton Sea


palm trees in the shade

Two Strange Trips –

Yes, we’ll take you to the Mecca Wilderness a bit later, have no fear. While we were house sitting in La Quinta, the homeowner had arranged for a cleaning service to come and clean the house. We had no objections! Just one problem, the cleaners didn’t like the dog – what – this guy! Okay, we’ll go somewhere and take him with us. I know, let’s visit the Salton Sea! 

date palm trees

On the appointed morning, we set off into the California desert. After only a few miles towards the east, we began seeing palm trees by the hundreds and then thousands. We soon realized they were date palms. 

We’ve all seen them along roads, scraggly looking things here and there. But here, Oh, my goodness, they were all lined up for miles in every direction. We had to pull over a few times for a closer look since neither of us had ever seen dates growing. 

date palm trees

Who Loves Dates?

We passed grove after grove of date palms – some very tall and others short and squat, almost miniature. Most of the groves were open to foot traffic, not that there was much of that. Getting up close allowed us to see a few dates still on the trees.    

Palm trees with dates

The few we saw looked old and dried out, so I think they were the rejects. Sorry for the poor quality of the photos, but you get the idea. My sense was that harvest time had recently come and gone, but I didn’t look it up so who knows.

Palm trees with dates

A Brief Stop

Soon after that, we saw a sign for the Oasis Date Gardens, a roadside store. I had to stop and take a look inside. There were dates everywhere including a circular display area filled with about 14 date varieties, and you could sample them all! If inclined you could also have a date shake or smoothie. We had a few samples and bought a couple of Medjool dates for three dollars. Pricey, but delicious.

dates in boxes

We also saw these figurines in the store, carved from Ironwood which is a local desert tree, beautiful right. They say it’s one of the hardest woods in the world. Okay, time to get back in the car and keep driving. 

wood carvings from Ironwood

As we drove further along, we noticed tall ladders high up in some of the trees and realized those must be used to harvest the dates. Why else would they be there, right? 

palm date trees with ladders

Do you see those ladders way up in the trees? They’re small, and you have to look carefully right against the top of the tree trunk. 

palm date trees with ladders

We wondered how they get up to the ladder; it’s not on the ground; it’s 50 feet up. Once they got to the ladder, they’d have to keep climbing up and up to get anywhere near the dates. Oh my God! 

We were both blown away and very curious about the process. Oh, well, we weren’t going to figure it out just then and had miles to cover on our trip. 

North Shore sign at the Salton Sea

Fun Times at the Salton Sea

The rest of the drive was so boring we’ll skip the description. About an hour or so later, we found the sign above. Okay, that’s cool, and the first time we’d seen a place below sea level. Our pal didn’t care about the dates or this sign and slept for most of the journey!

dog sleeping in car

At first, we could only see the water from a distance since there was a state park in the way. Park here means something a little different, as in a place to park your car. The parking lot and the park were the same. Hmm. We didn’t want to pay for parking, so we just kept driving. 

the salton sea

Eventually, we found a parking spot that allowed us to get closer to the water. As you can see, it’s not the most exciting place. On top of that, it was a cloudy day, so our view didn’t extend very far or look very impressive. Also, it kind of stank.

the salton sea

We did walk down to the shoreline to get a closer look, but the aroma was a little too intense to hang out. Besides, it wasn’t beautiful or fascinating.

man and dog at the salton sea

There Must Be More

We got back in the car wondering out loud whether there was something more interesting about this lake, or sea. “There must be – why would they talk it up if it’s all like this. Let’s keep going and see what happens.”

In retrospect, it would have been better to turn around. We had also wondered why we had the road to ourselves – really – no one else headed that way. Now we know.

One strange thing we found at the waters’ edge was the bizarre formations you see in the photo below.  

the salton sea

The Salton Sea is the place that wasn’t – as it was formed by a strange accidental flood. Then it was – a huge bowl of water. You can see numerous areas built up just like thousands of other weekend and summertime fun spots: restaurants, hotels, arcades, bars, etc. Then it wasn’t: the water line is receding as the lake evaporates, lake-side buildings are now a long way from the water. Most everything is run-down and abandoned.

the salton sea

Heading to Mexico?

The road doesn’t hug the waters’ edge for very long, and we didn’t see anything interesting along that part of the drive either. On the east side of the lake, we saw an imposing fortification along the road: right, Homeland Security there in force. Head south, no issue. Head north, please stop in and see us. 

