Thursday, December 20, 2012

Children will love day hike in Salton Sea Volcanic Area

Mudpots near the Salton Sea.
You don’t have to leave Southern California to see volcanic activity – it’s not in the form of an erupting cinder cone, of course, but it’s still prevalent. Ancient volcano flows and still active geothermal area sit at the south end of the Salton Sea, the largest lake in California, in a trio of short day hikes that kids will love.

To reach the region, get on Highway 111, accessible from either I-10 north of the Salton Sea or I-8 south of it. Take West Lindsey Road toward the sea and turn right onto Severe Road. A number of geothermal plants have been constructed to take advantage of the volcanic area. Temperatures at just less than a mile below the surface can reach 680 degrees Fahrenheit.

Obsidian Butte
First stop on the hike is Obsidian Butte, a 16,000-year-old volcanic dome that largely consists of pumice and black obsidian. Shards of the black glass still can be found a couple of hundred yards away from the dome, which sits at the sea's edge.

Next, drive away from the sea on McNerney Road. Turn north onto Boyle Road and then right again onto Estelle Road (sometimes referred to on signs and maps as West Sinclair Road). Turn left onto Garst Road, which curves onto Red Island.

The northern of two domes on the island consists of pumice boulders and rhyolite with a smattering of obsidian. Some of the obsidian rocks are about the size of two fists.

The dome is one of four small volcanoes - from southwest to northeast, Obsidian Butte, Rock Hill, Red Island, and Mullet Island - that make up the Salton Buttes. Even preschoolers can scamper to the top of the northern dome, which provides a panoramic view of the Salton Sea.

The sea and alluvium laid by previous river flows has buried much of the four domes.

East of the Salton volcanic buttes sits a series of mudpots on a clay field. It is located at the corner of Schrimpf and Davis roads. To reach it, from Garst Road follow Red Hill Road (which becomes Schrimpf Road) across the causeway.

The mudpots will be the adventure’s highlights for kids. Water bubbles up from multiple sinkholes and gurgles out of fumaroles. A yellow-green bacteria calls one of the mudpots home while red bacteria resides in another puddle only a few yards away.

You’ll want to wear boots into the mudpot field, as it will cake on. A sulfide stench also covers the field, but it is not overwhelming. Warn kids away from getting too close to the mudpots as the water coming from them will burn.

Finally, this is the Colorado Desert and gets hot. You’ll need to limit your hikes to October through mid-April and always bring plenty of water.

Read more about day hiking with children in my Hikes with Tykes guidebooks.