My dad spent some of WW II out at the Salton Sea east of San Diego working on radio towers. His best war stories came from those days. Most of the other guys in his “outfit” were from Puerto Rico, and he liked them a lot. He was just a kid — 18 or 19 — and had missed his “opportunity” to ship out a couple of times because he was “in the brig” after getting drunk and picked up by the military police in Tijuana. I guess it was a long way (in more ways than one) from Montana to San Diego.
The Salton Sea is an extraordinary phenomenon, a rift lake, that is fed by the Colorado River which, over the millennia, depending on its flow, has left the Salton Sea filled with fresh or salt water or left completely dry. Naturally, this has been altered by modern humans farming in the Imperial Valley north of the lake. In “olden times” a person could navigate from the mouth of the Colorado River to the south, where it empties into the Sea of Cortez, up to the lake, but that’s pretty challenging now.
They lived in big barrack tents out there in the desert. I know that there was a Navy base at the Salton Sea. A lot is written about it. The Navy tested sea planes in that remote and easily concealed location, but I have found nothing about the network of radio and radar towers my dad told me about.
In my dad’s stories the one that fascinated me most was the story about the coyote/dog they found as a pup. They brought him into the barracks tent, fed and tamed him. My dad loved him. Every story my dad began to tell me about the war resulted in the story of the coyote/dog.
When I moved to San Diego in my 30s, I started hiking in open chaparral just east of the city. Most of that area had also been a military base in the war, in fact, before the area became Mission Trails Regional Park, the Navy came in and did a very meticulous search for unexploded ordinance. I began to imagine that my dad had maybe trained on the very trails on which I walked. I also spent a lot of time out in the same desert in which my dad had been stationed. I saw for myself the “Chocolate Mountains” and the Salton Sea. It was eerie, haunting, and wonderful all at the same time.
The chaparral is coyote Heaven. The first coyote I saw was a big surprise. A friend and I were walking down a hill and the friend, who was behind me, went, “Sssst!” I turned around, to see why and my friend pointed. My dog, Molly, and I looked in one movement, and there was a coyote, watching us. After that I saw them very very often. After awhile, I thought of them as the wild dogs I would connect with on hikes.
I’ve written all my coyote stories elsewhere but if you’d like to read them, I’ll post them here. 🙂
Featured photo: My dad posing in front of La Jolla Cove near San Diego.