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I’m sitting at the Courtesy Coffee Shop in Blythe, CA enjoying coffee, sunshine and eavesdropping. So far both conversations between the waitress and other patrons are about illness and lethargy – no one feels well enough to start decorating for Christmas.

Day before yesterday I left Alaska for the first time since May. Clear skies followed me from Sitka to Seattle and San Diego, giving me a geologist’s-eye view of the west coast.

Walking out of the San Diego airport felt fucking great – 70 degrees, palm trees and agave. With a sporty, red sedan from the rental company (NOT HERTZ!!!!!), I was on the road headed East. Fueled up on cherries and turkey jerky from a roadside stand, I left the freeway and snaked through the hills and deserts of Route 79.

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There were strange RV parks in the middle of flat nothing, with white campers circled like conestogas, but it got infinitely more strange. The Salton Sea is a large land-locked salty body of water. According to Wikipedia, it was once a thriving tourist destination with resorts and all. The GPS directed me along unmarked roads to the beach front.

It had a distinct Mad Max feel. Through the haze, the water blended into the hills with a light fogginess blurring it all. Cranes, pelicans and gulls stood around, screaming but not moving much. Walking down a derelict boat ramp, I had to a swing left to avoid a full-grown scrub tree. The stale air stank. The water had receded probably 20 feet from the original bank, and the middle ground was littered with barnacles, bones and small dead fish.

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Boat launch

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Salton Sea

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Receded shoreline

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Picturing dead fish

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Reducing water levels caused higher salinity, and fertilizer runoff led to algae blooms which depleted the oxygen level of the water, killing off most of the introduced fish.

After a beautifully bizarre sunset, I drove past a palm tree, date and grape farm and through some holey rocks to Blythe, welcomed on the outskirts by its gleaming prison complex. And now my coffee and biscuit are done, and it’s time to hit the road again. North to Arizona!

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