Monday, 5 January 2015

Bill's Back - reporting from the Salton Sea

Hi. It's me again: Gully Bill.

Robin spent four days trying to write the next part of the blog, and he got as far as this;
I'm quite relaxed…  ...I'll do the blog tomorrow. lol.

That was it. 
So they asked me back, and here I am. With some friends.

Robin and Sarah's recent story is simple enough; the worst winter storm in modern Californian history (what's that, about a decade?) descended on the southern part of the state, leaving only a narrow area unaffected around The Salton Sea. Which is exactly where Robin and Sarah headed; aiming to escape the snow and cold. 

Leaving wherever they were in the middle of nowhere Arizona, they crossed the middle of nowhere desert, moving slowly past just the edge of nowhere, and through the beautiful Sonora Desert dunes (avoiding once again the snow-bound Joshua Tree National Park) to a large RV resort for ATV (off-road crazies), with a spa pool; which was also full of crazies, in nowhere-central California. I think you get the point.

Not entirely impressed with the most expensive campsite they've ever stayed at (Glamis, in the Chocolate Mountains), they moved down to Salt Creek, a beachside State Park, on the shores of the Salton Sea. No hook-ups here, just a beautiful view out of your front door.

This is where R + S spent New Year's Eve; managing to stay up until about 8pm (this RV lark is exhausting), with the sound of coyotes celebrating outside (too close outside for Sarah's liking [Note to Tom below]), and were up again at dawn to watch the natural fireworks all over again.

The Salton Sea is an interesting place. It's the consequence of a monumental engineering mistake (I know, Flip and Marcel, that should read: a failure of adequate user requirements). Back in 1905, an attempt was made to improve irrigation alongside the Colorado, by digging a bloody great hole in the banks of the river, which kind of backfired (duh).

The Colorado was effectively diverted for three years, pooling in the lowest place it could find, a hundred miles west. Eventually, the engineers managed to put a plug in their hole, so to speak, repairing the flow of the Colorado, and leaving a lake behind in the desert.

Of course, there's insufficient fresh water flowing into the Salton Sea to sustain it now (that sort of thing tends to happen in the desert), meaning that the salinity has been steadily increasing for over a century. There are very few fish left that can withstand the current levels of salinity, nevertheless, this happy accidental watering hole attracts thousands of birds (real snowbirds) as a rest stop on their migration, and hence has become a California State Recreation Area.

This little fishy don't fly

Reader Activity: To understand what the Salton Sea is like, get a mug of water. Any water will do (I dunno; try the tap?). Take one pot of common or garden salt, and sprinkle salt liberally into the water until the pot is empty. Lift mug to mouth, drink, and…  …vomit… 
Great, isn't it?

Interestingly (and the reason that this area was the topographical low point) the San Andreas fault lies right along this area. Earthquakes are common; and indeed many a geophysicist's money is on this area being the site of the next ' big one' . Apparently the Salton Sea area is approximately 100 years late in a cycle of Richter 7+ 'quakes that had a regular period of 180 years.

There's not many buildings to fall down around you if you are caught in the big one, but that's little comfort when the same geophysicists explain that in the event of a 7+, the ground around the area will be liquified by the shaking, and the lake itself will slosh around like water in the proverbial bath tub. Basically, you're a stuffed seagull.

Talking about buildings, the lake's appearance 100 years ago created a mini-tourist boom here, up until the 60s, when everyone probably decided that if they wanted to gargle salt-water they could probably do so at home more cheaply. Today, what's left are a few farms, and small towns populated by a rather higher than normal % of druggies and alcoholics. Not pretty. If you ever come here, take a (daytime only) drive into Bombay Beach. I don't know what the Indian 'real' Bombay is like (except I know they eat birds; ugh), but this place is the original open sewer.

Apologies to those who live there as upstanding citizens, but hey; just being a standing citizen seems to be rare enough in this town.

Nevertheless, there is an excellent campsite 10 miles or so safely down the road, with nothing but a fantastic view and (few and) friendly fellow campers. We met Renate (and Urdo?) from Bavaria, Ron and Linda from BC, Canada, and Heather (from Devon) and Jim (BC, Canada). (When I say BC, I mean British Columbia. Not the other thing. They're not that old). We were the only ones on the campsite…

It was warm and sunny too, except for one day out of five; on that day the head of the storm poked its nose just a little further south, and the area experienced the first rainfall in 3 generations (Nota bene: seagulls have a short life expectancy, especially with the damn coyotes around here).

[Note to Tom: Sarah assured you that there weren't any animals around here. She was wrong :) ]

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