Friday, July 13, 2007

Salton Sea trip, final bits

Wrapping up, here are the bits of our Salton Sea trip that didn't fit into any of the previous four postings (post 1 - post 2 - post 3 - post 4)...
These be date-palm groves. We saw a lot of them. They're sexy.
Then there was our stop at "Salvation Mountain."
According to the Cajun, who chose this detour, this beyond-bizarre creation is the work of "folk artist and classic American eccentric Leonard Knight."
It sits on property owned by the state of California about 5 miles east of Niland.
It was 115 degrees F. (46.1 C.) as we visited. We found Mr. Knight napping deep inside the structure and chose not to disturb him.
Should you wish to visit, the Cajun advises that you head east on Main Street in Niland, cross the railroad tracks and travel 2.5 miles on Beal Road.
While the Cajun was inside snapping photos of the sleeping artist, I climbed to the top of the monstrosity.
Because it was 115 degrees, the climb nearly killed me. I collapsed on a folding chair in the shade of a decrepit 5th-wheel trailer and sent an SMS to the Cajun to immediately come unlock the car and blast the air-con at me.
Last but not least, we visited Slab City, which sits next to Salvation mountain. It's an abandoned military facility that's been taken over by squatters in campers.
This is the main stage of the encampment -- apparently the site of many fascinating performances, when it's not 115 degrees outside. There is much more over at Scoopzone, the Cajun's blog.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

And now for something completely different

Near the end of our recent two-day visit to the Salton sea area, we visited the volcanic mud pots at the intersection of two gravel roads off Highway 111: Davis Road and Schrimpf Road.
According to "There you can see some cones built up out of viscous mud that bubbles up through central vents. This area is near a former ... commercial carbon dioxide gas field. Pressurized carbon dioxide gas is probably the driving mechanism for the bubbling mud."
According to the Cajun's blog on this phenomenon: "The geothermal area sits on the southern end of the San Andreas fault atop a fumarole, an opening in the earth's crust that emits steam and gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and sulfur dioxide."
According to the San Diego Reader newspaper: "[C]arbon dioxide rises to the surface and pushes up water from a shallow aquifer. Sulfurous odors waft on the breeze, and hisses, burps, and other rude noises emanate from shallow pools and conical mounds of mud being built in front of your very eyes." (Definitely click on top of the photo above to make it bigger and see the mud actually spurting.)
It was 115 degrees F. as we snapped these pics (46.1 C.) I felt like I was about to start bubbling as well.
The blupp-blupp-blupping noises were super-freaky.
Is that cool or what? The Cajun has a map and directions on his blog. He says: "Drive about three miles south of Niland on Highway 111 to Schrimpf Road and hang a right. Drive about three and a half miles until the intersection with Davis Road." The latitude and longitude of the place is N33.20025, W115.57864, -80m (WGS84).

Salton Sea blog entry #1 - Salton Sea blog entry #2 - Salton Sea blog entry #3

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Salton Sea, part 3

Part 1 of the Salton Sea blog: (here).
Part 2 of the Salton Sea blog: (here).
This was our final stop on the shores of the sea proper. It sort of caught us by surprise, since we'd concluded there was nothing left on that side of the sea. Shoulda done our homework.
Oh yeah, the whole place is below sea level. No wonder water likes to go there whenever it gets the chance.
And the pictures at the Visitor Center of the old 50s station wagons filled with Leave It To Beaver families were precious. If you ever find a time machine, please share it. There are so many places I want to go, but in the past or future.
Hard to say if it'll get fixed. It keeps getting saltier, which will eventually kill it. It has an escalating nutrient load from, among other things, farm fertilizer and phosphates, which cause algal blooms, which will eventually kill it by sucking up the oxygen.

Here's how one official described that latter problem: "[P]icture a ten-gallon fish tank sitting in your home. You have ten fish in it, a few plants, you circulate the water, add oxygen and food -- life is good. Add forty more fish, stop circulating the water, throw in several cans worth of fish food, warm the water real nice and what do you expect will happen? You’re right: system collapse. As the Salton Sea’s nutrient level increases life becomes more difficult. Eventually its systems will fail due to this over abundance of life."

There's also the possibility the sea could die a third way: Thirsty California cities could succeed politically in grabbing (diverting) the water that currently drains into the sea, in which case the salt and nutrient problems would multiply dramatically and, eventually, the sea could simply ... dry up.
But, for the moment, this is the view out the window of the Visitor Center. It looks beautiful, but, as I've laid out in these three posts (first post here - second post here), the problems of the Salton Sea are myriad and very, very serious.

