Where There Is a Road

Quick Sand, Smelly Water and Other Lessons

The Salton Sea

Our first full day in Joshua Tree National Park and I immediately wanted to go for a ride outside of it. Let me explain. The Salton Sea is just to the south and I was intrigued by the the textures of the “sand” last year. Since then I now work with textures. I felt it was worth the drive and the smell to collect a bit of texture.

View of the Salton Sea under blue skies with violet mountains in the background. Travel writing and Travel Photography by Marquette Michigan visual Artist and painter Taryn Okesson.
2021. Salton Sea Recreation Area. You Pay for the Privilege of This Sensory Experience.

The Salton is a man-made mess. An old dried up sea bed that people accidentally filled up with water from the Colorado River in the early 1900’s. But the area being fertile from its geological past made it ideal for farming and all that runoff went directly into the Salton. Which in recent years wasn’t being fed fresh sources of water and was shrinking in size so concentrating in both salt content and farm runoff. That’s my very short version of events. You can open Wikipedia for a more accurate depiction (maybe).

All I could think, while approaching ever closer to the water, is about what sort of crazed lunatic kayaks or swims in this body of water. As soon as you get close to it the smell makes you roll up your windows. Today I even gagged walking back to the truck and it isn’t even baking in the summer sun.

Wait there’s more. We also explored the weird of Bombay. A grid town of tin trailer homes from the atomic age. Majestic configurations of camper mansions. Pack rat yards and art installations.

Then we went to the dried up marina. I walked up to the waters edge captivated by a swing set in the Sea. I was angling to get as close as I could when suddenly I sank a full foot and a half into the clay while it belched rotting sea smells into the air. I couldn’t lift my feet out. They were being sucked in further. So I struggled out of my shoes and while protecting my camera in one hand, crouched on the clay, I dislodged each shoe from their near grave and tossed them to safety. Then I had to backtrack to safety. I looked around, no one else was within six feet of the waters edge. This must be quick sand because it was quick and it could be called sand. Kurt saw nothing. He was on dry land taking a panorama, oblivious.

I experienced this feeling before, of having the ground suck you inward, when I was a child growing up alongside what we called a cranberry bog. It was January in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and I was decked out in my 90’s purple and pink nylon windbreaker ready to take on a winter adventure.

At that time of year the lake and bog should’ve been completely frozen. I watched as my cat walked out onto obviously thin ice. I had to get him off. I don’t know why, ask eleven year old me what the impulse was. I called to him and yelled at him, and he looked at me as cats do. So I cautiously tested the surface. It didn’t give. I tested again and again. My cat walked off the thin spot just in time for me to go crashing through. It wasn’t the biting cold that I remember, it was the mud sucking me hungrily down while my cat impassively watched and I clung to the edge. For a moment I wanted to yell out for my Mother, I could see the house. Odds were no one was going to come to save me however loud I howled. I found strength to pull myself out and trudge home covered in swamp mud during the coldest time of the year in Northern Michigan▪️


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