When you reach the southern end of the ‘Sea,’ you are almost in Mexico! There are a bunch of massive farming operations down there, and that’s it. Finally, we could begin the trek back to civilization!  

the salton sea

We found one other spot where we could get to the shoreline and thought we should at least get out and take a closer look. We thought maybe the dog would enjoy a romp. He didn’t, which was strange because he likes everything. Apparently, he didn’t care for the aroma either.

the salton sea "shore"

Okay, this area was fascinating, the most interesting part of our entire time at the Salton Sea. Look what the shoreline is made up of  – wow! When you walk on it, your feet sink into the shells or whatever it is that makes up the surface.

the salton sea "shore"

Bye-bye Salton Sea

Maybe it’s us? We found this place to be boring. How boring? We joked about looking forward to seeing if Homeland Security had a fort on the west side too. Maybe they would stop us for a chat. Wouldn’t that be fun? Anything to break up the pace. Fort? Yes. Chat? No. They were flagging everyone through without a glance. What fun is that? 

Bye-bye Salton Sea – our advice – don’t bother. We’ve made that suggestion to many folks, figuring we saved them lots of time.

Hello, Mecca Wilderness!

Did you know Mecca was in California? No, not that kind of Mecca: we mean the town of Mecca. Neither did we! Neither the town or yet the wilderness area outside it. We found it by mistake.

We planned to camp in Joshua Tree National Park after completing this house sit and took a day trip out that way to see about campsites. If you approach the park from the south, you can go two ways at the exit. Turning north takes you into the Park, turning south takes you to the Mecca Wilderness. Now you know!

Mecca Wilderness hills and rocks near Indio, California

You know, calling a place Mecca creates an expectation. We think that’s unfair. They don’t even call Yosemite Mecca. We loved this place because of its stark, hard desert appearance.

Apparently, this is more than 26,000 acres of wilderness; there are no signs, no picnic areas, nothing – just a road through these hills, and some foot trails leading up the canyons. However, the hills themselves are fascinating, revealing an assortment of colors and textures resulting from erosion.

Mecca Wilderness hills and rocks near Indio, California

Colors, Layers, and Formations

Apparently, we have the San Andreas Fault to thank for this area and its unusual terrain. If you’ve ever driven from Los Angeles to Phoenix, you know how plain the terrain can be, for miles and miles.

This wilderness area isn’t dull at all. One might even say it’s crazy looking with a dozen distinct layers of rock right next to each other, each with its color and history – and future: looks one way here – walk ten feet and it all changes.

Mecca Wilderness hills and rocks near Indio, California

You can see all this walking a couple of minutes off the road. It’s even better if you get to see it in the rain, water pouring off the rocky hillsides. That’s how we did it. Just lucky, squishy shoes and all.

If you wanted to hide somewhere for a long time, this is the place. No one’s gonna look for anyone else here. That’s not happening. We saw only a few signs of human life, at least the kind that’s alive: only a couple of campers off into the canyons, maybe three other cars driving through, that’s it.

Mecca Wilderness hills and rocks near Indio, California

Why is it Mecca?

No one would mistake this area for Mecca, like MECCA, just sand, hills, and rocks, lots of rocks. If you ever run out of rocks come over this way. There are plenty, all shapes, sizes, colors, and textures.  

Mecca Wilderness hills and rocks near Indio, California

What is it about places like this that bring out the rifles? Nothing to hunt here, just target practice. We saw dozens of spent cartridges in several areas. Of course, it’s safe to shoot (mostly) and close to town. Maybe that’s why.

Mecca Wilderness hills and rocks near Indio, California

We do love rock hounding in hills like this. You never know what you’ll find. Maybe that one perfect rock. We certainly saw some candidates but none that made the ride home with us.

Mecca Wilderness hills and rocks near Indio, California

I know this is just gray sand, but I think it’s beautiful, I’m not even sure why.

Mecca Wilderness hills and rocks near Indio, California

That’s it for Now

We enjoyed our brief drive-through visit in this strange land and would certainly return. Most people use this as the road between one place and another. Almost no one stops along the way. You have to look a little harder to see the beauty, but it’s there.

It would be fun to take a more in-depth look at the area and hike out over those hills. No telling what we might find. Who knows, maybe we could even camp here once we buy a self-sufficient rig.

Mecca Wilderness hills and rocks near Indio, California

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