This weekend I got the chance to do a “fun” photography trip to Salton Sea. Unlike all of my previous missions, this time there would be no scouting, no mapping, no long practice walking in the 110°F heat. This trip was about having some fun, taking some photos and enjoying the beauty of Salton Sea.
My friend Jennifer Spitzer is working to complete her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree and has been photo-documenting Salton Sea with her Calumet Cambo 4×5 large format camera and asked if I could help her get to the abandoned Naval Station. I jumped at the chance to take another trip to the old Navy base and bring my own Nikon to take some pictures of my own. My friends Kerry F. Morrison and Giovanni Arechavaleta, both with the Ecomedia Compass / Save Our Sea organization also asked to come along – the more the merrier, I always say!
The trip started Friday evening when Jennifer and I headed to the south-eastern shore, near Red Hill Marina. Jennifer had spotted a mysterious row of giant red boxes in the middle of nowhere, near the marina and wanted to capture them on film with a beautiful Salton Sea sunset as the backdrop.
(all photos are from my iPhone and my Nikon DSLR. Jennifer’s photos must be processed and printed)
We actually arrived a bit before sunset so to kill some time we went a bit north, just over the Alamo river and took a few shots of the bay.
As the sun began to set we jumped back to the south side of the Alamo river and Jennifer began to setup for her shots.
Never disappointing, Salton Sea delivered a beautiful sunset for us to photograph.
We don’t know the origin of the boxes, who put them there, or why. They are large, at least 5-foot square, heavy, and made of steel. The boxes are painted red and have rusted orange accents.
As Jennifer prepared each shot, changing film plates, I wandered around, doing my best to find the perfect shot – knowing all along that her photos would put mine to shame.
Before we knew it the sun was gone and the night was illuminated by the stars and the lights from the nearby geothermal power plants. We jumped back into the car and headed south on Garst Rd, heading back to Basecamp West near Salton City, nearly 40 miles away.
At Basecamp we were greeted by Kerry, Giovanni, and pizza. We took a walk to the beach and enjoyed a beautiful moonrise (no photos!) but did not stay long. Saturday we had an early wakeup call so we could make it to the Navy Base by sunrise.
Saturday Morning Sunrise
The walk to the Navy base would not be difficult. Even though we left the car more than an hour before sunrise, the moon was bright and high in the sky, helping to light our way. The morning temperature was about 79°F and the high temperature was forecast for no more than 95°F – but carrying Jennifer’s 30Lb camera equipment the 3.5 miles to the navy base slowed us down a bit. Being the gentlemen that we are we eventually volunteered to help her carry her camera and tripod, taking turns every mile or so.
Again, Salton Sea did not disappoint, with a beautiful, clear sunrise not long after we reached the shore.
After spending sunrise at the pier we headed to one of the buildings a hundred yards or so inland. Jennifer wasted no time taking light readings and setting up for her photos.
After a light measurement and a few moments composing her shot, she was ready for an exposure.
Jennifer’s subject, one of the few buildings still standing on the Navy Base.
After a few more exposures we were ready to head to our next destination at the Navy base, but not before I rounded them up for a group photo.
We then started the half-mile walk inland, in search of the bunkers buried in the sand dunes. I had visited the bunkers just two weeks before and could not wait to get back. To me the bunkers are one of the most interesting things at Salton Sea. It wasnt long before we could see the concrete tops appearing through the sand dunes.
We had seen all that we had come to see, and the temperature was rising so it was time to start the trek back, but not until I got one last picture of all of us.
We started the 3.5 mile walk back to the car through the desert and came across one last surprise.
Finding this military-only signal flare circa 2004 raises more questions about exactly who has been using the navy base, and for what. Perhaps our next trip will be to see what other secrets the desert area of the Navy base will reveal.