The desert sure attracts some strange people, and California is no exception. Here's seven sights you must see when you visit Palm Springs.
Just south of the Coachella Valley lies this huge expansive sea. It's a beautiful blue, palm tree-lined body of salt, that's almost completely deserted. Why? During the '50s and '60s, everybody flocked to this fabulous desert sea to enjoy swimming and other seaside activities such as riding on speedboats and waterskiing. Resorts were built; people built homes by its shores.
Little did they know, the agricultural land surrounding the water was causing pollutants to seep into the sea, killing its fish and creating a stench so foul it drove people away as fast as they arrived, leaving behind what could only be described as a post-apocalyptic paradise, with empty motels, caravans, trailers, and other fascinating wreckage.
The dead, decaying fish have been known to pile up on the beach in vast quantities – the "white sand" you see is actually from their bones – particles of what must be millions of dead fish, crushed into coarse grains. From a distance, the sea looks an inviting blue – don't be fooled, the toxic brown water is just reflecting colour from the desert skies.
People still try to live there – head to Bombay Beach for what seems to be the largest concentration of random, abandoned stuff. There's even a radical arts festival held there now – called the Bombay Beach Biennale – an underground event that is being compared to Burning Man. visitgreaterpalmsprings.com
Just west of Joshua Tree and north of Palm Springs, there's a tiny little town that was created to be a live set for western movies and television series. It's "Mane Street'' – pun intended – is lined with faux-frontier buildings circa 1880. Behind the buildings were real motels, bowling alleys and ice cream parlours which everyone on set could enjoy after hours. Nowadays you might see the odd gunfight, but for the most part it's a quiet community of artists and retirees, except when Pappy and Harriets, the town's legendary indie music venue, brings some of the world's hottest acts to town. visitcalifornia.com
Leonard Knight built this technicoloured, man-made mountain of adobe spanning a 28-year period. Its bright colours depict waterfalls, rainbows and flowers and its huge size is only apparent when you follow its "yellow brick road" around and inside it. People maintain its interior sculptures, which feature paintings on adobe, tree branches and odd car doors, presumably for free. While Knight worked on his mountain during the day, he slept the night in his truck – a brightly coloured ute with a house on the back of it. While the message is clear, it's lost to most visitors who come across from the Salton Sea for the awesome photo opportunities it provides. visitgreaterpalmsprings.com
Beyond Salvation Mountain and Slab City, an abandoned army base dotted with mobile homes and trailers where people come to live "off the grid" until the heat gets too much to bear, is another artists' collective, which is also a refuge for survivalists, musos, and writers. You're welcome to peruse their art park for free or for a donation. You'll be welcomed a by a "caretaker" who offers free short tours explaining some of the interesting pieces on display which, frankly, would not look out of place in some of our modern galleries (hello MONA). eastjesus.org
These two larger than real life dinos are an iconic roadside attraction in the town of Cabazon, just outside of Palm Springs. They were built to attract passers-by on the busy highway to a restaurant, which has long since closed, but the dinosaurs remain, much to the delight of Instagram fans everywhere. The dinos – Dinny the Dinosaur and Mr. Rex – have also appeared in countless movies, including National Lampoon's Vacation. visitgreaterpalmsprings.com
This is an art biennale with a unique touch that makes visitors feel like kids on treasure hunt; grab a map and discover exhibits found throughout the Coachella Valley. Some of the highlights of this year's included the Circle of Land and Sky – mirrored spears piercing the ground in a circle, which can never be viewed the same way twice; billboards that mimic the mountain landscape behind; and of course the hot Instagram favourite, Doug Aitkin's "mirror house" overlooking Palm Springs, which you can still view through to October 31, 2017. Dougaitkenmirage.com; desertx.org
Galleta Meadows sculpture garden
Just west of the Salton Sea in the Anza-Borrego State Park is a vast desert garden of 130 metallic monster sculptures. Dennis Avery, the owner of Galleta Meadows Estate, commissioned the art – Ricardo Breceda set about crafting the massive pieces, which appear randomly as you drive along the main road leading to and driving through the town of Borrego Springs and as you exit out again. Breceda continues to create the beasties, which could be anything from giant scorpions, dinosaurs or woolly mammoths to the incredible Sea Dragon, which is so long it actually extends across a road. visitcalifornia.com
The writer was a guest of Visit Greater Palm Springs, visitgreaterpalmsprings.com
See also: 20 reasons to visit Palm Springs
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