Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, 3/22/2016

Thirty-four miles south of the Salton Sea State Recreation Visitor Center on CA 111  is the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge. It is one of network of 550 refuges nationwide. It was named in 1998 to honor the late Sonny Bono, entertainer and then conservation-minded congressional representative of the area. Located on the southern portion of the Salton Sea and it is open from sunrise to sunset. 

The Visitor Center has a wildlife exhibit and bookstore that is open Monday through Friday from 7 am until 3:30 pm (and is sometimes open on weekends). All of the wildlife exhibited at the center are from the refuge. In addition to a large display of various waterfowl is a red-tail hawk and a bobcat with "dinner."  

As we were leaving the Visitor Center we saw this cute little guy...just in time for Easter!

Although many other types of Palm are cultivated in Arizona and California, the California Fan Palm is the only one that is native to the American Southwest. Native Americans used it to: thatch their dwellings; weave fiber into ropes, baskets, and sandals; supplement their diet eating the fruit and grinding the seeds into meal. 

We had picked up a brochure for the interpretive Red Hill Trail, a two-mile trail from the Visitor Center to the shoreline of the Salton Sea. At the trailhead is a handicap-accessible observation deck. Leashed dogs are permitted on the trail.

A Native Desert Habitat Restoration Project is underway along the first part of the trail where "honey" mesquite trees, native to the area, have been planted.

Ryegrass is planted on the Refuge farm for the birds October through April (and then harvested for other uses). This encourages the migrating birds to stay in the Refuge and out of nearby agricultural fields where they are not wanted! Wheat and barley are also planted at other times of the year.

During World War II, barnacles were inadvertently introduced when seaplanes practiced takeoff and landings on the Salton Sea. A freshwater marsh, called Barnacle Bar, has been created by the shell deposits creating an artificial dam that traps freshwater. 

Five nursery islands were created to provide safe nesting terrain for birds. Freshwater (that is purchased) is transported through the canal system to maintain the habitat throughout the year. The islands protect eggs and chicks from predators such as coyotes, skunks, raccoons, snakes, and rodents. 

Rock Hill was the result of volcanic activity. One and a half miles elbow the surface temperatures reach more than 680 degrees F. There are several geothermal plants nearby that use the intense heat to produce electricity. Multiple faults (San Andreas, Sand Hill, and Brawley) are in the area. Thousands of earthquakes are recorded each hear here with sic ranging from 5.60 to 7.10 on the Richter scale since 1916. 

There are beautiful panoramic views from the top of Rock Hill. 

A nearby area of the Refuge, Unit 1, also has an observation platform and during the winter months tens of thousands of sand cranes and other migrating birds. Since most had already left the area, we did not visit it. The Michael Hardenberger Trail (half mile) can be found there.

Since we have been full-time RVing, we have come to love the wildlife refuges and always try to visit when we are near one. This one did not disappoint. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Salton Sea State Rrecreation Area, 3/22/2016

The Salton Sea is about an hour south of Desert Hot Springs where we are staying. I first heard about this lake several months ago during our stay in Yuma and was curious to see it for myself. We prepared dinner in the crockpot, packed a picnic lunch, and headed south on CA 111 to the Salton Sea State Recreation Area

The recreation area is open year-round and offers tent camping, full RV hook-up sites, a camp store, kayak rentals, tilapia fishing, a boat launch, hiking trails, guided tours and several children's programs. We saw an elementary school field trip when we were there. 

Our first stop, as always, was the Visitor Center, where we learned more about the origin of this lake. 

Millions of years ago, waters from the Gulf of California once extended into this region. Sand deposits formed a dam between here and the ocean created a huge inland sea. Over hundreds of years fresh water from the Colorado River replaced the salt water creating Lake Cahuilla

Native Americans, the Cahuilla People, lived along the shores of the lake for centuries, hunting, fishing, and farming the area. Here is a display of their traditional shelter and some rock art.  

When the Colorado River shifted south the lake dried up leaving a large salt deposit in the basin. When farmers discovered the fertile soil in the mid-1800s, the began to build irrigation canals from the Colorado. In 1905, a huge flood along the river crashed through the canals and filled the basin with a lake 45 miles long and 20 miles wide. It took until 1907 to get the water flow under control. Today the Sea is shrinking (35x15 miles) as more water evaporates each year than flows in. Agricultural runoff is the primary source of water today that causes algae blooms that emit stinking gases. Additionally, the salinity (currently 50% saltier than the Pacific Ocean) increases 1% per year as there is no natural outflow. The surface of the lake is 230' below sea level and sits atop the San Andreas Fault. 

