Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

I remember the first time I ever saw Tierra del Sol’s Desert Safari event.

It was March 2008. It was dark, and I was driving through the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park on Highway S22, toward the Salton Sea. Just outside of the state park, one enters an amazing area called the Badlands. From up on high in the hills, one suddenly descends onto the desert floor. And there it was—as though a city had appeared, a sea of lights hugged the badlands and continued south in an area normally blanketed by darkness or lit solely by the moon. It was quite astounding to see this enormous temporary city.

This coming weekend (Friday, March 1, through Sunday, March 3) is Tierra del Sol’s 51st annual Desert Safari event. Hosted by the “Four Wheel Drive Club of San Diego,” off-roaders meet each year just east of the Anza-Borrego State Park and at the northern end of the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Registration Area. Online registration is closed, but you can still register on-site for $65. In order to ride, you need to be registered. There are trail rides and rough runs, vendor showcases, demonstrations, a raffle and even fireworks.

As a relative newcomer to California, but with tremendous love for the desert, I had been blissfully unaware of just how popular off-roading is here. I was a European who loved to visit the desert in the heat of the summer, when most sane people sit around hugging their air conditioners, or just leave. Bikes, quads, ATV's, ORVs, 4WDs, AWDs sand rails, and many other off-roading toys filtered through to my world only as objects of death and destruction: death to the person riding them, and destruction to the landscapes they chew up.

Last year, I finally had to the chance to see what this Desert Safari event was all about, as I worked at the (very popular) empanada stand. I had moved to Salton City, and was thus more knowledgeable about some of these off-road vehicles. I can hear them all the time from my house, and I see the dust tracking behind the vehicles as they zoom through.

I realized the event was a significant gathering for lovers of all sorts of off-road vehicles. Some of the vehicles were standard, some modified, some totally outrageous, and some looked like vehicles you would find on a farm. People invest a lot of time and money into this pastime.

Onsite, there was a lot of action; a huge crowd was there, watching the big guys taking to the training park and trying their hand at the obstacles. (Think a skate park for Jeeps: Instead of half pipes and handrails, there are pyramids and rubber-tire mountains.)

There was also lots of dust flying, fumes and burning rubber burning. I spoke with a good number of people, and one of the things we spoke about was responsible off-roading and “treading lightly.” These trails already exist; they have specifically been cast for off-road vehicles and are intended to be kept to a maximum width, with as little destruction to the desert landscape as possible. The off-roaders are taught to practice “pack it in; pack it out” habits and not to leave the existing trails. They are asked to tread lightly and to minimize the damage to the areas.

But all too often, riders do not stick to existing trails and leave litter behind. Tire marks lead up hillsides and mounds. There is so much vegetation that is either dead or dying after being trampled on or shredded.

I am sure it is the action of a few that are causing the damage in reputation to the rest. But that damage needs to be pointed out.

At the height of off-roading season, one can see dust clouds forming and drifting toward residential areas near the Salton Sea. This is made worse as more vegetation is destroyed; this is a very windy area, and vegetation serves as excellent dust mitigation. There is not much an off-roader can do about the dust, but one can stick to trails, not ride over vegetation, and ensure that all the trash that is taken in is taken back out.

I recently went out with a resident whose house backs on to some of these washes and trails. We picked up cans, plastic bags, bottles, leftover tissues, frames from lanterns, plastic tubes and more. She goes out to these trails and washes everyday for hours at a time and returns home with mounds of litter that off-roaders leave behind. She will be at the Tierra del Sol event collecting cans and other litter, and teaching awareness.

If everyone who rides into these off-road areas took home not only all of their own trash, but a few additional items as well, the area could be cleaner for all to enjoy. It’s great enjoy the action, the noise, the dust, the trails, the food and the company—but please remember to tread lightly.

Published in Community Voices

The eastern portion of the Coachella Valley struggles with poverty, bad air and water quality, high unemployment, high levels of asthma, a receding Salton Sea, high levels of arsenic in well water, pesticide-spraying—and the list goes on. It’s a far cry from the bright lights that shine over the golf courses to the west.

