NEW LIVERPOOL SALT WORKS

In 1893, George Durbrow and investors incorporated the New Liverpool Salt Company at Salton, on the Southern Pacific main line, south of Mecca, CA.

Salt was deposited on approximately 1000 acres of dry sea bed (ancient Lake Cahuilla) by seepage from salt springs in the foothills. Although called a mine, the salt works actually resembled a harvest operation, needing only to cut salt from the field, crush it, bag it, and send it by narrow gauge rail to the nearby railway station at Salton.
The quality, quantity, and uniqueness of its gathering led to it being featured in an 1899 issue of Strand Magazine and a 1901 issue of the National Geographic Magazine.

salt plow published in “A Common Crystal” by John R. Watkins, Strand Magazine 1899

In “The Saline Deposits of California,” California State Mining Bureau, Bulletin No. 24 (1902), Gilbert E. Bailey, described the operation:
“The sight at the salt works is an interesting one, for thousands of tons are piled up like huge snow drifts,…Indians operate cable plows, harvesting over 700 tons of pure salt per day. A portable railroad conveys the salt to the works.

The [crystal] lake is constantly being supplied by numerous springs in the adjacent foothills, which flow into the basin and quickly evaporate, leaving deposits of very pure salt that vary from 10 to 20 inches in thickness.”

In February 1891, the Colorado overflowed its banks, into the Mexican delta, leaving water standing in low areas. The following June, it overflowed again, reaching the standing water; the resulting flood from the commingled waters reached the Salton Basin, creating a lake approximately 30 miles long and 10 miles wide, but only 5 feet deep. Being shallow, it evaporated, leaving the Salt Works intact.

However, in 1905-1907, when the Colorado River overwhelmed the California Development Co. intakes for the Imperial Canal, the diverted water flooded the Salton Basin creating the Salton Sea. First the salt field was submerged, then the salt plant, and then the town of Salton and the rail lines.

salt works
Salt Works at Salton, Summer 1905. USGS photo

WHAT WAS THAT? A WASHBOARD FOR A GIANT?

1940.pdf

A COOLING TOWER FOR CONSTRUCTION OF THE COACHELLA CANAL

In 1938-40, World War II was looming on the horizon, and water for domestic sources of food was a high priority. Part of the Boulder Canyon Project, the Coachella Branch of the All American Canal was being built to bring Colorado River water to the Coachella Valley where the water level in wells was dropping drastically. Due to the extreme summer temperatures in the Imperial and Coachella Valleys, US Bureau of Reclamation specified the “placing season” for concrete to be October through May, using water no hotter than 90̊ F. However, high temperatures in April, May and October shortened the season.

Since construction took place in unsettled, desert lands, water was first pumped from part of the canal that had been built to storage tanks or reservoirs; then it was pumped via a second 4″pipe line, lying on the surface of the ground up to 11 miles, to the construction sites. In April and May of 1939, placing concrete came to a halt.

The ten foot tall evaporative cooling tower, pictured above, was created to re-circulate the water at least twice, through a 220 gallon holding tank. On May 11 & 13, 1940, water in the pipeline reached 133̊ & 130̊. On the 13th, using the cooling tower, the water was lowered to 84̊ while usage was 540 gallons per hour; use of the tower enabled concrete placement throughout the “season.”

Based on report in Reclamation Era magazine, October 1940.

CAHUILLA WALK-IN WATER WELL

walk-in well

 

If you are familiar with the history of the Cahuilla People, or the Coachella Valley, you probably are familiar with the water well shown above. Sources of water in the desert Valley were scarce, especially in its eastern end. A freshwater lake, Ancient Lake Cahuilla, was intermittently formed by flooding from the Colorado River, but when the river resumed its course south to the Sea of Cortez, the lake would slowly evaporate. In order to survive, the Desert Cahuilla were one of the few (if not the only) Native Americans to dig water wells.

This photo is generally credited to Charles C. Pierce, a photographer from Los Angeles. He probably took the photo on a trip to the Valley in October, 1903, which was the subject of Edmund Mitchell’s article, “On Desert Roaming” in The Strand Magazine (January 1905).* In the article, Mitchell does not name Pierce, but says one of the party of four was “a professional landscape photographer from Los Angeles” and all of the photos were credited to Pierce. Mitchell describes the party’s visit to the Martinez and Torres Reservations (Torres-Martinez Reservation) where they found “wells dug as inclined planes.” Pierce’s notes say the well was at Toro, and he was told it was dug about 75 years earlier (circa 1827).

George Wharton James’ The Wonders of the Colorado Desert (2 volumes, 1906) included a drawing (below) by Carl Eytel that is obviously from the same time period as the photograph.

