Finally, after several re-schedules and one aborted mission, we finally reached the abandoned Navy Base on the southwest shore of Salton Sea. The base has been high on our list of places to scout for two reasons. The first reason is that this general area is a vital emergency and refill spot for my walk around the Salton Sea next year. Because of the limited shore access from Highway 86 in this area the Navy Base is the only place reachable in the stretch from Poe Road all the way to Salton City. Without emergency access or the ability to drop off water refills in this area the whole adventure would be in jeopardy. The second reason is that after seeing the (very few) pictures of the base online, we just had to check it out!
History of the Navy Base at Salton Sea
I won’t get into a whole history lesson of the base, but there are a few interesting aspects of it’s history that I want to point out.
- Originally the base was located at the opposite (north) end of Salton Sea in the late 1930’s. It was soon realized that a larger facility was necessary so a new base was opened in the current, south-west location in about 1942
- The Navy did early jet-engine testing here in the 1940’s
- The base was used for testing and dropping various shapes and sizes of atomic bombs (unloaded of course!)
- Sea planes landing in the water are credited (or blamed) for transplanting barnacles which did not naturally live in Salton Sea, from the pacific ocean
- The Navy stopped using the base in the mid 1940’s but Sandia Corp continued to do military testing
- By 1979 it was all but abandoned due to the constant fight with the rising waters
- Several movies have been filmed on or near the Navy Base. One film in particular, the 1957 film “The Monster That Challenged The World” is set in and takes place at the Navy Base as an earthquake under Salton Sea releases a giant killer-slug that endangers the entire Imperial Valley.
- In the early 2000’s giant desalination pits were built as part of an effort to test removing salt from the water. This was abandoned after only 1 year.
- Technically, it is not a “Navy Base”, it is a “Naval Station”
Live-fire training at Salton Sea
It is rumored (but I have not been able to confirm) that live-fire training for the Gulf War was done at the Naval Station and the remaining buildings do show scars of large-caliber ammunition. I find the idea of any live-fire or live munitions at the Navy Station very unlikely due to the proximity to Highway 86, farms, Salton City and Niland. But as you can see in the photos below, there are warnings of possible munitions still in the desert, so I suppose it is possible.
Navy Seal training
I have also heard and read (unconfirmed) rumors of past and current Navy Seal training at the base. Because of it’s location and the difficulty in accessing it, I find this hard to believe, but on the other hand, what better place could you find to simulate the Persian Gulf (or any other desert/water middle-east location)?
More information: For more information and history of the Navy Base, see the “Sandy Beach” section of the blog which is made up of official Navy and government documentation. CLICK HERE to read through the Sandy Beach Test Base section.
The Naval Station today
Video report from the mission
From satellite imagery there does not appear to be much left of the base:
From this high up about all you can really see is the outline of the roads and the large desalination pits built around 2001.
As with our previous attempt at making it into the base, when approaching the perimeter we are greeted with a sign warning of unexploded munitions.
We looked, but weren’t lucky enough to find any old bombs, but we did find many areas littered with years worth of empty, and not-empty .45 caliber and .223 caliber ammo. It’s difficult to tell if these were leftovers from training, or from red-necks shootin ‘cans. Across the road from this particular sign are the remains of what was probably a guard-shack.
About a mile from the end of the road, and only a few hundred yards from shore was this sign gently suggesting that visitors stay away. The main base area is approximately 1.5 miles north of this location.
As we approached the main base area, the pier and large dyke that was built to protect some of the base came into view. Behind the dyke were only foundations of buildings yet light-posts were still standing.
The pier was quite impressive considering it’s been left abandoned for over 35 years.
This dock ‘bumper’ covered in barnacles is evidence of how high the water had risen in the past. Today the water has receded to at least 50 yards away.
Remaining buildings and structures
A few hundreds yards north of the pier are a few buildings that are still standing. They appeared to have been some kind of control bunkers based on the equipment remaining inside but it is hard to tell for sure.
This building had been flooded up to the windows as shown by the water-line. Inside the building sand and barnacles were a few feet high.
Located several hundred yards north of the first building, the building labeled A1 was a bit more interesting.
Building A1 had two levels. The steps to the first level were a bit dangerous, but the steps up to the top deck looked almost brand new. We took extra care not to walk in the center of the roof which looked like it could cave-in at any moment.
The thing sticking up from the center of the deck is an Askania Pedestal as indicated by the placard on the side.
We have no idea what an Askania pedestal is, but it looked like it may have housed some kind of control equipment. There were cable and wiring channels that led into the control panels and control-boxes in the building below.
On the way back we took a closer look at the giant desalination pits. These are the large black rectangles areas, larger than a football field, that show up in the satellite images of the base.
These are basically giant pits lined with thick black plastic. Pipes and hoses run from the shore that were used to fill the pits with water and then (according to published reports) they were somehow able to remove much of the salt from the water and return it to the sea. Today they are nothing more than mud-pits, but the black plastic liners look amazingly fresh for their near 15 years of age.
As we wrapped up and started heading back, we happened across this sad reminder of how the rising and falling shoreline can make it difficult to live or work at Salton Sea.
The bow of this boat, probably at least 10 feet long is barely visible sticking out of the sand, and stone. Note how the sandstone has literally “grown” around it.
This scouting mission was our most exciting and successful one to date. We met our objective of confirming emergency shore access and got to see some amazing things that most people don’t even know exist.
UPDATE: See this post for photos and video of “the bunkers” we found on the base in Sept. 2014!