Rapt attention

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Imperial Message

Sandhill cranes

I needed a little mental health break yesterday. Ken and I had been talking about checking out the Salton Sea and the Imperial Valley for a while and it turned out that yesterday was the appointed day. Soon I will be back to the grind and I wanted to clear my head while I had a chance.

My friend had rented the Nikkor 200-500mm zoom telephoto lens at George's Camera the other day and wanted to put it through its paces with his Nikon D500. I wanted to capture some bird shots and see what was what. I used the Nikon D810 with the Nikkor 24-70mm 2.8 as well as the Nikon D7200 paired with the Sigma 150-600mm c for my bird shots. We talked about trading lenses but never did.

Although we had both meandered through the Imperial Valley, neither of us had ever checked out the Salton Sea in our entire lives and it was time to scratch it off the bucket list.

I met my traveling companion at the coffee shop and after getting our internal caffeine levels adjusted, got a fairly early start. I loaded up more gear than I would ever need into the back of Ken's Rav 4 and we got a move on. We took off through Julian and Pine Hills, a flock of wild turkeys ran by my side window.

Harlan's Hawk

We took Highway 78 down the mountain through the Banner grade. A Harlan's Hawk flew high overhead, a buteo morph I seldom encounter.

Drove through Ocotillo Wells and dune buggy heaven and finally stopped in the town of Westmoreland for a date shake. There are beautiful date groves throughout the area and it would have been a shame not to.

Even better than Hadley's. I had mine with banana, Ken had walnuts added. Bought some medjools for the road trip. Women there were very nice, cashier's eyelashes had to weigh a pound a piece.

We hightailed it for the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge passing through an area seemingly devoid of human habitation but covered with plenty of corporate mega farms and power plants.

They gave us the lay of the land at the headquarters, the docent speaking in a deep Boston brogue and giving us our bearings.

A couple in the parking lot told us to forget the nearby observation deck and area and gave him loose directions to a better spot in the vicinity.

Your humble photographers drove hither and yon on the squarely gridded road network, sometimes on legal roads even, finally arriving at Observation deck 1 after a few turn arounds and course corrections, owing to, amongst other things, a bridge being out.

After the Malheur debacle and the acquittal of America's favorite redneck anarchists, the Bundy Brothers, I thought about claiming the refuge as my own.

Not sure what rights I have to it but I think my lawyers can figure that part out later. Adverse possession maybe. And "the man" hasn't been real good to me lately. That's it. It's mine.

The truth was there was pretty much nobody around all day so I could have screamed and hollered all I wanted for everybody to get off my land and it honestly wouldn't have done much good. Maybe I should share?

You drive to the Salton Sea and the one thing difficult to find is the sea itself. For hours I wasn't sure it really existed. Mostly you see a bunch of ditches, marshes and sumps.

The Salton Sea, as I assume most people are aware, is the result of an early twentieth century accident and it was never such a good fit. In fact it still isn't but I am getting ahead of myself. In 1905, due to an engineering miscalculation, the Colorado River overwhelmed an irrigation canal and the Sea was born. It has died a thousand deaths ever since.

Ross and Snow Geese
We walked around and saw all manners of birds. Harriers flew low overhead, masters of the marsh. The landscape was festooned with geese, ibis, herons, ducks, egrets, pelicans, gulls, many different shorebirds and even a whole bunch of sandhill cranes, which I didn't expect to see in such number and which we had last seen at Bosque Del Apache at the start of the year.


I have literally thousands of pictures to process and you ain't getting it today. A cursory examination this morning leaves me pretty happy with my visual quarry.


white faced ibis
Sandhill cranes

American avocet in winter plumage

Greater Egret

Place is definitely interesting but I am not sure I need to go back anytime soon. More raptors at SJWA but it does have the cranes, geese and massive flocks of red winged blackbirds.

Not to mention scads of my fellow blue herons. We took turns playing beater, trying to devise new ways to flush our birds out so we could take their picture.

We drove back towards the headquarters and towards the Red Hill marina.

Finally got a look at the Salton Sea. Meh.

After nearly getting stuck on a canal and managing to extricate ourselves we found this guy living in a ramshackle truck and tent near the edge of the sea.

Laundry, equipment, all manner of refuse lay in a loose sprawl. Sanford and Sons squared.

Ken wasn't sure if we should engage but I decided what the hell. How dangerous could it be?

Turned out to be a very affable 88 year old gent from Sitka named Captain Ron, who wintered with the other flocks in these parts.

Ron had a 100 ton merchant sea captain's license and had been flying planes of all manner since he was 16. Hardy stock, those Alaskans.

Captain Ron gave us the lay of the land. We asked about Slab City and he said to be careful, the place was so ramshackle it depressed him. We laughed to ourselves. Looking at Ron's digs that was really saying something. We drove over anyway.

First to Salvation Mountain.

Sort of like an outsider Christian playdough version of Yellow Submarine. With lots of flat tires.

It was getting gray out and a bit depressing. Old testament sort of day. Not optimal light for shooting pictures.

The artist doled out pearls of biblical wisdom to the curious tourists. I didn't stick around for my dose. Not my cup of meat.

Slab City bills itself as the last free place on earth, a big squatters encampment on the remains of an old Army camp. Burning Man without the money or the internet connections.

Acres and acres of psychedelic junk and encampments, a BNB, hostel restaurant, all donation, not sure but I don't think the last free place on earth has a currency.

I lived in places like this as a dropout hippie kid traveling through the northwest, I know hippie flintstone primitive very well, in fact there was a time when no self respecting  hippie from the North County didn't have a power company spool for a dining room table.

Laughed when I saw a nice BMW convertible parked in front  of one of the Mad Max style dwellings. A curious mix of kook and snowbird.

I don't want to sound too patrician or square, I do honor my roots. But barring a post nuclear apocalypse I think I would have a hard time grooving in such a place today. Not like I need room service but I don't even camp anymore. Got my fill of the Imperial Valley yesterday, honestly.

Shoe Tree, Slab City

We drove back home, stopping for a bite in Borrego Springs at Carmelitas. Great mole enchiladas. Washed an inch of dust off when I got home and into the shower.



Max Hall said...

Great Robert! The date shakes are a blast from the past. Used those with my grandfather (rip G-Pops).

Kent said...

Nice pics and blog.

Anonymous said...

Nice photo's from an elitist ex-hippie.......

Ken Seals said...

Great story all around.

Sanoguy said...

Great shots from the aforementioned, elitist ex - G Dead ex-hippie!

Anonymous said...

Nice post great pics. We still need to have a catch. Discs still sail.
Deli guy. ✌️️✌️️❤️❤️