Spring Break Family Road Trip Part I: Anza Borrego Desert & The Salton Sea

April 7th, 2018 - filed under: The Farm » Family

anza borrego

For the entire last week of March, for Spring Break 2018 which happened to line up perfectly at the kiddo’s school and the University where I work, for a much needed vacation for a very busy family, and for our mutual, unadulterated love of the open road: Jeremy, Waits, Vesper, and I, went adventuring.

Six glorious days of desert exploration, 1,300 miles of criss-crossing California — from the southernmost deserts near Calexico, to the eastern reaches of the Nevada border near Las Vegas, and everywhere in between — we traversed not one, not two, not three, but FOUR National/State parks. We bouldered in Joshua Tree and we danced on beaches made of bones at the Salton Sea; we skateboard bombed campsites across Anza Borrego, and we washed away the dust in the healing mineral waters of the natural hot springs in Palm Desert; we followed a wise guide deep into the badlands, trusting her to lead us to treasure — which she did; we collected wildflowers everywhere we went and we cooked over campfires and we sang a thousand rounds of Hamilton and we slept in piles of puppies and people and it was all so indescribably perfect.

It was the best Spring Break of my life. Here’s what the first leg of our trip was like . . .


For the love of vegan hot dogs.

We left town early on a Sunday, which was perfect because we were heading south, and that particular Sunday just so happened to be the day of Vegan Street Fair! It was super easy to swing a detour through North Hollywood on our way out of civilization. I mean, what better way to prepare for a week away from modern luxuries, than with an everything-you-could-possibly-dream-of Food Festival??



Catching up with some of our favorite folks at BEET X BEET. We met the owner, Jacky, for the very first time at the first VSF 4 years ago. We’ve been friends ever since then, and recently Waits even modeled for them!

We didn’t stay long, just an hour or two. Enough time to see some friends, stroll the length of the promenade, catch a bouncy castle, chow down on some plant-based grub, and get back on the road by early afternoon.


Highlight of the day: this gluten-free bacon maple blondie ice cream sandwich from Charlie’s Brownies, hello?! Also these nachos which were worth the epic wait.

Leaving LA by 2 pm, we were officially on the open road. Desert bound. Ready for anything. Our trusty ancient Subaru, the same one that Jeremy has somehow been keeping alive and kicking for the last 5 years despite my constant inattention and borderline car abuse, was piled high with camping gear, coolers full of food, shovels and pickaxes (more on that later), books and games, and of course, snacks. Many snacks.


Compared to other California icons like Joshua Tree or even the Mojave, Anza Borrego isn’t a desert that gets a whole lot of attention. Which is funny, since it’s huge. Over 600,000 acres makes it the largest state park in all of California. It’s also the southernmost, with a rough and rugged terrain that’s formed primarily as the result of flash floods and rapid runoff tearing down from the surrounding Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountain ranges. Of all the deserts we visited, Anza Borrego definitely felt the most barren.

2001 subaru still going


camping with pitbull

We reached our camp (nestled amidst a grove of Tamarisk trees — they taste salty, you better believe I tasted them!) in the early evening, and immediately Jeremy and I began to get set up.

As we had made our way through the campground, Waits had seen a number of kids hanging around various sites. So as soon as we parked, he bounded out of the car hollering “I’M GONNA GO PLAY WITH THOSE KIDS OKAY BYEEEEEE” and I have to tell you, that was one of my favorite things about the whole trip. I don’t know how it is where you live, but in this day and age, in southern California, you don’t just let your kids run off unsupervised to make friends with strangers. It’s just not something parents in the city do.

So watching him get to experience that reminded me so much of my wild latchkey childhood, and I was thrilled that he finally got to feel that kind of freedom. He made great connections with a couple of kids — those kinds of friendships that only last a few days but really make an impact. It’s such an important part of childhood, I think.

man kissing pitbull

Vesper was full of energy after a day in the car, so Jeremy continued to set up camp while I did the only thing that made sense, obvi.

skating with pitbull

Half a dozen laps around the campground and she was tuckered out. It was actually the first time I’d taken her skating, and I was so pleased to find that she loved it! She ran alongside me and sometimes even pulled, which makes sense considering her breed. Now I’m really looking forward to more skateboard adventures with this perfect pooch.

The rest of the night was campfire cooking (I’ll be posting vegan camping recipes, coming soon), hot chocolate and marshmallows, starry latenight excursions, tempestuous winds that threatened to tear apart our camp (seriously!), and a tiny tent filled up to the top with cuddles.

But I didn’t take any pictures of any of that.

camping coffee

Coffee. ALWAYS start with coffee. (And flowers — I like to bring fresh flowers for the camp table. Is that super weird??)

