Mud Pots of the Salton Sea

Mud Pots, Salton Sea, November 2014

As I've talked about before on my blog, California is a state that has a number of interesting geologic features. From Mud Caves, to Lava Tube Caves, to strange appearing and disappearing water filled holes in Death Valley, this state has it all - and then some. Just when I think I've seen every unique geologic feature that the state has to offer, something new pops up. In this case, the feature literally pops - and bubbles - but more on that later. In case you're wondering what I'm talking about, I'm talking about the mud pots - or mud volcanoes of the Salton Sea. I had heard rumors about this feature from my fellow blogger, Josh McNair, and when my fiance and I were back out at Salvation Mountain last week, I knew that we had to check it out. After a little bit of navigation, we - among other people - found the spot. 

For those of you that have never been to the Salton Sea, Niland, or the areas around it, this is an area that is desolate. It is also an area that has, by and large, been abandoned by the world. There is something otherworldy about the area; and there is also something haunting about passing by shuttered homes, sunk RV's and various other ruins. In short, the area around the mud pots - and the area of the mud pots themselves resemble something out of a book, movie, video game, or television show of what the world will look like after "the apocalypse". 

The mud pots are in part of this apocalyptic terrain at the intersection of two dirt roads (directions below), and the area is flat, sunken, and unlike most of the terrain on the planet. The mud surrounding the mud pots is cracked and dry, and on first glance, otherwise unremarkable. After all, when you have been traveling around the Salton Sea for a bit, even this otherworldly terrain starts to look normal. Then, like me, you will see them: what appear to be mud hills in the near distance. If you're curious - like me (or the many other people that also spontaneously appear in this remote spot), you'll take the short walk over to the hills. Once you are fifteen feet away, you'll hear it: the blurp blurp blurp and the rapid staccato bursts of something boiling. Mysterious sounds make everyone curious, so at this point, you'll do what I did along with everyone else: continue to walk on, until you'll see a number of these volcanic mud pinnacle type things and a number of mud pots. All will be spewing hot air; some will be boiling or vibrating mud. Once you see all of this and more, you will know you are at the infamous mud pots of the Salton Sea.

Once you have found the mud pots, the next question naturally will be two-fold: "What are they; and where did they come from"? In this case, the answer is simple. Mud pots are formed by gas and water being forced upward through the soil and sediment at a plate boundary or hot spot in the Earth's crust. In this case, the mud pots of the Salton Sea sit right at the end of a very famous fault line in California - the San Andreas fault; and directly above an intrusion of magma in the Earth's crust some four thousand feet below. If this wasn't interesting enough, scientists also estimate that the temperatures a mile below the mud pots may be as hot as 680 degrees! Fortunately, at the surface, things are much milder - although I would recommend that everyone take care around the mud pots, as they would any other active volcanic feature. 

Directions: The mud pots are located at the intersection of Davis Road and Schrimpf Road, four miles to the South of Niland, California. From Highway 86, travel three miles West on Schrimpf Road, which is unpaved, to the intersection of Schrimpf and Davis Roads. 

Tips: The area around the mud pots may or may not be wet, depending on the time of year; or the conditions that have preceded your visit. In any event, plan accordingly in terms of footwear, as there is potential for your shoes to become caked with mud. It is also worth noting that the area may or may not be off limits to the general public. When I visited, a number of paper "No Trespassing" signs were lying on the ground, which did not dissuade any people from venturing out onto the mud flats. As always with a location such as this, people should proceed at their own risk.