Mud Volcanoes, Mud Pots & the Salton Sea

After hiking Ladder Canyon and crossing over the San Andreas Fault a few times, we made our way to the Salton Sea to see the amazing geothermal mud pots and mud volcanoes that I had read about.

The picture above is of the mud volcanoes, also called mud gryphons, and the picture below is of the mud pots.

Under the Salton Sea lies a vein of molten magma about 20 miles long, four miles wide, and at least one to two miles thick lies perhaps as close as 4,000 feet from the Earth’s surface along the southeast shore. Temperatures in the Salton Sea Geothermal Field can reach 680 degrees less than a mile below your feet. source

The ground has sunken to form the mud pots.  Warm mud bubbles in them like a witch's cauldron.  The bubbling is caused by carbon dioxide being cooked off of the carbonate minerals by the magma and rising up from below the water table through vent points along earthquake faults.  The bubbling makes awesome gurgling noises and the bubbling is mesmerizing to watch.


The mud volcanoes, also called mud gryphons, make loud burping noises and spew warm mud intermittently in all directions. We touched the mud and it felt fabulous.  It was very warm and ultra smooth - seems like a perfect place for a mud bath.

This is what the mud volcanoes look like inside.

here's a video of them burping and spewing mud


There are also bubbling holes of water.  I felt the water and it was surprisingly cold.  I expected it to be hot or warm like the mud pots.

There are also lots of hot air vents shooting up.  with all this bubbling, gurgling, burping, spewing and venting of gases there is definitely a strong odor there.  It's not a sulphur smell though, more of a gasoline type smell.

salt crystals seeping up and stuck in footprints in the mud

The field where all the mud pots and mud volcanoes are is about the size of a football field and is in the middle of no where.  Actually, all of the Salton Sea is in the middle of no where.  I'll post more on that in a minute.  Fascinating place.  Anyway, the field is kind of hard to find because it is so remote and down a couple of miles of dirt roads but is so worth the trip!

If anyone in the area wants to visit the site, it's at the corner of W. Schrimpf (dirt road off of Hwy 111) and Davis (also a dirt road).  Schrimpf Road dead ends there and so you can't miss it.  From Hwy 111, head towards the Salton Sea and you'll run right into them.  Bring shoes you don't mind getting muddy and also bring a pair to change into afterwards.

Last week we went to learned a lot about the Mars surface while touring the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab and, then after this weekend's outings to Ladder Canyon and the Salton Sea, we feel that we have perhaps walked on the Mars surface. Funny how things planned independently end up working together and really reinforce learning.

While driving to the mud volcanoes, we took some time to explore the Salton Sea area.  It's a modern day ghost town. It's miles and miles and miles of closed down buildings, ransacked homes, and abandoned RV trailers.  Totally feels unreal, like being in some apocalypse movie.  Make sure you have a full tank of gas because there is basically none anywhere to be found out there.


Bombay Beach - submerged RVs

The town of Bombay Beach was mostly made up of abandoned trailer homes but there wee a few holdouts still living there amongst the mess.

Running on fumes only, I did eventually find one lone gas station in the town of Niland next to this creepy abandoned child day care center.  Clown faces are always so creepy to me.

I was hoping to get to Salvation Mountain  and Slab City but it was starting to get dark so we just gave up and turned around and headed home.  I'll find them next time I'm out that way, for sure!  Definitely have to check those places out.

This is a full time RV homeschooling family's website of their time in Slab City.  I love how the Slab City residents have open Talent Shows and even a library.  I love people who chose to live out of the box. :)

Here's a another family's experiences at Slab City and Salvation Mountain:


History of the Salton Sea

In the1800s, the area was a dry salt basin and was used for mining salt. 

In the early 1900s, irrigation canals were built off of the nearby Colorado River so that a farming community could be built in the area.  The plan was to make the area an agricultural oasis in the desert and worked superbly for a few years but then too much silt and seasonal heavy rainfall and snowmelts that flowed into the Colorado River eventually resulted in a dike break and the Salton Basin began to flood.  For two years, the Colorado River continued to fill the basin and without any sort of outlet, since it is below sea level, the water level just kept rising and swallowed up the town of Salton.  Eventually, 3 million dollars were spent by the railroad company to stop the water flow and the Salton Sea was formed.

Fishermen were drawn to the area because the lake was so huge and full of freshwater fish.  Unfortunately, it was short lived because the rainwater run off flowing back into the lake kept bringing in more salt deposits and raising the salinity levels until finally all the freshwater fish died off.  So they tried to introduce some salt water fish varieties like salmon, halibut, oysters and clams, etc but they didn't survive either.  Eventually they found that gulf croaker, sargo, orange corvine and tilapia did survive. The Salton Sea is saltier than the Pacific Ocean.

"As the fish began to thrive, it fueled a recreation boom in the 1950s and the inland desert sea became an inviting sport-fishing and vacation destination. In no time, its coastline developed numerous resorts and marinas catering to water skiers, boaters, and fishermen. Billed as "Palm Springs-by-the-Sea,” restaurants, shops, and nightclubs also sprang up along the shores. The lake enjoyed immense popularity, especially among the rich and famous as movie stars and recording artists flocked to the area. From Dean Martin, to Jerry Lewis, Frank Sinatra, and the Beach Boys, the lake became a speedboat playground" source

"The fancy resorts, businesses and homes flooded numerous times and the salt and fertilizer run off eventually accumulated to toxic levels and destroyed the health of the lake.  Algae fed on the toxins and began a cycle of decay. As algae fed on the toxins, it created massive amounts of rotten smelling matter floating upon the surface of the lake and suffocated many of the fish." source

"Within just a few years, the resorts had closed, the marinas were abandoned, and those who could afford to, had moved, leaving in their wake, abandoned businesses and homes, and scattered junk." source