Eytel well
Due to artesian wells being drilled in the eastern Coachella Valley, James describes the well as having a neglected appearance: “Brush and weeds grow freely around it and the water that accumulates has a yellow appearance and is somewhat brackish to the taste, so that even wild animals despise and forsake it.”

When J. Smeaton Chase wrote California Desert Trails (1919), about his travels in the desert, he describes the wells as having become “shapeless pits filled with mesquit and other brush.”

*Per the notes on the Huntington Library’s collection of Pierce photographs in Online Archive of California, “The most outstanding aspect of his business, however, was the vast picture library he amassed over three decades at work. Aside from making his own photographs, Pierce acquired the negatives and prints of other regional photographers such as Emil Ellis, Parker and Knight, Ramsey, Herve Friend, L.M. Clendenon, George P. Thresher, George Wharton James, and F.M. Huddleston. Pierce eradicated the existing signatures from the photographs, stamped his own name on the images, and organized the lot into subject files. The consequence of Pierce’s business practices assured that most, if not all, of the connections between the images and their original creator are now lost. However, the archive which he advertised as the ‘C.C. Pierce Collection of Rare, Historical and Curious Photographs, Illustrating California, the Pacific Coast and the Southwest,’ became an invaluable resource for researchers and boosters alike, all of whom came to Pierce’s shop to locate an image for their purposes.” https://oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt7199q9m3/

Fig Tree John, his Wife and Grandchildren

A legendary figure in the Coachella Valley, Fig Tree John, a Cahuilla, was often photographed wearing a top hat. In July 1901, Frances Anthony in “Below Sea-Level,” The Land of Sunshine, described him as “the distinguished owner of an orchard of fig trees.” In “On the Desert,” The Youth’s Instructor, October 1905, Jocie Wallace, described a visit to his fig plantation, thirty of his trees being at least thirty years old and “quite an orchard” of younger trees.  It is generally believed these were Mission fig trees, the first figs planted in the Coachella Valley.

Life was not to remain idyllic for his family, as the 1905-1907 flooding by the Colorado River that created the Salton Sea inundated his home at Fig Tree John Springs, on the west side of the Salton Sea, near the Riverside/Imperial County line. At the height of the flooding his land was under 5 feet of water, forcing him to move a few miles to Agua Dulce (near Oasis). After the water settled in the Sea, it is said he returned to visit his old home almost every day, but never moved back.

Fig Tree John, Wife & Grandchildren,

This photo of his family is floating around the internet and pinned on Pinterest. with the label, “1934” and a Salton Sea Database Project logo in the lower right corner. In fact, Fig Tree John passed away in 1927. I found it printed in Wallace’s article, published October 17, 1905!

Laguna Dam & Swastika Bridge

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sluiceway of Laguna Dam, 2017                                                                                photo by author

Construction of Laguna Dam, the first dam across the Colorado River, began in July 1905; plagued by contractor and supply problems, plus flooding, it was completed in March 1909. During its planning, core samples had shown the dam site was layer upon layer of silt carried down by the river over the ages, so a conventional dam design could not be used. US Reclamation Service engineers ultimately based the design on a weir dam on the Jumna (Yuamna) River in northern India that was successfully built on silt (USBR, 1902-1923, was the predecessor to the US Bureau of Reclamation).

BOR Pictures 180
Laguna Dam from California side, circa 1910                              US Bureau of Reclamation photo,                                                                                                                                     National Archives

Located north of Yuma, its principal gate (bottom width 116′) was built on the western (California) side of the river to divert water into a canal that carried water down the western side of the River until it was opposite the town of Yuma, where it was directed into a twelve foot siphon that went under the River to carry irrigation to the Yuma Valley in Arizona. Water was also diverted to Fort Yuma Resesrvation and the Bard Valley in California.

view-into-siphon

“Ground hags” working in the siphon during construction                                                                                          US Bureau of Reclamation photo, National Archives

Connected by a weir dam across the river bed that raised the water level 10–13 feet, on the eastern side was a smaller gate (bottom width 42′) and canal to carry water to agriculture in Arizona along the Gila River. Both sluicegates were based on bedrock & paved with concrete.

usbr1

View of the Colorado River at Laguna today; California sluiceway is on the left.  The white stretch of concrete across the river bed is the wier dam; the Arizona gateway is not visible to the left of the photo.  The man-made “river” to the right is the All American Canal.                                                                                                    US Bureau of Reclamation photo, Yuma project.

LagunaDamArizonaSluiceGate

Sluiceway on the Arizona side, April 4, 1909.                                     US Bureau of Reclamation photo

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sluiceway on the Arizona side, today.                                                                                photo by the author

According to the Arizona Sun (2/2/2013), while studying Indian dam construction, the US Reclamation Service also learned about an ancient Hindu Goddess, who had the power to control water and was sometimes represented by a four armed swastika, a symbol that had a history of peace in many cultures going back 9,500-10,000 years; it was not until the 1930s when the Nazis adopted the symbol that it came to stand for evil. Near the eastern gate they built a concrete bridge adorned with swastikas (whirling counter-clockwise) and also some were incised on the sluiceway.