In closing, here's a couple of sexy links from which you can learn lots more:

Salton Sea Authority: "Salton Sea 101"

Web site of the documentary film Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Salton Sea (east shore)

If you haven't read part one of this series -- Salton Sea (west shore) -- do so here, then come back to this entry. Don't you love a bossy blogger? But, this is a series. The second part won't make as much sense if you've not seen the first part. There will be three additional parts, if you're wondering.
OK, onward to the other side of the Salton Sea. The temperature as we took these photos was 115 degrees F. That's 46.1 C. for you foreigners. It was all we could do to function. How do people live in places like Palm Springs?
The east shore of the sea is, as far as we could tell, abandoned except for the California Department of Parks and Recreation's Salton Sea Visitor Center, which will be the subject of part three of this series, and a woebegone settlement called Bombay Beach, pop. 366.
This woman saw me with a MiniDV camera, thought we were TV reporters (we're both newspaper reporters, actually, but we weren't working) and came up and shared her ideas for saving the sea.
Birds like the place because it is food and water in the desert and, for some of them, is on their migration route. But, given that the Salton Sea is saltier than the ocean, surely they don't drink it. Or can they? What do I know? Sometimes there are massive bird die-offs, in addition to the regular humongous fish die-offs. One of the bird die-offs -- in 1996, from avian botulism -- killed 14,000 birds, including 8,500 American white pelicans and 1,100 endangered brown pelicans. The birds get botulism from eating floating, dying fish, who produce the toxin when they contract vibrio bacteria, which rots them from the inside out.
You know, this place looks pretty in these photos. And I guess it is. But when you're standing there in 115-degree heat, looking at all the dead fish (the white spots in the water at left above) and the abandoned, decrepit buildings and the crumbled infrastructure -- and taking in the smell -- you forget that it's pretty. But it is.
See, dead fish. Click on any photo to make it bigger.
Dead fish all over the place. These fish were not killed by pollution (which is not a big problem at the Salton Sea) or by the increasing high salt content (which is a huge problem). These fish suffocated. The sea is very nutrient-rich courtesy of farm-fertilizer runoff and phosphates draining from municipal water systems. As a result, hot weather causes algae blooms, which quickly die and rot, and respiration by bacteria and fungi during the decomposition process temporarily consumes nearly all the oxygen in the water. I feel bad for the fish. They've done nothing to deserve this. They just want to swim around and do fish things.

In a 1999 fish die-off, 10 million tilapia and croakers croaked. A 2006 die-off killed 3 million tilapia. But, obviously, a lot of them don't die, and they manage to continue to reproduce with wild abandon.
Aces & Spades is one of my favorite abandoned buildings from the Salton Sea's heyday.
This motel also has a certain je ne sais quoi. Next up, in part three, a visit to the California Department of Parks and Recreation's curious little Salton Sea Visitor Center.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Salton Sea (west shore)

Our visit to the Salton Sea area this past weekend was so endlessly fascinating that it's going to take five or six blog posts to capture it all. Click on top of any photo to make it larger and click on bolded words to go to Wikipedia or wherever and learn more.
We began on the west shore in Salton City, which, coincidentally, was the subject of a fascinating story in today's L.A. Times, headlined "Salton City: A land of dreams and dead fish."
The most important thing you need to know is that it was 113 degrees there Saturday. Yes, we endured 113 degrees to blog for you. The next thing you need to know is that this is what the sheriff's department looks like. It gives you context. Finally, you do need to know there are indeed dead fish.
A lot of dead fish. Zillions of dead fish. Tilapia, to be precise, which has been the only fish of size able to survive in the sea in recent years.
If the California Department of Parks and Recreation can be believed, the dreadful dead-fish problem is not caused by pollution or the super-salty water. Instead, algae blooms create bacteria which depletes oxygen, and the cute little fishies suffocate. Sadness. When we visit the east shore of the sea in an upcoming blog post, you'll see more dead fish than at Pike Place Fish Market.
Look, here we have the Cajun taking pictures of dead fish.
I was wearing flip-flops. Flip-flops did not go well with the "beach" at this particular spot. It was composed of trillions of tiny barnacle shells.
We got really, really hot and sweaty and sticky and stinky and drippy -- all to blog for you.
I was, however, momentarily distracted from my misery by Lorenzo's sense of style. No, really. His gas station is almost artistic. And you can send money to Mexico, too.
In the end, we drove to the town of Indio, checked into a Travelodge, took off all our clothes and jumped into the pool faster than you can say dead tilapia. Most coastal Californians, of course, visit the desert in the winter, early spring or late fall, not in the summer.
We, however, subscribe to the "Why be normal?" philosophy of life.
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