The next morning, we slept in a bit, then hit up the "lazy river" at the Worldmark and spent a good hour bobbing around in inner tubes and being silly with the kids in the "river." Nice change of pace, and I definitely recommend it. Then it was off to find date milkshakes at the Shields Date Garden. I was amazed it was still there, since my mom and I used to come down that way for the date milkshakes, back when we lived in La Quinta, when I was four. It still looks like a 1940's roadside attraction, and the date milkshakes are still as good as I remember them! We watched the movie called "The Romance and Sex Life of the Date" in their little theater, and were even more astounded that the place still exists. Dates are incredibly labor-intensive to raise, must be hand-pollinated, and laboreously hand-harvested. And can only be grown in a few places in the world that provide the right combination of heat, groundwater (irrigation), and lack of rain (rain spoils the dates). It seems, too, that all the medjool dates in the world are decendants of the offshoots grown in the Mojave because disease killed the trees in their original habitat, of which they were offshoots. Based on what I learned about dates, date palms would probably qualify for the endangered species list, if they weren't an agricultural item! So, we bought dates, "date crystals," and chocolate-dipped dates, and decided we were coming back the next day.
Then we headed south toward El Centro to meet up with my friend Bob Hayes, along the eastern side of the Salton Sea. Before we quite got there, we passed another date plantation, with another date stand, of the more up-to-date (probably 1970's) variety. I found myself wondering if those were going to last as outposts of date growing, and what the future of dates was in an era of rampant development that didn't care what agriculture it destroyed.
The Salton Sea was full again. I started realizing the magnitude of rains that had occurred this last year when I saw no signs of salt flats, but rather just a sea of blue, full to its beaches and old developments, which had lately been high and dry, fronting salt flats and mud. Signs of huge flash floods were also evident in deep-sculpted gullies. It was too late to save the old resort towns. They were ghost towns now, rotting away in the desert, empty windows and grafitti typical of the remaining hulks. A few businesses and houses hung on, the exceptions. Up to the east, we saw rocky outcrops, with a sign that said "Batcave Buttes" and speculated on whether huge clouds of bats came out of them at twilight. The caves were evident as we got nearer, and I could imagine vast colonies of bats inside. I hope they survive, as something is killing all the bats in the East, currently, eerily similar in symptomology to Colony Collapse in bees. (They come out of hybernation in the dead of winter, or forget how to navigate back home, etc. They find scattered dead bats, but that's about it. The colonies just disappear.) I also found myself thinking of the toxics-laiden New River that flows into the Salton Sea, and wondered how it was affecting wildlife. The further south we got, the more the fields of the croplands of the Imperial Valley crept into the landscape, until we left the Sea behind, and were solidly in agricultural country.
Next, we explore Mexican food in El Centro, and visit Bob's cannon park.