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. 

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