However, residents are trying to do something about these problems, and an environmental justice movement is growing in the eastern Coachella Valley. As part of that movement, the inaugural Environmental Health Leadership Summit took place at Thermal’s Desert Mirage High School on Saturday, Feb. 23.

The summit was organized by Promotores Comunitarios del Desierto and the Comite Civico del Valle, and had more than 30 sponsors. The focus of the summit was to promote health and environmental awareness, leadership, systems change and cultural and linguistic competency.

Environmental health was the main topic—specifically air and water quality, public health and the Salton Sea restoration.

Information was distributed about ways people could help clean the air, asthma management in children, and cleaning products that are safe to use in the home. There were keynotes, speeches and workshops.

I participated in the summit as a vendor, where I displayed my photographs and my book, Portraits and Voices of the Salton Sea. Other vendors and information providers included, Occupy Coachella, the county Economic Development Agency, Legacy of Clean cleaning products, California Rural Legal Assistance and Planned Parenthood. The high school sold drinks and food to raise money. It was great to see the different stallholders share the same vision of environmental health and equality.

I was also on a panel regarding Salton Sea restoration. It was my first time as a panelist.

We were on the stage hidden behind a curtain as Congressman Raul Ruiz was announcing us. Nervousness aside, it was an honor to voice my opinion and pass on what other members of the community had been passing on to me over the years.

Along with me were Doug Barnum, of the U.S. Geological Survey; Bruce Wilcox, of the Imperial Irrigation District; Paul Reisman, acting superintendent of the Salton Sea State Recreational Area; Jason Low, from the South Coast Air Quality Management District; and Phil Rosentrater of the Economic Development Agency. Jose Angel was the moderator, from the Regional Water Board.

After we each spoke, it was time for the questions from the moderator and the audience: What do we each think are the most pressing issues? What is the highest priority? If nothing is done, what is your biggest fear? What about the efforts to make a viable plan to restore the sea?

We spoke about how we need to prevent a toxic dust storm from becoming a reality; how we need to prevent another Big Stink; how we need to focus on health issues; and how it would be nice to have a thriving recreational area again, or at least a sea that will not turn into a toxic semi-dust bowl while emitting hydrogen sulfide burps that stink all the way to Los Angeles.

Barnum noted that there are many problems with restoration efforts, and one solution for one problem might be to the detriment of another. 

I mentioned that the focus has to be on “keeping the Salton Sea wet,” a quote from Norm Niver, a Salton Sea activist since 1974. There was mention of how geothermal, algae, solar, wind and other renewable-energy industries might be the key to finding the funding so essential to saving the sea. The Salton Sea area is second to none for potential renewable energy.

I spoke about the disconnect between the community and the agencies, and how there need to be more opportunities to work together.

This summit was a great start. Area residents often feel as if they do not have a voice. They have been complaining about health issues and high asthma rates for years, and have been fearing the demise of the Salton Sea for decades. So, to say that the residents are having a hard time trusting the local agencies is an understatement. The current representatives of these government agencies need to work really hard to earn back this trust.

A couple members of the audience shared this feeling of frustration and questioned the currently proposed restoration project. The project, as it stands, would start small, by building a few shallow water ponds at the southern end of the sea. This would keep those areas, which are already exposed playa, wet, and would serve as habitat for wildlife. As time goes on, and more funding comes in, further small-scale projects would be implemented.

In the meantime, the question remains: Where would the money will come from for a large-scale restoration project?

This is not good enough, said one member of the audience. What about a comprehensive plan? And how is it that after so many years, only a couple of small shallow water ponds are being built? How can we trust these agencies? Why is the community not being listened to? And why are there no answers? He spoke about the state oversight meeting on the day before, led in part by Coachella area state Assemblymember V. Manuel Perez, and how members of the public could come forward and voice their opinion—but they each had only a single minute to do so.

Not good enough.

My hope is that we can all work together. That the man in the audience gets the information he wants as to why the comprehensive plan will not be implemented. That there will be future summits like this one.

