Wild Week and a Quick Trip to the Salton Sea

It has been a wild week.  At City College we hosted our 2nd Annual “Photo 360” event where we sponsored almost 250 high school students interested in photography from San Diego Unified School District.  The students filled our auditorium and got to hear our new President, Dr. Shabazz deliver a really inspiring presentation to them on the value of seriously thinking about coming to City College.


Photo 360 auditorium

Off Screen Dr. Shabazz delivers a talk to a packed house of high school students at City College’s Photo Program’s “Photo 360” event for local high school students interested in photography.  

We provided several workshops with hands on demos and work in Fashion, Product, Macro, portfolio and photoshop, and even a demo in the darkrooms shooting paper negatives with a view camera and letting them make their own prints.    In addition several major photo equipment manufacturers and retailers set up tables in the gallery to let students see ther latest wares and even try some of them out during the workshops.


photo 360 vendors

Students in our gallery checking out the latest gear from vendors such as Canon, Tamron, Panasonic/Lumix, Olympus, Delkin, and our sponsor retailers, NelsonPhoto and George’s Camera.

Plus, My good friend Brooke Medicine Eagle is in town so we drove out to the Salton Sea, which she had never seen before.  Brooke and I go back to college days at the University of Denver and have remained in touch over all of the ensuing years.  She holds a Doctorate in Psychology but is a practicing healer and teacher of the Shamanic traditions and ways from not only her own Native American culture but from cultures around the world.  She is here to set up some events at Rancho La Puerta resort and Spa near Tecate.

We went first to the mud volcanoes near the south east shores of the sea.  But approaching it I could already tell the horrible tales I was hearing of the sea’s plight were true… and then some.  On a mud flat that once was a shallow lagoon stands the so-called “Three Sisters.”  I’ve shown pictures of them before, three lonely trees that had survived the horrid conditions of the sea.  Now they are nowhere near the water or even the water’s edge.  It was saddening and disheartening to see.  But as you’ll see, the worse shock lay ahead…

But back to the tale.  The mud volcanoes are surface manifestations of the incredible geo-thermal activities in the region.  Lying on the infamous San Andreas fault, the superheaded water, fleeing the magma chambers deep in the crust is forced up toward the surface through layers and layers of sediment and mud-formed tiny geysers.  It is clear that the plates are moving in their relentless quest to separate Southern California and Baja from the mainland.  The field of mud pots and “volcanoes” is also expanding and moving.  There are more of them than the last time I visited here a few years ago and they are now strung out in a longer line than before. 

It is somewhat disconcerting to know that in the dogleg area where these two plates are locked into place, tests have shown that the rock is already well past the failure point and should have collapsed and slipped years ago.  The main parts of the plates are deflected by several meters so when the rocks holding them together do finally let go it is likely to be a singularly exciting event… 

mud volcano 01

One section of the mud volcanoes, a wisp of steam blowing from the spouts of boiling mud.

Here at the mud volcanoes you can hear them bubbling and hissing away as hot steam escapes and muddy bubbles rise and burst, sending little hot mud-flows down the sides of these Lilliputian sized volcanoes.  They are neither majestic nor pretty but, to me, endlessly fascinating because of the tale they try to tell about what is happening not all that far under the surface.  The mud flows leave some interesting abstract patterns on the slopes of the miniscule mountains.

mud flow 01

Patterns in the flow of hot mud from the mud volcanoes.  At least it is not real lava!

The area has quite a number of geothermal power plants taking advantage of the constantly available hot water and steam to drive their turbines.  Nothing has to be artificially heated here, the earth takes care of that quite efficiently.  Here, seen behind a few of the mud volcanoes, is one of the nearby geothermal plants that dot the landscape.

Mud volcanoes and power plant

Steam rises from one of the Geothermal plants located around the southern end of the Salton Sea.  Seen here looking through some of the mud volcanoes in the region.

We walked around and watched some of the bubbling little pots (my timing was always just a bit off and never caught one of the bubbles forming and bursting but here is one of the little pots merrily percolating away.

mud bubble

A bubbling mud pot splattering hot mud around it.  Unfortunately I failed after several attempts to actually capture the moment of a bubble bursting.  This is a split second late and you can still see the steam cloud drifting off to screen left.

We drove slowly along the irrigation channel banks hoping to see one of the hysterical little burrowing owls.  That quest was doomed to failure but Brooke was able to see her first live Roadrunner.   Later we saw Wily E. Coyote darting into a roadside cover but they seemed to be leaving each other alone for the moment.

We then drove to Bombay Beach.  My friend Lee has been telling me how low the sea is getting and leaving this once exciting beach area high and dry but I was still totally unprepared for what I saw as we rolled up and over the dike to the site of the old pier.  Not all that long ago the water lapped against the sea wall and left but a few inches of the old pilings visible above the surface.  I’m not sure what I expected to see… but it was not this.

A beached boat used to be close enough to launch but now is stranded in permanent dry dock and useful only as a pallet for visiting taggers desperate to deface someone else’s property.  You can see how far out the water now lies.

Bombay Boat dry dock

No longer able to reach the sea, a boat sits along the edge of the old sea wall.  The actual water has retreated a couple hundred yards as the sea evaporates.

But most shocking of all was the pier itself.  It was simply stunning to me how far away the water line now was.  Here is an overview of the first view driving up to what used to be the boat ramp and then a closer composition.


Bombay Berach pier first view

The water no longer even approaches the  Bombay Beach pier as its pilings sit bleaching in the sun.



old pier high 01

Sitting high and dry far from the water if one didn’t know what this was it might be completely puzzling to a new-comer to the scene.


To put those shots above in perspective, here is a shot taken a couple of years ago that I called, in homage to Otis Redding, “Seating by the Dock of the Bay.”  You can see the water is almost covering the pilings and is right up against the sea wall.


EM Seating by the Dock001

Here is what the pier looked like not all that long ago on a spectacular sunset evening.  You can see the water is right up against the old sea wall.  This effect happens when the wind rises in the Anza Borrego desert to the west and turns the background into a seamless array of color.


It was sad and depressing, the whole place reeked of lost hopes and failures.  A few residences had tried to spiff up their places and one person used junked cars to create “The Bombay Beach Drive-In Theater” so humor has survived in a few places but I honestly do not know how.

Here finally is a shot to sum up the story.  A duo-toned grayscale image seemed like the proper rendition. 


tilapia for blog

Unless steps are taken to correct the damage, this represents to fate awaiting not just the fish but the sea itself and perhaps even the inhabitants of the sea shore enclaves as toxic dust joins the desiccating wind to sweep the area once the water is gone.


Meantime, to end back on a high note — at least for me — I received notice of a completely surprising number of sales of my book, “The Future of Professional Photography and Photo Education” and word that our president is ordering copies to give out to faculty at the Spring’s pre-semester convocation meetings.  I never expected that..

But now it is time to get the last minute preparations ready for school to restart in a week.









About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
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