Snowbird destinations: Southern California, Part 2

El Centro

The southern-most desert city in the state, El Centro is blessed with more than 350 days of sunshine and has an arid climate with less than three inches of rain annually. Winter temperatures are in the mid 70s to mid 80s with over-night lows in the low 50s to mid 40s.

A short distance north of El Centro is the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge where numerous species of birds abound including this burrowing owl. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Centro is surrounded by thousands of acres of farmland that has transformed the desert into one of the most productive farming regions in California with an annual crop production of over $1 billion.

The nearby Imperial Sand Dunes (also known as Algodones Dunes) draws thousands of visitors each year, mainly for off-road driving.

San Diego

California’s second largest city and the United States’ eighth largest, San Diego boasts a citywide population of nearly 1.3 million residents. San Diego is renowned for its nearly perfect year-round climate, 70 miles of pristine beaches, and an expansive variety of dazzling world-class attractions including the world-famous San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park, Sea World San Diego, Downtown’s historic Gaslamp Quarter, Coronado, and La Jolla.

Death Valley

Known as “Tomesha” by the Timbisha Shoshone Indians, literally translated as “ground on fire,” Death Valley National Park holds a number of records, from the hottest recorded temperature (134° Fahrenheit) to the lowest point (282 feet below sea-level in the Badwater Basin).

This formidable area in Southern California is a sunken valley 100 miles long and 25 miles wide, filled with mountains, sand dunes, salt flats, oases, and volcanic craters. It is an adventurous getaway for hikers, bikers, and campers. In spite of the valley’s harsh environment it supports a diverse ecosystem of flora, fauna, and wildlife. Two towns exist in the area, Furnace Creek Ranch and Stovepipe Wells.

The park has a number

Salton Sea State Recreation Area is a favorite with many Snowbirds. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

of beautiful overlooks, dazzling painted hills, and 10,000-foot snow-capped peaks. Some of the most beautiful and dramatic scenery in the entire American West is found here. You can also visit the Furnace Creek Inn, take a tour of Scotty’s Castle, or explore one of the many ghost towns.

Because of the enormity of the park, driving is essential and many of the park’s attraction are spread out. But once a destination is picked and your RV is parked, Death Valley offers hundreds of miles of hiking trails for you to soak up the dramatic scenery.

Slab City

One offbeat area that needs to be mentioned is “the Slabs,” located four miles east of Niland on an abandoned World War II military base. After the war the military left leaving the concrete slabs where the buildings stood.

Slab City isn’t actually a city at all. It’s more a loose community of squatters, snowbirds, nomads, and some rather eccentric types who’ve pitched camps across 640 acres of open desert.

Campgrounds for Snowbirds are plentiful in Southern California. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping is free and unregulated. There are no services, but water and dumping privileges can be purchased in Niland.

This place is not for everyone, but it’s definitely worth a look-see.

Reminiscent of a 1960s commune, The Range, an open air theater sports a large stage sandwiched between two dilapidated hippy buses parked on one of the city’s namesake cement slabs.

Coming east into Slab City, one of the first things you’ll see is Salvation Mountain, the ongoing creation of Leonard Knight. All are invited to check out the mountain, walk through the grounds, and take photos. Leonard estimates over 100,000 gallons of paint were used to create the gospel message on the mountain, trucks, trees, and whatever else could be found.

Now in his late-70s, Leonard continues to paint the mountain and build up the area with bales of straw, supporting poles, and adobe.

Positive features: Warm weather, proximity to Mexico, great hiking opportunities, variety of golfing opportunities, spring wildflowers

Negative features: Traffic congestion, air quality, high sales tax, expensive cost of living

Worth Pondering…

There’s nothing wrong with Southern California that a rise in the ocean level wouldn’t cure.

—Ross MacDonald, author (1915-1983)

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