For more information on the summit, visit Organizers will add videos from workshops, keynotes and presentations in the coming weeks. There will also be updates on another summit, to be held in Imperial County, scheduled for the end of April 2013. Below: Fossil Fuel Not Cool is a campaign by Occupy Coachella and

Published in Community Voices

"Mitt, don't feel bad about losing the election," Ann said. "At least we can take a vacation now."

Mitt Romney agreed. "Palm Springs is beautiful this time of year," he explained. "We can stay at the Marriott. After all, I'm back on the board of directors."

"Let me call the hotel and make a reservation," Ann told him. A few minutes later, she had good news.

They only have 47 percent occupancy right now!" she exclaimed. "There's plenty of room for us!"

The Romneys packed their suitcases and were off to the Coachella Valley. When their plane landed, they were greeted by the mayor.

"Welcome to the playground of the presidents," he announced. "Or, in your case, the playground of the hopeless presidential hopefuls."

As Mitt and Ann got into their limousine, they were overcome by a foul odor. "What's that stench?" Ann asked. "It smells like rotten eggs."

"I probably forgot to use my deodorant this morning," Mitt said. "I'll put it on when we get to the hotel."

The two arrived at the resort, and the staff had a special room prepared just for them. "Room 47, right this way," the manager said.

As the Romneys unpacked their suitcases, they decided to turn on the TV and catch up on the news. One story in particular caught their attention.

"Thousands of dead fish have been found floating in the Salton Sea," the newscaster announced. "Residents have reported the smell throughout the Coachella Valley."

Mitt was relieved. "At least it's not my lack of deodorant!" he said with a grin. Ann was concerned.

"You have to do something!" she yelled. "The future of the Coachella Valley is at stake."

Mitt thought for a moment. "When I was at Bain Capital, I turned companies around," he told Ann. "I think I can turn the Salton Sea around, too."

Mitt continued. "The Salton Sea has 47 percent salinity, which is killing the fish. All I have to do is replace it with fresh water."

Ann was skeptical. "How are you going to do that?" she asked. Mitt already had a plan figured out.

"My former running mate, Paul Ryan, drinks ten gallons of water a day," he explained. "There's a warehouse in Wisconsin that he uses to store thousands more."

"Hold on, Mitt," his wife told him. "Before you can replace the sea with fresh water, you have to get rid of the saltwater."

"I have a plan for that too," Mitt said. "I'm going to have New Jersey Governor Chris Christie airlifted to the sea by helicopter. Then I'm going to drop him in the water. He'll create such a big splash, the sea will be empty in no time."

Ann was proud of her husband. "I'll never understand how you lost the election," she told him. "You always have such brilliant ideas."

Mitt decided to take a drive down to the Salton Sea and have a look for himself. When he arrived at the shore, he noticed an old man talking to a beach chair. It was Clint Eastwood!

"I'm sorry to interrupt you," Mitt said. "This area must be evacuated immediately. I'm replacing the water in the Salton Sea."

Clint whispered something in Mitt's ear. "I can't do that to myself!" Mitt exclaimed.

Clint got on his horse and rode off into the sunset.

Mitt took out his cell phone and placed a call to New Jersey. "The coast is clear," he said. "You can send Chris Christie over right away."

He then returned to the hotel, where he issued a tsunami alert for the Coachella Valley. "We have to prepare for possible flooding," he told Ann.

As Chris arrived at the Salton Sea, the event was broadcast live on TV. The Romneys watched with interest, and Mitt knew that 47 percent of the viewing public would watch, too, no matter what.

The helicopter hovered over the sea while the governor remained suspended in a harness. The pilot gave the order, and suddenly, Chris fell out of the harness and landed in the sea below.

The water displacement was so great that a giant wave was generated, sending the contents of the sea racing across the valley floor.

"We have to get out of town!" Mitt yelled to his wife. They rented a car and headed toward Interstate 10. Unfortunately, when they got to the Banning Pass, the traffic was backed up for miles.

"When I was at Bain Capital, I turned companies around," he told Ann. "I think I can turn this traffic around, too."

