As a young boy camping at Salton Sea in the 1970s and 1980s I loved exploring and searching for exotic and dangerous things. Two of these dangerous and interesting phenomenon I had heard or been warned about were the mud volcanos and quicksand.
Most of the southern region of Salton Sea is on a thin crust with geothermal activity not far below. This is why there are geothermal power plants popping up along the south end of Salton Sea. It also explains the Hot Mineral Bath Spa in Niland. We generally camped out at Corvina Beach which is several miles north of Niland and we never saw any live or active mud volcanos nor any other geothermal activity, but we did see evidence (dead or dried out mud volcanoes) in the desert area between the shore of Corvina beach and Highway 111 and between Highway 111 and the railroad tracks. The video below was taken in August 2014 and shows all of the mud-pot activity at Salton Sea, including the lesser known “New” mud pot field near Mullet Island.
Quicksand at Salton Sea
Mud volcanoes are fun, but not all that dangerous. Quicksand on the other hand, is a whole ‘nuther matter.
Not long after our first trip to the Salton Sea my father tossed an old copy of a National Geographic into my lap and said “read page xx” (I don’t remember what page, or when the magazine issue had been published, but it was from the 1970’s).
The article told the story about the deaths of duck hunters in the marshy Salt Creek area of Salton Sea, just south of Corvina Beach where we setup camp almost every weekend. Apparently the combination of sandy soil and water around the the creek had become very dangerous. The duck hunters got stuck in the quicksand and ended up drowning.
My father didn’t have to say much more as I was already familiar with the dangers of mud in the desert. Only a couple of years before our first trip to the Salton Sea, at the tail end of the record-breaking 1975-1976 La Nina season, I learned how dangerous mud in the hot desert can be. While camping not too far from Joshua Tree, my mother and I happened across some large (100 yards long by maybe 20 yards wide) puddles near our camp. My mother being from Oklahoma surmised that there could be crawdads (crayfish) in them puddles and wanted to ‘fish’ for them. We tied some bacon to kite-strings and tossed it into the water. Unfortunately while standing and waiting for the crawdads to bite, we found our feet sinking into the very thick mud. Before we realized it, our feet were more than ankle-deep in very-thick, quicksand-like mud. We did not sink any more than 5 or 6 inches (just over the ankle) but the mud was so thick that we literally could not get out without (calling) for help. My mother lost a shoe. I think I had to put on new underwear after the ordeal.
Just for the record, you will not find any crawfish in puddles of water in the Southern California desert. But you might find something far more interesting! After returning to the mudhole with new shoes, and longer strings we did catch something! To our surprise we caught dozens of very primitive looking creatures, 2-5 inches in length, that we could not identify. We brought home about a dozen or so (alive) and kept them in a fishbowl until after a week or two they eventually all died. It was only after much research (in books, there was no internet) that we learned these prehistoric looking creatures were Triops cancriformis also known as Tadpole Shrimp.
In planning for our walk around the Salton Sea shoreline, of all the dangers we may face, quicksand is high on my list and second only to heatstroke. Probably because of my experience in the mud as a child combined with the story of the duck hunters in the back of my mind. We will be staying clear of any quicksand, mud, or wet-marshy areas which during the summer months should be rare.