I love mornings around camp. I think it may be my favorite part of camping — how the air is so cold and the world is so quiet. You can hear every clink as you prepare the coffee, and work to build a fire. Your lips are dry and you can feel the layer of grime covering your skin, but for some reason it all feels sort of lovely. The fire is warm and there’s too much smoke, but it’s okay. You pull up a chair and sip your coffee and listen to the world slowly waking up: birds singing, people mumbling across the campground, children beginning to holler. Eventually, the smells of many breakfasts wafting through. The sun rises higher and the world starts to warm. Suddenly, you realize you can peel off one of the many layers you’re wearing.

I *love* that.

vegan camping breakfast

Tofu and taters in the cast iron skillet. Avo on top. Simple and perfect.


We hit the road for a day trip after breakfast, with a vague notion of where we were headed. I’d always wanted to visit the Salton Sea . . .

But Anza Borrego is vast, and we were in no hurry. We made our way through the desert landscape, stopping to marvel at the many changing topographies, everything from washed-out flash flood ravines, to giant fanning bajadas, to the seemingly endless plains dotted with short, fat chollas and tall, spindly, flame-tipped ocotillos.

I fell in love with those ocotillos.


ocotillo flowers

Eventually we wound our way east, through the desert, towards the sea.

Salton Sea Beach

The Salton Sea is a very large, very shallow, very saline lake located directly on top of the San Andreas Fault line. It’s the largest lake in California, but the surface of the water sits hundreds of feet below sea level. It’s saltier than the Pacific Ocean.

During the 1950s, there was a push to build resort-style housing and developments along the shores of the Salton Sea, to create a sort of “Desert Oasis” tourist draw. Hundreds of homes were erected in small planned communities with names like Salton City, Desert Shores, and Bombay Beach. Sadly, the pervasive agricultural runoff created a highly-polluted lakefront. The noxious smell and rising salinity all but erased any hope of a fishing and leisure industry. Entire towns have been abandoned, leaving behind the strange, skeletal remains of a 1950s promise.

It’s not a hospitable place, but then again — what did they expect in the desert?

Salton Sea abandoned

abandoned building salton sea

salton sea beach abandoned

salton sea graffiti

These photos were all taken along the western shoreline. It was so eerie being there.

We made our way from the southern edge of the western shores, up north, around the top near the Coachella valley, and back down along the eastern shores. The eastern side of the lake is very different, with multiple State Park Service Areas designated for recreation. Despite the lack of tourism, the Salton Sea still generates a lot of interest, mostly from ecologists who study the handful of salt-tolerant creatures who call it home.

It’s still not particularly hospitable.

salton sea shells

salton sea road trip

shells salton sea

salton sea fish

dead fish salton sea

playing salton sea

visit salton sea

salton sea dead fish

salton sea bones

shell beach salton sea

salton sea dogs

That day, we drove the entire perimeter of the lake, then back across the desert to our happy grove of Tamarisk trees. At camp, we settled in for the evening, for another round of campfire cooking and hot chocolate and star gazing.

♥ ♥ ♥

To be continued . . .

train in desert

  • Betty Spaghetti

    We did this exact same tour a few times – Salton Sea is indeed eerie and the stench is equally eerie. I think to remember that very high levels of Selenium were found in the lake a few years back. Anza Borrego was incredible last year after all the heavy rains – a sea of wild flowers. Have you gone to Antelope Valley? The orange poppies are just amazing to see there…..can’t wait for the continuation of your trip!

  • Sarah C.

    <3 I live in the desert southwest, and we spend loads of time camping in these amazingly gorgeous and strangely inhospitable regions that I've come to adore. A recent camping trip (in fact, the same week as your trip) in the Organ Mtns outside Las Cruces NM re-ignited our wanderlust and now we're planning another massive summer camping trip. Can't wait to hear about more of your adventures.

  • Lindsey

    Beautiful. I love reading your traveling posts. We live in MN, and it’s still snowing here, so seeing your pictures bring me great joy :)

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    That’s awesome you’re familiar with so many of the spots! I had heard awful things about the stench of the Salton Sea but I guess we were lucky, we barely smelled anything? Maybe the high winds the day before had blown it all off and we just hit at the perfect time.

    There were like, zero wildflowers in Anza Borrego this year! We asked and they said last year was a super bloom (so jealous you got to see it!) but that this year they had the opposite, there was no bloom at all!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Oh I’m dying to go to New Mexico! I was never drawn to the desert but over the past few years I have fallen so in love. The southwest is one area of the country I haven’t spent a lot of time, and I’m so excited to explore there!

    Have fun with your wanderlusting and adventuring!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Thank you. And remember, spring is coming sooooon! I see gardens and bathing suits and picnics in your near future. =)

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  • CrystalB

    I love your travel posts! We went to the Colorado national monument this year for our spring break (and wine tasting in Grand Junction, CO). Our goal next year is to do the five national parks in our home state of Utah: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion. I’ve never explored all of them, but I can’t wait.

  • Molly Michelle Saber

    I love campfire broccoli!! Followed your instastory and made it the next day.

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  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    That sounds amazing! I need to go back to Utah. I drove across the state in the early 2000s, I remember driving through the salt flats as the sun was rising. It was absolutely amazing.

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