Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Michael and Denny Go Shrimping

Follow their adventures ...

 

Last updated 2/22/2017 at 2:10pm



It was a “suggestion” by Borrego Sun publisher Patrick Meehan on January 25 during our weekly staff meeting: Denny DuVall and I should go out to Clark Dry Lake and locate brine shrimp that supposedly had emerged after the recent heavy and persistent rains. Then, editor Suzanne Howarth and her co-conspirator Yolandi Jooste also “suggested” that Denny and I combine the search for brine shrimp with a “camping adventure” to seek out an historical shallow well of sorts, called ‘Borego Spring’, located just east of the heart of the Borrego Sink. Mr. Meehan nodded his agreement.

We agreed to the assignment and departed a few short hours later in Denny’s 4-wheel drive Suzuki Samurai, which I will describe here as “antiquated.”

Arriving at Clark Dry Lake, which wasn’t dry at all but was still covered in places by a thin layer of water after our heavy rains, we stopped at several locations to try and find the tiny brine shrimp - also known as fairy shrimp, aqua dragons, or sea monkeys - in shallow pools of standing water. After an exhaustive search lasting many minutes, it began to show up as a failed assignment. Consequently, camping out in Clark Lake for the night in the cold and in sleeping bags, only to renew our search the next day for probably non-existent shrimp, did not show up to either of us as a reasonable option: Either the critters are here, now, or they aren’t!

And then my eye caught movement in a shallow pond at my feet. Artemia! Half a dozen tiny crustaceans were scurrying around in the half-inch deep water.

A brine shrimp is about one quarter-inch long and one sixteenth-inch wide, breathes through its legs, and it lives only for a year as an adult, dining on microscopic algae after consuming energy reserves in its “cyst-assist” larval stage.

Artemia first arose as a species about 5.5 million years ago, probably in the Mediterranean Sea; the Borrego Valley was once covered by seawater as a northern extension of the Sea of Cortez. One reason brine shrimp have done so well globally is their ability to reproduce quickly, plus the fact their eggs, or cysts, which they carry with them into later larval and adult stages, survive under extreme temperatures from –300 to +200 degrees (for short periods). They can also remain dormant in a state called cryptobiosis for several years under ultra-dry conditions (such as in our desert) awaiting the arrival of water.

Brine shrimp are also very valuable research tools. Astronauts have taken them to space (Apollo missions) for radiation and other testing, and they are prime research subjects for determining harmful environmental factors, such as the effects of toxic chemicals; if they croak, or grow two heads, it’s a good chance we would, too. Commercially, large aquaculture businesses thrive because brine shrimp cysts, while small in size, can be produced quickly and in vast numbers to feed stocks of fish, later harvested and quick-frozen for later consumption.

There are also some interesting personal and historical tidbits about Clark Dry Lake to add, so I’ll turn them over to Denny.

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My Dad’s uncle, Gilbert Rock, his sister Drilla Small, and his brother Glen DuVall all homesteaded property in the Clark Dry Lake area. Gilbert’s place was across the south end of the dry lake, on the east side, while Drilla and Glen were on the north side. In the 1960’s, the University of Maryland installed a “radio observatory” in the middle of the dry lake, the antenna array running almost the entire length of the dry lake north and south, but only a couple of hundred feet east to west.

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Michael here. The reason behind the array was purely physical: Clark Dry Lake was a small valley free of radio interference, nestled up against the Santa Rosa Mountains to the north (and wrapping around slightly to the east), Coyote Mountain to the west, and even the Vallecito/Pinyon Mountain ranges some twenty miles south across the Borrego Valley. The location of the antenna array was surely a great spot for researches that counted on the lack of radio/electrical interference for data gathering. Or so they thought.

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My great uncle Gilbert Rock drove an early-60’s Volkswagen “bug,” a model that produced more electrical static from its ignition system than any car that has ever been produced before or since.

Every time he crossed Clark Lake, Uncle Gilbert’s bug raised all kinds of hell with the radio telescope readings. The researchers tried to prevent him from crossing the lake, but he had used that road since the late 20’s, so he felt they weren’t able to stop him; Gilbert told them he’d be more than happy to shoot anyone who thought they could!

For the entire life of the radio telescope antenna, Gilbert made as many trips a day across the lake as possible, and at the highest rpm he could run – purely for spite. As far as I know, the University of Maryland never got anything of any interest from their array of antennas. I guess ET wouldn’t call home until years later.

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Denny’s last reference is to a radio telescope back east that in 1965 picked up the omni-directional “hiss” discovered to be the microwave background radiation associated with the Big Bang 13.5 billion years ago.

We were both getting hungry, but knew it would take a hundred brine shrimp to fill a teaspoon. We would have liked to set up the BBQ for a nice shrimp-based meal, but a micro-BBQ with 1/32-inch grill-bar separation was nowhere be found on the shelves of our local True Value Hardware store. Actually locating the brine shrimp was, however, a critical part of our assignment, and the tiny crustaceans were also photographed to prove we weren’t faking their presence. So, we had effectively accomplished Part-1 of our mission, and there was really no need to set up a campfire or two-man tent. Besides, both Denny and I, fast approaching the onset of senility, somehow “forgot” our camping equipment. It was a decision we later regretted, but we’ll get to that. So we headed south toward the Borrego Sink to find the historic “Borego Spring.” Surprisingly, it is actually mis-labeled as “Borrego” Spring on the latest USGS topo map. Need to send them a memo.

Will they find the Spring? Will Denny's truck drive Michael to safety or insanity? Will Michael get to send his memo? Join our brave intrepid boys next issue, as they attempt to survive the wilds of Borrego.

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