The Salton Sea is a historical accident. Created between 1905 and 1907 when the Colorado River water broke through canals in Imperial County’s irrigation system, it looks like a landscape that time forgot.
Sand, mountains, palms, abandoned buildings, a burnt out, sun drenched poetic atmosphere that attracts the curious and the adventurous. And yet it makes a great backdrop for a weekend of exploring and indulging.
You’ll stay at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio to ensure you have everything you need for comfort after a day exploring the raw wonders of the Salton Sea.
Wake up Saturday morning for an early, quick breakfast at Starbuck’s at Fantasy Springs. You need all the time you have to cover the day’s activities. You’ll take a 14-minute drive south on Route 86 to the Oasis Date Gardens where you must try at least one bite of a Medjool or Deglet date. Remember that Egyptian pharaoh, Cleopatra, ate dates to retain her beauty.
VIDEO: View the points of interest for the Salton Sea getaway weekend.
From the Oasis Date Gardens, you’ll head south on Highway 111 for 14 minutes to the incredible International Banana Museum. Discover the largest collection of memorabilia ever devoted to a piece of fruit. There are more than 20.000 banana items, and the museum doubles as an ice cream, shake and sundae shop. The frozen chocolate bananas are highly recommended.
Owners Fred and Kim Garbutt are enthusiastic world travelers who enjoy speaking with visitors. His favorite banana items has caught him off-guard. “Never did I think I would be excited about getting a Barbie doll,” Fred says. “But this one was the Bob Mackie Brazilian Banana Bonanza Barbie. And she is so beautiful that I am waiting to put her on display in the west wing of my museum as I expand it. She’s one of my favorite pieces.”
Heading south from the International Banana Museum, drive 3 minutes to the North Shore Beach and Yacht Club where you take a short walk along the desolate shoreline of the Salton Sea. You’re certain to see a wide variety of water birds, including flocks of pelicans.
PHOTO BY KAREN R. GRANINGER
This place will make you go bananas!
Leaving the Yacht Club, you’ll be good and hungry. Continue 17 minutes south on Highway 111 to Bombay Beach, the most filmed area near the Salton Sea. Stop at Ski Inn for lunch. Anthony Bourdain lunched there in the fourth season of No Reservations. Sit at the bar and marvel at all the sayings written on dollar bills by customers over the years. The cheeseburger and potato salad will fill you up nicely. You may also dare to ask why shelves to the left of the bar contains cans of “fish assholes” on them. Just saying.
Continue south on Highway111 for about 22 minutes and take a left on Main Street and continue on to Beal Road, the site of Salvation Mountain. This beautiful, colorful, painted expression of desert American folk art is about love and compassion for humankind.
PHOTO BY KAREN R. GRANINGER
Check out the signed dollar bills behind the bar at Ski Inn.
Founder and artist Leonard Knight started the first Salvation Mountain in 1980, when his hot air balloon refused to take off and left him stranded. He stayed until his death in 2014. Salvation Mountain is considered a National Treasure. Coldplay filmed a music video there in 2015, and it was the backdrop for the 2007 film, Into the Wild, starring Emile Hirsch and directed by Sean Penn, and at our next stop, Slab City.
Take a right on Beal Road and continue about 2 minutes to the outskirts of Slab City, a no service, free rent RV squatting site which sits on an abandoned World War II Marine desert training base. It’s populated with artists, characters, snowbirds and families, living in motor homes in the Sonoran Desert.
Social clubs include The Oasis Club and Loners on Wheels where people gather for food and community. There are outdoor staging areas for free music and entertainment, and an experimental art area called East Jesus.
PHOTO COURTESY OF JACKALOPE RANCH
Sink your teeth into some sumptuous ribs at Jackalope Ranch in Indio,
Your drive back to Fantasy Springs will take about an hour where you can rest in the cool quiet of your room before dinner. Make sure to hydrate. You can dine in-house if you want. POM is an excellent choice and offers late night dining until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights only.
However, if you have the energy to go out, take a 14-minute drive to Jackalope Ranch in Indio. Enjoy the steaks, seafood, and BBQ in a relaxed, tropical paradise. The sweet corn chowder and carne asada steak salad are magnificently accented by a Jackalope Signature Grande 18-ounce Margarita.
Return to Fantasy Springs for some Saturday night gambling or late night swim in the 103-foot long swimming pool.
PHOTO COURTESY OF LA QUINTA ARTS FOUNDATION
Downtown La Quinta offers unique shops and good eats.
On Sunday, one of you may want to play some golf or visit the spa. Or you can gallivant to some fabulous finds nearby, like Old Town La Quinta about 20 minutes away. Take in a healthy breakfast at Old Town Coffee Company, and then slowly mingle the streets.
All of the stores are authentic and worth browsing closely, but pay particular attention to H2o Closet, a modern apothecary that features many high-end bath products from all over the world. Many are unique to Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley. Elizabeth and Prince specializes in current, but classic-looking clothing. The La Quinta Olive Oil Company features 70 different flavors of olive oil from around the world.
For lunch, visit the Grill on Main. Try the barbacoa or the pulled BBQ rotisserie chicken sandwich. Even in summer, their patio remains cool with misters. Complete the afternoon with a Nitroinfusions Handcrafted Ice Cream just across Main Street.
More boutique shopping may bring you to cocktail hour, and La Rue Cafe Wine Bar offers a notable collection of California wines and more from around the world. Have a glass, enjoy a bottle or take a bottle home for later to close out your weekend adventure.
Follow Karen on Twitter: @gloriousallianc
Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Drive, Indio, 760-342-5000; www.fantasyspringsresort.com
Oasis Date Gardens, 59111 Grapefruit Blvd., Thermal, 760-399-5665; www.oasisdate.com
International Banana Museum, 98775 CA-111, Mecca, 619-840-1429; www.internationalbananamuseum.com
North Shore Beach and Yacht Club, 99155 Sea View Drive, Mecca, 760-574-5471
Ski Inn, 9596 Avenue A, Niland, 760-354-1285; https://www.facebook.com/Ski-Inn-116597048364307/
Salvation Mountain, Beal Road, Niland; www.salvationmountain.us
Slab City, end of Beal Road, Niland; www.greetingsfromsaltonsea.com/slabcity.html
Jackalope Ranch, 80400 CA-111, Indio, 760-342-1999; www.thejackaloperanch.com
Old Town La Quinta, 78100 Main St, La Quinta; www.oldtownlaquinta.com