The Northern Tip

To watch the video report, scroll to the bottom of this page

This week’s mission was to the very northern section of Salton Sea, where the Whitewater River ends.  This marks the very last area of Salton Sea that we have not yet scouted or mapped out.  We still have several more scouting and mapping trips to make to smaller, specific areas, but after this trip, I can say that in a general sense, I have been to every section of the Salton Sea shoreline. This section of Salton Sea we affectionally refer to as “The Butt Crack”.

Picture of the northern section of Salton Sea, "the butt crack"

Do you see why it’s called The Butt Crack?

The mission objective was to check the northern shoreline and confirm road access in the northern areas north of 81st Ave on the western shore over to Jerome Way on the east shore.  We expected the shoreline to look like most other northern areas and be covered in barnacles, but we got a few surprises.


The first surprise was the amount of mud along the northwestern shoreline.  As mentioned in the video (bottom of the page) the mud stretched for a mile or two, and was hundreds of yards wide between the desert and the shoreline.  The second surprise was the lack of barnacle shells covering the beach.

Picture of the salton sea sand

Beautiful black-sand beaches

The beach in this area was actually very nice!  As you can see in the photo above, there were a few dead fish, but they were all ‘fresh’. There were virtually zero old/rotten fish like in most sections of beach, and this meant that there was very little of that “smell of adventure” otherwise known as “that rotten porta-potty Salton Sea stank“.

There were also some decent little waves, unlike we’ve seen on any other trips.  In the picture above and below, you can see that some of the waves were 6 to 8 inches high.

picture of waves at Salton Sea

Surfs up at Salton Sea!

There are also a few duck blinds about 100 yards off shore.  Not a surprise to see duck blinds but these are the first we’ve seen so far off shore into the water.

picture of duck blind in the water at Salton Sea

The Whitewater River

The big surprise of the day is that the Whitewater River is not dry!

Picture of the Whitewater River

Technically, it’s not really the Whitewater River

We’ve driven over the Whitewater River on Highway 86 a dozen times and never seen a drop of water in it!  Today we even drove half-through the riverbed at the end of Lincoln Ave, and it’s bone dry!  It turns out (thank you Facebook followers!) that what we thought was Whitewater River water entering Salton Sea is actually just farm runoff from a irrigation canal that runs along the western side of the dry Whitewater Riverbed.  No matter the source, this water coming into the sea is a large obstacle that will have to be crossed.  After much debate on the way home, we decided that instead of walking up to the roads to cross by bridge, it will be faster and easier to cross on foot.  It’s 40 or 50 feet wide but does not look more than 2 feet deep, and like all of the other canals we’ve checked, the water is not flowing very swift.  We will be returning to this spot in a few months with our water crossing equipment to confirm that it can be crossed on foot (that will be an interesting video!)

Yet another surprise was the number of birds, both alive and dead.

Picture of a dead pelican at Salton Sea

Dead pelican at Salton Sea

As you can see about half-way into the video (bottom of the page) there were a lot of birds in the area – possibly as many or more than we see in the southern Sonny Bono Refuge areas. Sadly though, there also seems to be a lot more dead birds on the beach.  In our 5 mile hike from the car and back, we saw hundreds of bird skeletons, many more than on all other trips combined.

There was also evidence of other wildlife.

Animal prints in the mud

Mountain lion or dog?

Even before we got near the beach, while walking down the canal road, the area was covered in fresh footprints of some very large animals, many like in the picture above.  Our first fear was that these could be left by giant mountain lions, but again, our expert Facebook followers ID’d these prints as canine.  A very big canine!

Highway 111 / Grapefruit Blvd

After checking the Whitewater River/Canal we made our way east to the Highway 111 side. We discovered two excellent (meaning less than 100 yards from shore) road-access locations and confirmed that the water crossings in the area are all small enough to hop over or walk around.  Sadly, we then came across the last surprise of the day.

picture of chemical spill at Salton Sea

Toxic Spill

It was a bit disturbing to find this less than a 1/2 mile from the shore. The label on the drum identifies this as methylene diphenyl diisocyanate. MSDS describes methylene diphenyl diisocyanate as not particularly dangerous or toxic but it is a bit infuriating to think that some idiot decided it was ok to dump his here in the desert.

A bit further south, just off of Jerome Way we came across an interesting abandoned property.

picture of abandoned house in Mecca, CA

abandoned houses at Salton Sea

Lunch at Salton Sea

Of course no trip to Salton Sea is complete without lunch at the world famous Ski Inn at Bombay Beach!

Picture of the Ski Inn at Salton Sea

Ski Inn, Bombay Beach

I ordered my usual, cheeseburger and fries, and Blake ordered his usual, the patty-melt with fries.  However the food became secondary to my search for the “Save Salton Sea $1 bill“.  For those of you that have never been to The Ski Inn, the walls and ceilings are covered in $1 bills that people have written messages on and taped up.  Based on a suggestion from our Twitter follower “Coachella Events” I was urged…or challenged to find their $1 “Save Salton Sea” bill that they put up in 2013.  After looking at thousands of dollar-bills on the walls and ceilings, and with some help from the owners, and a couple of other customers, I found it!

Picture of dollar bill at Ski Inn in Bombay Beach

The elusive “Save Salton Sea” $1-dollar bill

We finished lunch, with new-found pride in our dollar-bill finding skills and headed back north toward home, bringing the most surprising mission yet, to an end.

Video report of the Whitewater River area scouting mission


  1. I spent alot of time at the Salton Sea hunting ducks in that area. Watch out for that mud it will suck you in. If starts to suck you in you need to get your feet and legs out and roll on top of mud to get out. I have heard stories of hunters trying to save their hunting dog suck in the mud and have died in mud not good. Be careful .

    • @Frank Teran I know!
      After one of my first camping trips to Salton Sea as kid, my dad gave me an old National Geographic magazine to read, with a story of duck hunters getting stuck and dying in the “quicksand” .. I’ve had a healthy fear of that mud ever since.
      I have searched, but I can’t find anything about that old edition anywhere..

  2. My family experienced the dangerous Salton Sea Quicksand firsthand. 35 years ago we lost my father to that Quicksand, while fishing. Being an an avid Hunter and Fisherman and frequenting the sea since chdhood, he was well aware of the quicksand. Even as children he made sure to ingrain this danger into our brain, we even learned firsthand a time or two, but dad was alwss there to save us… RIP RICHARD L. NIETO. (Daddy– we love you)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.