The Salton Sea became a tourist attraction in the 1950s. The pollution from agricultural runoff and the increasing salinity, has killed many fish species that once thrived in the Sea and they have washed ashore in large numbers. 

The stench of decaying fish as well as the algae blooms cause the demise of the tourist industry. Nonetheless, it is really quite beautiful here.

We strolled along the beach next to the Visitor Center. Large crusted salt deposits can be seen along the shoreline. There are 300 million tons of salt in the Sea. The "sand" is primarily comprised of crunched up barnacles (that were an invasive species introduced to the lake when Patton's troops were trained in the desert near here during WWII).  

The one-mile (each way) Ironwood Nature Trail begins at the New Camp Campground near site #30 and travels south through the desert and along the Salton Sea to the Mecca Beach Campground. The park ranger permitted us to take Sadie, our doggy, with us on the trail (although their were signs prohibiting dogs). 

The waterfowl here are abundant and beautiful. The Sea is along the Pacific Flyway and an important stop for migrating birds each year. Below are some seagulls, white pelicans, and a great blue heron. 

We explored a portion of the the beach and then returned to the trail. 

At the Mecca Beach Campground is an area for ranger presentations and camp gatherings. We again spent some time exploring the beautiful beach here. 

While we initially aware of the smell of the sea, after spending some time there it was really not offensive. The admission fee is $5/vehicle. There are over 400 million tilapia in the Salton Sea (peak fishing season is November to April) and over 400 species of birds that visit the area. For additional information about the activities available at the Salton Sea State Recreation Area, check out their website. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Cabot's Pueblo Museum, 3/04/2016

Cabot Yerxa (1884-1965) was a homesteader in 1913 on 160 acres in the area that would become the town of Desert Hot Springs, CA. Before settling in the desert, he was a veteran of the Alaska Gold Rush (1898) and traveled extensively to Mexico, Cuba, and Europe. He dug a well on his land and discovered an extensive underground hot spring. The second well he dug was pure cold water of the Mission Springs Aquifer. 

Cabot began construction on this pueblo-style home in 1941 and continued to work on it until his death. It is a Hopi-inspired structure that Cabot created from reclaimed and found materials. The inspiration for the pueblo for Cabot was a replica of a Southwestern Indian Pueblo he saw at the Chicago World's Fair. 

There is small museum area that is free, but a guided tour of the pueblo is offered for a fee of $11/seniors, $13/adults, Tuesday-Sunday at 5 designated times. We opted for the tour and began our visit at the impressive Trading Post and Art Gallery where tour tickets can purchased. Be sure to spend some time enjoying the eclectic collection of pottery...

As well as paintings jewelry, unique works of art, and books.

The pueblo has 4 stories, is 5,000 square feet, 35 rooms, 150 windows, and 65 doors. Cabot made the adobe-style and sun dried brick himself, adding a cup of cement to each. Lovely gardens surround the pueblos. 

The tour lasts about an hour and our guide provided interesting insights into the fascinating life of Cabot. His eccentric personality and thrifty approach to building the pueblo is evident in each room of the interior. Photos, however, are not permitted inside.  

Cabot painted large Kachina dolls on the exterior of the pueblo beginning in 1954. Because the paintings have not survived the desert climate, local artists recreated the paintings in 2008.

After the tour of the pueblo, we made the short walk to the lovely Upper Courtyard to see some of the structures Cabot built on the property (ramada and tool shed are pictured below). Surrounding gardens showcase various native plants.

Along the way is the Eagle's Nest Tile Bench created for the museum by the Desert Hot Springs High School Ceramics Class of 2008. Very cool.

The ancient rock in the Upper Courtyard exemplifies Cabot's quirky personality. 

A short distance from the courtyard is a monument created by Peter "Wolf" Toth. Named Waokiye, or "Traditional Helper," it is the 27th in his series of 70 monuments in his series "The Trail of the Whispering Gods" honoring all Native Americans. It was dedicated in 1978.

The feather is carved from Incense Cedar and is 15' tall and 4' thick. The bottom portion was made from a single, 750-year-old, Sequoia redwood log that weighs 20 tons and is 27' high.  So impressive!

For additional information about this local attraction in Desert Hot Springs, check out their website, www.cabotsmuseum.org