The nearly full moon shone bright as we pulled out the gates of The EcoMedia Compass headquarters – Salton Sea Walk’s “Basecamp West” along the shores of California’s endangered Salton Sea. Four passionate people dedicated to awareness and restorative efforts in their own unique ways, each in search for adventure, inspiration and a new perspective from the faded glory sunrise of the abandoned military base. Randy Brown, the determined and surprisingly fit Salton Sea Walk man. Jennifer Spitzer, a talented photographer toting a massive 4×5 large format, old-fashioned film camera. Wildlife biologist Giovanni Arechavaleta and EcoMedia artist Kerry Morrison, both of The EcoMedia Compass and Save Our Sea! events.
After a brush with caffeine at the Red Earth Casino, we were back on the 86 South in Spitzer’s Toyota 4Runner. The obscure entrance to the base missed our perceptions and we swung back around at an old farm road. In the twilight, we bounced towards the Sea along the rough paved road until we reached a point where the desert was decidedly set upon alternative modes of transportation.
Keeping our eyes open for snakes, border patrol and antiquated explosives showed us the way to an old clay airport landing strip. The glowing water looked close, but it was about twenty five minutes until we reached a small bay filled with the silhouettes of elegant pelicans and countless other birds enjoying an easy tilapia breakfast. Their cacophonous squawks and shrieks filled the air with a tune unlike anywhere else.
We turned south along the former water line as the sun began to light up colors of fire through the mountaintops and geothermal steam on the opposite side of the Sea. Spreading out, we found our places for a breathtaking sunrise. Only the sounds of nature and the colors of land, water and fire; together in a moment that brings both appreciation for being alive and a reminder of what we’re all fighting for here.
Towering dry trees and telephone poles both held countless nests. The Salton Sea is home to close to 450 species of birds; an irreplaceable stop along the American Pacific flyway. Slabs of concrete and weird rusty remnants barely held their remaining ground to the elements. Most of the buildings had been razed decades ago, but posts of the dilapidated pier created an elegantly apocalyptic skyline habitat. There are barnacles and salt up five feet on the poles, reminding us where the water has been in recent years past.
After our fill of film and pier we turned inland as the sun began to invite thirst and excessive perspiration. Once home and work to hundreds of soldiers, few scenes showed us reminders of any comforts.
We walked past 13 expansive black plastic-lined, parched and salty sunken water fields. Clearly developed after the military base’s heyday but still quite abandoned. Our previous inquiries as to their use brought only more questions.
The idea came up that it would be a great place for salt-gradient-solar-ponds. This is a newer way to cover up playa and utilize excess salt in different levels of water to create energy. It doesn’t even hurt the birds. They can be scaled to very large sizes and could make a lot of sense for this valley.
Walking on, we came to the dunes. These massive mounds of fine, tan sand are doing well in taking back the desert. This place would be extremely rough in a wind storm.
We stumbled upon the ventilation pipe of a buried bunker and looked down with flashlights. Apparently there is still a whole room down there- perhaps another day. We came to another cement bunker that Randy had been to before with his documentary crew. No door, large whole blown in the front and a new dune creeping in for shelter. The inside is surprisingly clean and free of graffiti- we guess not many civilians have been here.
After photo documenting the area and singing echos into the bunker- we walked on. We found little pieces of road, sheet metal, ceramic power transformer pieces -and an occasional bullet amid the many empty cement slabs.
We finally came to a large clearing along a more recent road that had many chain-link and barbed wire enclosures. They secured what looked to be like anchors and mysterious cement pieces of perhaps former large power or radio towers. Some fences had no gates, yet the contents were somehow gone. Were these enclosures protecting the twisted metal structures, or were they protecting us?
We stopped briefly to lay on the slabs and re-adjust our t-shirt turbans. It was mid morning and we were running low on energy and cold water. Spitzer’s camera was heavy and adventurer’s fatigue tickled our psyche. We trekked slowly back towards the airstrip as Brown admired his favorite mysterious wooden telephone or radio pole. The clearing of different colored clay looked as though it could probably still land a plane in some sort of emergency, but certainly not by a destination preference.
We happily approached the Toyota and conjured cold water and Gatorades. We had hiked over seven zig-zagging miles in three and a half hours. We spoke of our favorite parts of the hike and dozed in the comfortable seats. We ended back at The EcoMedia Compass/ Save Our Sea! headquarters and planned for a more aquatic trip soon. This place seems to hold countless secrets and even more potential. We hope the world will come adventure, appreciate and see the beautiful Salton Sea for themselves. If we don’t act now to maintain the water level and restore the sea, thousands of houses, businesses and memories could blow away with the dust. The choice is up to each of us to act in our own unique ways.