Scout Trip: Wister Wildlife Area, The New River & Bono Refuge

This week’s scouting mission was a complete success and our most productive mission to date!  We resolved several questions and issues, verified several unknown routes and most important it was fun!  It was a long day – 14 hours start to finish, and we have now discovered many more issues and problems to overcome, but that’s the purpose of these scouting trips, to uncover unknown issues and figure them out now so that we run into no surprises during The Big Event.

The Mission:

The mission had only a few objectives:

  • Confirm parking access for future practice missions and confirm & map emergency shore-access in the Wister Unit Wildlife Area
  • Confirm our current route for crossing the New River and map alternate routes
  • Document and map emergency shore access in the Alamo River and New River delta areas
  • Map emergency shore access in the Sonny Bono refuge areas
  • Confirm emergency shoreline access at the Navy Base
  • Map any new/unknown uncrossable irrigation canals or river inlets
  • Check the condition of the shore (mud, barnacles, swap, etc) of all of the above areas

As the day progressed we had to scratch the Navy Base from the mission.  Time was running short and we did not want to rush and miss anything so the Navy Base will have to wait until another day. This was a bit disappointing because the abandoned Navy Base is one of the most interesting locations and we have yet to make it there.

Wister Wildlife Area

The first stop was in the Wister Wildlife area, an approximate 10 mile stretch of wetlands and and duck hunting area just north of Niland.  We needed to map roads that lead to the shore for emergency access or egress and confirm that we can leave a car there for at least two scheduled future practice missions.  There are several roads showing on the maps that appear to end only about 1/4 mile from the shoreline, so we anticipated no issues and expected this to be a short stop.  We were wrong.

As we discovered, the shores of the Wister area are completely covered tall tree “thicket” that is virtually impossible to get through.  These thickets are surrounded by “wetlands” that although are actually completely “drylands” the dried brush and plantlife is also nearly impossible to get through. We drove down and walked every road and canal and every one hit a dead-end.  These dead-ends arent impossible to get through but for our purposes of our support crew being able to quickly get to us, or us being able to exit the shore after 10 or 20 miles of walking and get to the road, it is impractical.  This leaves the entire Wister area on our list as a high-priority item that we need to address. We will need to either find and map usable shoreline access or consider bypassing the entire 10 mile stretch on Highway 111 – something that we do not want to resort to.

On a brighter note on the Wister area, while driving down every unmarked road in the refuge, we stumbled across the “Wister mud pots”.  These are not the same mud-pots as the famous ones a few miles away on Davis Road.  This smaller field of mud-pots is setup as an actual state-park (or county park) attraction complete with information kiosk and wood decking with safety rails that allow you to walk right up and over the mud-pots.  We had no idea that these mudpots existed and have seen no information about them on the internet. Unlike the mud pots on Davis road, these Wister pots are dry, but in the rainy season they are probably just as ‘bubbly’ as the Davis Road mudpots.  To find the exact location on Google Maps click this link.

Picture of the mud pots at Wister Wildlife area

The dry Wister Mud Pots

Fun and interesting!

While traveling from Wister south we drove past some abandoned and broken down structures on Davis Road. We’ve driven past these buildings several times but decided to stop and check them out this time.  This stop turned out to be the most interesting of the day!

It turns out these structures were once mineral-springs bath houses with both indoor and outdoor pools, where the rich could bathe in the mineral-rich waters bubbling up from the geothermal activity below the entire region.  What surprised us was that the source of the mineral baths, large mineral springs were not only still there, but still actively bubbling!
In this photo of the outside baths (it looks like they never had any roof over them) you can see the mineral spring just behind it.

Picture of the outside mineral baths

One of the outdoor mineral bath tubs

In this photo you can see the large mineral spring in front of one of the indoor bath houses that is still standing.

Abandoned mineral spring and bath house at Salton Sea

The mineral springs are still active

In this short video clip you can see the mineral springs still bubbling up.

Crossing The New River

Next on our mission-objective list was finding the best way to cross the New River. New River is the largest water crossing we will encounter in the entire journey and has so far proven the trickiest to get around.  Our currently mapped solution for getting around the river takes us many miles inland and we needed to find, map, and confirm a shorter route. As we’ve learned the hard way, it’s not as simple as looking at Google Maps!  Many of the roads shown on Google Maps, Bing Maps and Apple Maps just don’t exist, or like at Wister, are not passable. We had to see it with our own eyes.

Picture of a pollution warning sign at the New River

Reminder that we don’t want to swim in the New River

We were able to locate, confirm and map several shoreline access points near New River and map out a good alternate route to the nearest bridge, and back to the sea.  We were also able to check the shoreline conditions in several places between Red Hill park and Sonny Bono refuge and throughout the New River delta.  Unfortunately, our best route still takes us several miles into the desert and back to cross the river.

Sony Bono Refuge

After our visit to Poe Road, just north of the Sony Bono Refuge a few weeks ago we were concerned about the potential for mud or quicksand in the Sony Bono Refuge area and we had to confirm and map out road access for the area.

It turns out that the shoreline at “The Bono South” is comparatively nice with little mud and hardly any barnacles.  We did discover though that the water is very shallow and venturing into the water for a cool-down would be greeted with much mud, but not a big problem.  We also discovered two new, as yet uncrossable river inlets, possibly tributaries of the New River.  We added these two new “problems” to our list and called it a day.   As we made the 2 mile walk back to the car we could see a huge wind & sand-storm on the south horizon and within no time we were fighting the hot winds and sand in our eyes. But we made it back and had time to stop at Subway in Mecca on the way back home.



  1. What mission did you have that you needed to be able to access the salton sea shoreline through the wister wildlife are?

    • I walked around the entire Salton Sea. I need access through Wister, and the rest of the shoreline to scout the area for hazards before the walk, and then again to actually compete the walk.
      My walk around Salton Sea is what this website is about.

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