Monday, January 2, 2012

The Salton Sea

Female Phainopepla
We got up with the sun this morning and drove over to the Yaqui Well to get a little desert birding in before heading to the Salton Sea.  As we climbed back into the mountains we spotted a group of Borrego, or Big Horn Sheep cruising along the rocky terrain and got a good look at them before they passed out of sight.  They are magnificent animals!  At Yaqui Well we spotted several Phainopeplas, and went for a short hike through bizarre plants like Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) and Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus).


Barrel Cactus
Katrina was antsy to hunt for some wild edible minerals (and the birding wasn’t all that good in the desert), so we drove east to the Salton Sea where we were immediately greeted by an abundance of both salt and birds.  If it wasn’t 60 degrees out, I would have thought that the shores were lined with snow that had drifted into all the low spots, such was the color and abundance of salt.  We learned that the Salton Sea is much saltier than Ocean Water, and as the irrigation waters that feed the lake evaporate, the salinity continues to rise.  Apparently this is a conservation concern because some of the fish that live in the lake will soon be unable to tolerate the brine.  The Salton Sea is of major importance to migratory waterfowl, which rely on the abundance of fish.  The signs that informed us of this conservation pickle were kind of amusing because they insinuated that something could be done.  Katrina and I had a fun time imagining solutions to the evaporation problem and ultimately decided that the government should pay Katrina to remove salt from the water.  Ironically, the Salton Sea (California’s biggest lake) was formed in 1905 by an irrigation accident which diverted the entire flow of the Colorado River into the -227 foot below sea level basin for 18 months.  The Salton Sea isn’t without precedence though as Native American narratives tell of a time when an even larger lake filled the valley.

American Avocet
Salton Sea Sunset
The birding was exceptional.  Highlights included Sand Hill Cranes, White Faced Ibis, White Pelicans, American Avocets, Eared Grebes, Roadrunners, Abert’s Towhee, ducks of every description, and thousands of Ross’s Geese.  Our shadows stretched eastward before we packed away the binoculars and started driving north towards Joshua Tree National Park.  We took a shortcut on Box Canyon Road through the Mecca Hills and laid out our sleeping bags next to the Little Box Canyon trail for another wonderful night under the stars. 
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