All day we had been driving down streets lined with abandoned homes and undeveloped lots. We stopped to photograph the thousands and thousands of dead fish washed up on shore. It was hot and they were rotting. We met an old man sitting in a desk chair nailed to the end of a wooden dock. “The Salton Sea is drying up,” he said, “and no one cares.” As we talked the wind picked up, blowing polluted, powdery soil off the exposed seabed and into our faces. On the way out of town we saw a brown sign advertising mud pots, a tourist attraction. So we went.

“The Salton Sea is drying up,” he said, “and no one cares.”

The Salton Sea is a perfect habitat for mud pots. The area has a peculiar history. It was once an inland sea, then the delta of the Colorado River. Since the turn of the 20th century it has been a man-made salt lake surrounded by farms. The Sea had a brief moment in the 1950s as a resort spot. Real estate boomed, then busted. Today, most people come to gawk at the post-apocalyptic landscape and a community of drifters that painted a mountain for Jesus. Some, though, come to see mud pots.

Mud pots, like these in Yosemite, form when there is the right combination of geothermal activity, particulate soil, and lack of water. The Salton Sea has plenty of geothermal activity. Everywhere you look there’s a geothermal power plant. In terms of soil, the silty, toxic, old seabed is so fine gusts of wind turn into hazardous dust storms which now pose a health crisis for nearby towns. As for water, there’s not much around here besides the increasingly salty sea liquid that has killed countless tilapia. It’s a bad place for fish, but a great one for mud pots.

We followed the roadsign toward the edge of the Salton Sea. The dirt road led to piles of hardened mud, some taller than a man. In the background, a large industrial plant let out a plume of steam, the only landmark on the flat landscape. It was quiet when we shut off the car. That was when we heard one. A burst of steam shot up through a pool of silty slurry. We watched mud spurt into the air, shot from below by geothermal heat. There were mud pots all around us.

Mud pots make a great range of noises—pipping, plopping, plooping sounds. Some speak slowly, some fast. Each pot has its own particular personality. We recorded some two dozen of these mud pots and mixed together all their different songs. If you want to see a pretty rad short movie that features Salton Sea mud pot footage from the 1940s, check out “On The Edge.” For a more modern take, here are mud pots in Yosemite.

Photo Credit: Gundi Vigfusson

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