"Stop with the Bain Capital talk already!" Ann said in disgust. "The workers are repairing all the potholes. We'll probably be stuck here all day."

Several hours later, Mitt started to feel confined. He got out of the car to stretch his legs when he noticed a huge truck passing by on the other side of the freeway. He looked at the driver and couldn't believe who he saw.

It was Paul Ryan!

Mitt waved his arms furiously to get Paul's attention. Paul pulled over and got out of the truck. "I'm delivering my personal supply of fresh water to the Salton Sea," he told Mitt.

The Romneys hopped over the barricade and got into the truck with Paul. "The flooding should be subsiding by now," Mitt said. "Let's go back."

It took quite a while to drive the 47 miles, but when they finally arrived, they noticed Chris Christie sitting at the bottom of the empty sea.

"What happened to all the dead fish?" Mitt asked.

"I ate them," Chris replied. "I love sushi." Just then, the helicopter returned to airlift the governor back to New Jersey.

Paul immediately began transferring the water from his truck, and the Salton Sea was soon filled with fresh water.

"The smell is gone," Ann pointed out. "But the fish need to be replaced." Mitt already had a plan.

"I went through all my binders full of women," he explained. "I'll be throwing them all in the water. If anyone is looking for a wife, now there will be plenty of fish in the sea."

"You have my 47 percent approval," Ann said.

"I'll drink to that," Paul added as he took a sip of water.

Published in Humor

In the spring of 2011, I concluded a portrait project photographing residents, visitors, workers, scientists, park rangers and environmentalists who work and/or live at the Salton Sea.

I interviewed them regarding their personal backgrounds, stories and hopes for the future of the Salton Sea—as well as their fears. They shared their stories and knowledge and gave the reader an idea of the cultural, historical, environmental and natural aspects of this area.

This became a book, which was published in September 2012 by Salton Sink Press, entitled Portraits and Voices of the Salton Sea.

The idea was to create a photographic documentary that focuses on those who will be affected most by the declining water levels, and gives them a platform to speak out. I also spoke with those involved in the restoration to help inform the reader of what’s involved, as education is key to leading others to learn about conservation.

Some in the media still portray the Salton Sea in a very negative light, and a lot of people, even in California, still aren’t aware of its existence. After hearing from all of the people I interviewed, one gets a more-complete picture of the Salton Sea, and why it is so valuable, not only to this area, but beyond the Colorado Basin.

While that part of the project is done, as the book has been published, I would like to continue receiving the input of others who enjoy the Salton Sea, have meaningful ideas, and want to share personal stories, memories and photographs, through

The aim is to show that people do not want the Salton Sea to dry up, as it will spell disaster, not just at the Salton Sea, but also throughout surrounding areas. The most recent “Big Stench” went as far as Los Angeles. The Salton Sea is not located in a bubble. Its drying up will affect people far and wide in Southern California and Arizona. These people all have a connection with the largest lake in California.

I am NOT looking for comments like, “The Salton Sea stinks; what a waste,” or, “It’s a man-made mistake and a cesspool and deserves to die.” These have been spouted out over and over again, and have become tiresome. These comments will not be published onto the blog.

Please, send me your stories, photographs, recollections, ideas, comments and histories. These can be in form of pictures, text, links, YouTube videos, news articles or anything or else of note!

I will publish as much as possible on, as it is meant to be a space for people to speak out.

Photographs and quotes from the book will be featured at an upcoming exhibition at the Palm Desert Community Gallery as part of a three-person show entitled Portraits of the Desert, which opens Thursday, Dec. 6, and runs through Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013. An opening reception takes place from 5:30 to 7 p.m., Monday, Dec. 10.

The gallery is located at 73-510 Fred Waring Drive in Palm Desert, and is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. For more info on the gallery, call (760) 346-0611, ext. 664, or visit

I look forward to reading your stories and seeing your photos—and perhaps seeing you at the opening of the upcoming exhibition!

Contact Christina Lange at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Find her work at; and

Below: "Steve Johnson," by Christina Lange

"Steve Johnson," by Christina Lange

Published in Community Voices

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