Salton Sea Navy Base: Mission Aborted

Today’s mission to the abandoned Navy Base at Salton Sea is one that Blake and I have both been looking forward to since we started mapping the shoreline in preparation for The Big Event.  Knowing that few people even know there is an old Navy base on the shores of Salton Sea and even fewer have been there makes it a very interesting place to me.  Seeing old photos of the few structures still standing, bunkers, and air-strips makes it seem like one of the most interesting spots at Salton Sea.

This mission was important because with our current schedule, the navy base is planned to be both an emergency pickup-spot and water-refill station.  In this stretch of the west side of Salton Sea from the south tip north to about Salton City (approximately 20 miles) shore-access is extremely limited and access to the area around the Navy base is a critical part of our safety plan.  This means that the safety team needs to be able to quickly and easily reach the shore.

We had only a few objectives for our mission to the base:

  • Confirm emergency road-access to the shore
  • Check the condition of the shore (mud, barnacles, etc)
  • Record my GoFundMe Project video (2nd try)
  • Take awesome pictures!

Based on the previous scouting mission to the end of the road that leads to the Naval Base, it did not seem that it would be a difficult trip for the 4 wheel-drive Jeep.  Our plan was to drive to where the sand dunes cover the road, skirt around the dune on the hard desert ground and make it back to the road until the next dune, then repeat.  I was 99% confident it would be a quick and easy trip in the Jeep.

Map of the road to the Navy base at Salton Sea

Update: The airstrips are incorrect in this image. See the link below for updated runway information

 FOR THE CORRECT LOCATIONS OF THE AIRCRAFT RUNWAYS SEE THIS POST: Runway location data

As we entered the permitter of the Navy Base we were reminded of the live-ammo training done here in years past.

The warning sign at the entrance of the naval base

We made a mental note not to throw rocks at any old bombs we might come across and continued down the road until it was covered by the sand dunes.

The first detour off the road to make it around the sand dune was not very difficult.  John (safety-Jeep driver) noted that the sand was extremely soft (easy to sink or get stuck in) and almost as fine as talcum powder.  Even though the Jeep has four-wheel-drive, it’s not equipped with the type of large tires that are needed for deep sand dunes, but we continued on.  As we moved deeper into the sand we drove past an ominous sight: a newer truck, abandoned, sunk to it’s axels in the sand.  It looked to have been stranded recently as the paint still had a shine to it.

We hit a few soft spots, each one getting more and more difficult to get through, until finally we hit one that brought the Jeep to a halt.

Our jeep stuck in the sand near the Navy base at Salton Sea

This was not difficult to get out of.  We lightened the load by about 350Lbs (meaning Blake and I got out) and John was able to rock the Jeep forward and back, and finally power his way out. We then made it about 500 more yards and we were stuck again, nearly to the axles. This time it would not be as fast or easy to get out.

As Blake and I stood by watching John try to extract the Jeep from the sand (digging it in deeper) I looked at my watch.  9:30AM and it was already about 95°F. In a few hours it would be 110°F or more.  My mind quickly raced through our options as panic started to creep in.

Preparing for today’s mission I told Blake that even though we would not be planning to do any walking on this mission, we still needed to be prepared for a long walk in the event of an emergency (like getting stuck in the sand) so we both had our packs full of water and our “Salton Sea walking shoes”.  I had also loaded the Jeep with a full case of drinking water bottles and an ice chest full more water, Gatorade and ice tea.  Walking the mile or two back to Blake’s car at the end of the road (left there for an emergency) would be almost easy for Blake and I who are both well acclimated to walking in the heat.  John however, is not so well acclimated.  If we could not get the Jeep out we would have to either call 911 and wait in the heat for help and/or walk to where the road ends to guide in rescue units or a 4WD tow truck.  Rescue for the three of us would probably not be too big of an issue but the hassle and expense of getting a heavy-duty 4WD out there to rescue the Jeep was not something I looked forward to.

Under John’s direction, who has rescued many “stupid” people out of the sand in the San Gabriel Canyon area, Blake and I started breaking-off large branches from the nearby chaparral and stuffing them under the wheels of the Jeep.  After going through a bushel or two of branches, and what seemed like forever, John was finally able to skillfully get the Jeep moving and out of it’s self-dug grave.

At this point we aborted the mission due to safety issues and slowly made our way back to the road. We also determined that this particular route which might be passable by a more “equipped” Jeep or dune-buggy, is simply not practical for our needs.  In order to be used as an emergency pickup spot or water-refill location it needs to have fast, reliable access.  We cant risk the rescue guy getting stuck or taking too long coming to rescue us!  We will now have to consider adjusting our walking schedule and will check out a few other nearby  and hopefully less difficult access points in future missions.

Mission aborted but not mission failure

We were all disappointed that we had to abort and did not get to visit the Navy Base, but the mission was not a failure.  The main objective was to confirm if we could reach the shore and use this as an emergency/water refill location.  We now know and have confirmed that this location cannot be used – so in that sense it was a success.  We now have one more problem to engineer a solution for, which is part of the adventure!

5 Comments:

  1. I was in charge of the salton sea navy base in the in the seventys , if you want I can give some sea stories of how it used to be,

  2. You have your airstrips reversed. The larger strip one mile west of the base was built in 1942 by Paramount Studios for the movie Wake Island. The strip south of the base was one of two built by the Navy.

    • I was wrong. Randy provided some information that showed that the Paramount airstrip was actually the n-s runway of the two runways close to the shore. The airstrip I thought was the Paramount strip was actually the “new” strip that was built when the rising waters of the Sea made the two older strips unusable. My mistake was based on more than one description of the Paramount being one mile west of the Navy base.

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