IMG_0199

 

Swastika Bridge on the Arizona side                                                                           photos by the author

 

In 1948, Imperial Dam replaced Laguna as the means to divert water to the Yuma Valley (as well as to the new All American Canal). Since then Laguna has served as a sluice gate and regulator for Imperial Dam releases through the main river channel to Mexico.

Much of the infomration in this segment is based on US Bureau of Reclamation and National Park Service sites, and articles in Engineering News, (February 27, 1908 & June 10, 1909) by Edwind D. Vincent, USBR Resident Engineer, Yuma Project.

 

Araz Junction: Butterfield Stagecoach Station?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There is some dispute over what this adobe ruin was. Many list it as a station on the Butterfield Stagecoach Line, while others dispute this claim based on there being no historical marker, no protection for the ruin, no “Araz Junction” Station on the stage line maps, and it being too small.

Balanced against those arguments is the fact there was a Pilot Knob Stage Station in the Second Division in California, between Fort Yuma and Los Angeles. The ruins are located north and slightly east of the Pilot Knob formation, which in the mid-nineteenth century would have been one of the few landmarks around.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Pilot Knob seen from the northeast

I know of no other ruin or site in the area identified as the stage station location. Whether it was a stage station, or a storage building for a station or local mine, it remains a haunting reminder of our Western heritage.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In 1877, the Southern Pacific finished building its main line linking Los Angeles and Yuma. In the early 1900s, the Inter-California railway was begun, to branch from the Southern Pacific mainline at Niland (then Imperial Junction) south to Calexico and then west via a loop through Baja California, to rejoin the SP mainline at Araz Junction.

In 1906, during the flood creating the Salton Sea, the SP built a spur line from Araz Junction south to the break in Colorado River (in Mexico), forming part of the ultimate Inter-Cal line. So, whether Araz Junction was the site of the Pilot Knob Stage Station, or not, it did play a significant role in the development of the Southwest. The branch line south was abandoned in the 1960s, but the mainline remains.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Main rail line from Araz Junction ruin, 2017

To get there: Near the California/Arizona border, just west of Winterhaven, take exit 166 from I8 onto CA-186N. The adobe will be on the right side before you enter Winterhaven.  All photos in this post are by the author.

The Caravansary Hotel, Mecca, Calif.

As I write this, it is summer in the Coachella Valley, and last night the wind blew from the south, bringing humidity from the Gulf of California and l’eau de Salton Sea.

This is a dramatic change from early articles about Mecca, California. A stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad, the town was originally called Walters and was primarily a shipping point for ore from the mines to the north (there will be more on Walters in a later blog post).

With the drilling of artesian wells in the lower Coachella Valley and the introduction of date palms, Arabian names came into vogue; in the early 1900s, developers bought the town site, changing the name to Mecca. In 1904, the Mecca Promotion Committee issued a pamphlet predicting “Mecca is destined to become a famous winter resort as it lies just on the edge of the Colorado Desert, and the dry climate affords great relief to person suffering from all pulmonary and asthmatic diseases.” The south wing of the Caravansary Hotel had been built.

Caravansary

1904 phamphlet

In the January 1922 Good Health article , “The Colorado Desert,” Dr. John Harvey Kellogg praised Mecca, California, as a place to enjoy the benefits of “pure, dry air.” He describes Mecca as a small town with two to three hundred people and a hotel on the cottage plan, comprised of an adobe central building and 15/20 bungalows. “The climate of Mecca is ideal. The air is always dry and bracing. The sun shines everyday, good food can be obtained, and as a place for out-of-door living, it is unexcelled.”

Good Health.pdf

Good Health.pdf

The two photos above are from the Good Health article.

s-l1600cropped

This undated postcard has no copyright notice.  Judging by the growth of the palm trees near the main building, it was probably published around 1930.

Today, like many small towns in the US, Mecca has been bypassed by the highways.  It is a small agricultural community that mainly makes news when the migrant workers come to town, or stories are written about the problems of the shrinking Salton Sea.  There are no hotels in town, but it is still a beautiful part of the world.

While it is true Dr. Kellogg promoted healthy living and improved diet, his abhorrent belief in eugenics has (thankfully) been discredited; Good Health served as a both a health magazine and promotion for “race betterment.”  Eugenics was not mentioned in his article on the Colorado Desert, and I refer only to its value on the history of the Caravansary Hotel.  Mecca today has a diverse racial makeup, which is largely Hispanic.