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2015-10-31 Salton Sea Southeast

Salton Sea Tracks

Mud VolcanoThe southeastern shore of the Salton Sea is an area I enjoy exploring. Between the agricultural fields and the edge of the sea, there are many opportunities to encounter birds of a wide variety. I drove from Yuma though Holtville, Calipatria and Niland to reach the sea. My plan was to drive from the Wister reserve south on Davis Road, hitting Red Hill and Sinclair Road, then passing by the shoreline between Lack Road and Young Road. Sometimes plans change. The hunters were out in force at Wister, but the birds were not, so I kept moving south. Davis Road ends at Schrimpf Road and at the northeast corner of the intersection are old mud volcanos I’d visited many years earlier. When I saw them in 2001 these pots were wonderfully active with open areas of thick bubbly mud a few feet below the plane of the land’s surface. Given the drop in the water table and the lowering of the surface of the nearby sea, the activity here was well down below, and barely visible at tiny vents on the piles of mud cones. Bubbling and hissing sounds from inside the mud cones was about all that was left to witness its former glory.

While I was walking through the mounds of mud looking for any photo ops that there may be, a red Jeep pulled up on the flats behind my Samurai, and out popped two adventurous girls from Temecula and Joshua Tree. One lady, Cyndi,  seemed more outgoing than her friend Jill, and I learned they were on a double mission. Mission one was to find mud volcanos and mission two to visit Salvation Mountain, which I’d never heard of. They’d  heard of boiling pots off of Garst Road, but I did not know of these. Soon I left to continue on to Red Hill in hopes I might find Lesser Nighthawks lingering. They are summer visitors here and by now they’ve likely headed south for the winter.

At Red Hill County Park it was not a surprise that I found no evidence of nighthawks, but settled in on flickers, phoebes and ground doves that were there. While I settled in on the birds, the red Jeep pulled in. Cyndi and Jill did some exploring by foot, then sat for awhile at a table in the park to have a meal. As I was finishing with the birds, the ladies were preparing to leave and I drove by to make my turn-around. I asked them what their plans were, and they told me again about Salvation Mountain. Then a man drove up who seemed to know the area well. He engaged the girls in conversation. Jill asked him about the mud volcanos. Eventually he would lead us out on the Alamo River Delta through mud and deep powdery sand, all which 4WD was required. At the end of this track was a marshy lagoon with a large field of boiling mud pots. We all parked a safe distance away and got out to explore. These boiling cauldrons of mud and steam were dangerous. Step too close and you risk breaking through the surface crust and into the hot gooey muck below. Geothermal activity here is very high as evidenced by the many heat-to-energy generating plants that have been established in the area. This location sits directly over a geological sink created by the slip-strike action of the San Andreas Fault System. If not for the water that presently occupies the Salton Sea, the depression would rival Badwater Basin in Death Valley as the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. By now it was mid-day, and the lighting was less-than-ideal, but I got out my camera gear to try for images and/or video.

In preparing to leave, Jill and Cyndi spoke again of the “Salvation Mountain” and asked if I wanted to see it. As it was only a few miles away, I took them up on their invitation. I followed them the 14 or 15 miles to Niland and then followed them and the signs to “Slab City”.

Salvation Mountain

Just two miles northeast of Niland is a patch of desert bluffs that was homesteaded by a man with a passion for Christianity. He expressed his passion by painting the hillside with bright colored paint, sculpting the landscape in his own vision of spirituality. I don’t have to agree or disagree with his interpretations to appreciate his dedication. I took pictures with my phone to document my visit there.

Slab City

The so called Slab City is the remnants of a Marine Corp training barracks from WW2. Now it is an ad hoc city of snowbirds, retirees, and assorted characters living ‘off the grid’. The site began as Camp Dunlap in 1942, by 1949 the military downgraded its use, leaving a skeleton crew behind. In 1956 the buildings were dismantled, leaving only the slabs as testimony to what had been before. In 1961 the land was turned over to the state and by the mid 1960s it began evolving into its present state. This place gained notoriety in 2007 when Sean Penn featured it in his film “Into The Wild”. Since then, several documentary films have attempted to describe life here.

When I finished checking out the scene at Slab City and Salvation Mountain I directed myself back to the southeast shoreline. The day had advanced nearer the time of the setting sun, and at such times, gazing across the sea can be inspirational. The spectacle of large gatherings of birds is impressive. Pelicans, both brown and white congregate with gulls, terns, cormorants, waterfowl and shorebirds. Often pipets and sparrows will be there too. If you add the Santa Rosa Mountains across the sea under a scarlet sky, you have a lovely scene. After I’d allowed myself the joy of this place in time, I’d lost my opportunity to visit the southwest shore. I could not justify an overnight stay, and it was less than two hours to my own bed. I headed homeward through Julian, Santa Ysabel, Ramona, and home to Poway. Thus endeth another journey. Six(teen) days on the road and I’m going to make it home tonight (with apologies to Dave Dudley, Sawyer Brown and Taj Mahal.

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