Every year or so, for the past couple of years, around the time of February, I embark on a small getaway from the noisy city of Los Angeles and head south to San Diego. It is there that I spend a weekend with my close friend Oscar Torres, a friend of many years who always, very warmly, opens his home to me. He is a fellow artist that uses his creativity in bringing out culture through conceptual mediums, usually mixing different cultures into one perception. This is really the only time of year when I have the chance to visit him and the area, and every time we have a small adventure of sorts, usually around town and explore the downtown areas and have some time to play some basketball together at a local park around Escondido, commonly around a slew of regulars who now know me as the “Photographer guy,” since I am always carrying my long lens and look “professional” with the contraption on.
But this past February was a little different. This time around, we had plans to further venture out of the city, past all the suburbia and typical beaches, and into the mountains, across the plains on southern California. We didn’t have a clear path; we will drive out to wherever these roads take us. After a wholesome Latin meal early Saturday morning, we headed out, east, it was decided. We would traverse from Escondido to take the San Pasqual Valley Road, heading as far east as we can, maybe getting lost, but that was of the least importance.
First order of the day: gas her up. Taking my trusty Ford Focus for the ride (And I tell you, this little car takes me… To where I am going! This car has been around!) Purchasing the necessities of water and some snacks to munch on, Oscar tells me “¡Vos! ¡Vamonos!” And we did. In my many trips to San Diego, I’ve noticed a dizzying amount of separate highways that lead you around town in about twenty different ways, and Oscar knows all of them. “¡Vos! Ash Road becomes San Pasqual Valley Road, which is the 78 highway. It takes us to Ramona.” So he has taken this route before, but not as far as we are going today. The architecture along this road it your typical California fare; raised homes with garages designed for Model T’s, fit for family of 2.5 kids. Just lousy. After passing the Safari Park found on that road, we started our trip. Listening to the electro-house mix in my car, the scenery and sounds couldn’t have been more appropriate for our trip.
A flurry of ranch style homes started to pop out, with the February greenery in full effect. After a bit, we reached Ramona, a small town full of churches and that “old town” feel to it, complete with your useless novelty shops and cheap hotels. Soon enough, we passed the town, and kept heading east. Large rock formations started to take place onto the left of the road, with a large body of land littered with ranch style homes. This made me think to myself about our concept of property. “Look at those rocks right there.” I said to Oscar. “We think we own them. They have been there for probably thousands of years, what do they know about property?”
We kept driving on to find a vast, green field that belonged to an egg farm. We parked the car and out came the camera.
Heading farther east, we started up the mountain to Julian, another small town. Driving up the mountain, we stopped and took some more stills.
Reaching Julian, this time with horses and San Diego townies, complete with UGG shoes and Hawaiian shirts, we quickly drove past the Knotts Berry Farm inspired town, and headed north east to a secluded road that wrapped around the mountain, where remnants of snow still lurked. Surprisingly enough, homes were present in this most windy of roads, which reminded me of my hermit self who wishes to live on top of a mountain one day. How beautiful being away from society! The road was dark, due to all the greenery that surrounded it, and we finally descended the road to find a straight path to… A desert.
“¡Vos!” We are near the Salton Sea.” Said Oscar. “I was there last month!” I replied. “I’ve never been there.” Well, I guess its Salton Sea part deux. We popped out of the 78 to 86 highway, where we made a left to Salton City. Here is a failed oasis gone terribly wrong. A man-made lake that is salty and was supposed to attract people from all over California to populate its shores. Many empty lots and poverty ravage the “city,” with names such as “Bel-Air” and “Burbank” as their street names. To those who are into video games, this is the real Fallout. “This place sucks!” yells Oscar. We stop by Bob and Carol’s motel, in a once busy marina, and drive to the very end of what remains of a harbor. “Let me show you all the dead fish.” I say to him, and we park and get out. The smell is quite intense, as thousands of dead fish are everywhere along the coast, even Oscar had to put his shirt in front of his nose.
We headed out of Salton City, and to the only visible hot spot full of people and their dirt bikes: The largest Am/Pm I’ve ever seen, complete with shopping carts. We grabbed some munchies, and decided to go to… El Centro! Down the 86 we went, now heading south east. Passing Brawley, which looked like a more isolated Fresno, we reached El Centro, an even lousier city full of abandoned dealerships and a Wal-Mart. We reached the 8 freeway, and headed back west.
Passing the border patrol checkpoints and casinos, we finally reached civilization again, with a repertoire of Macy’s and Denny’s; we were back in San Diego. It was getting dark, but Oscar says “Let me take you to the coast.” Turns out we head out to the very tip of coast, to Fort Rosecrans, and its cemetery.
Now night time, and weary, smelly thanks to the Salton Sea, we end the day with tacos near Oscar’s home. “It was a good trip” he says, as we converse about life. “We got to do it more often.” And indeed, we shall.