The Forgotten Interior of the California Desert

To see the gallery of their wedding photos, click here.

A few months ago, my dear friend James married Maria, his longtime girlfriend of 7+ years. They asked me to be their photographer, not only for the wedding, but for their engagement photographs as well - I of course said yes.

Time flew and the big day arrived. Did I mention it was taking place in Palm Springs? On Saturday, I woke up at 5am and trekked to the desert. I checked in at my hotel, got rest, then headed out to the weddings' location, a beautiful mid-century styled home whose owners gladly hosted the wedding.

After running around all day, I was exhausted. I called it a night and headed back to my room.

The next morning, I decided to take advantage of my surroundings and make it a day trip through Joshua Tree National Park, Salton Sea, and beyond. Let's just say, I began driving at 9am  (with a quick coffee stop at Ernest Coffee) and didn't return home to Long Beach until about 11pm. After a gas tank and a half, and hundreds of photographs (on top of the already 1,400 existing ones from the wedding) - I returned feeling grateful for the life I live.

... Grateful that I have the freedom to roam the country in the comfort of my Jeep with my camera in hand - being able to enjoy the breathtaking landscapes that the world has to offer.

A panoramic taken from Keys View atop Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Destination A. I was exhilarated to finally experience a national park without having to drag anyone else along (no offense, to any of my friends). I drove the entire length of the park, and stopped at several locations for the hikes, views, and amazing photo opportunities. I was there for about 6 hours.


Bombay Beach (Salton Sea)

After a quick nap at Joshua Tree, I cut through the canyons and farmland and headed straight for Salton Sea. I had heard a lot about this place - its decay, and the growing threat it poses on Southern California (learn more about the Salton Sea here). It is an enormous, accidentally manmade lake, the biggest in California. Initially, I had wanted to complete the drive around the perimeter of the lake, but realized how taxing that would have been. So instead, I headed towards Bombay Beach, a small "beach town" once inhabited by the Beach Boys and yacht parties in the 1950's.

This was the moment that the feeling of being grateful kicked in.


Salvation Mountain

After being mentally nuked by Bombay Beach, I thought, "I should probably head home". I got into my car, looked at the map on my phone,  and realized Salvation Mountain was only 20 miles south. A California staple at the entrance of Slab City, a major scene in the film "Into The Wild", and a "now or never" sort of place. So I headed south.

Salvation Mountain was created by Leonard Knight, who passed away in 2014 at the age of 80. Salvation Mountain was proclaimed as a national treasure by the Congressional Record of the United States. Learn more about it here.

While there, I met a rather interesting human named Audrey. She was vigilantly photographing everyone at the site, including me. She was strange. She had about 6 cameras with her, and I could swear she took one photo with each camera of every person. She then ran off into her car and drove away, vigilantly. Moving along!


I began to drive out of Salvation Mountain, and into Niland, which is an extremely small, rural town. I drove to what seemed to be the only market in sight, and bought a surprisingly delicious sandwich from the deli. I opened my trunk and sat down, attempting to mentally swallow everything I had experienced in the past several hours, including the sandwich (I was starving). The weather was humid, the streets were soulless - aside from the few transients sitting in the shade, speaking amongst themselves across the road. The entire thing was eerie, but I embraced and made the best of it.

This man asked me to buy him a beer before I entered the store. I kindly agreed if he allowed me to take his portrait. This is my favorite one from the entire day.

My deliciously authentic Niland deli sandwich.


I had finally concluded my trip. I mapped my drive home - 3.5 hours. I passed through a border inspection on the highway that runs alongside the Salton Sea. The sunset was beautiful, glistening against the vast lake. I opened my windows as Creedence Clearwater blasted through my speakers, and it was a grave mistake. The stench of the Salton Sea, is comparable to that of rotting flesh. I had heard a rumor that what looks like sand at Salton Sea, isn't sand at all - instead - millions upon millions of fish bones. I had to see it for myself.

It was depressingly true.

But at least the sunset was nice.