Pecos River @ Malaga Bend

A Salty Tale in Several Parts

4.   A salty tale at Malaga Bend

We will now look at two maps. ones that we have seen before, to orient us for this salty story.

The first one (thanks to MapQuest again) shows Malaga bend again, but this time with labels I added on the salt works:

The next map (thanks, MapQuest) shows the bigger picture, and has the Queen's Basin labeled (thanks to me):

So, now you know where we will spend our time on this page:

First stop is the brine well and the observation well a short distance away (was it far enough away? --I don't know but it needed to be located as close as possible to the river, but out of its obvious flood-plain, and the same was true for the brine-production well).  The observation well allowed measuring the change in brine-aquifer height as pumping progressed (my camera refused to take a photo inside the well, but I could see water below, and it looked like it was much higher than the river, confirming (for me) the potential for upwelling of brine from this aquifer into and around the river).

The brine well shows what the problem is (in addition to the caustic problems of dealing with salt water) when dealing with brines: when the evaporate the leave salt behind (this looks like gypsum, a calcium-sulfate salt, and the first one to fallout of a concentrating brine of this type):

From the fence around this well, the observation well can be seen on the very edge of the rise above the flood-plain of the river:

The brine was pumped into a set of basins, of which only the center ones were used, or so it appears.  That probably means the brine was taken away, either to oil fields or Queen Basin, about as fast as it was pumped up.

I suspect the brine was partly evaporated here to drop out the sulfate minerals, leaving a 96% pure halite (sodium-chloride, table-salt) brine after that for taking to the final evaporation location (or to the oil fields).  

The brine was piped to this storage facility.  It was a brine depot, with connections that allow the loading of two tanker trucks at a time:

I saw no evidence for the upper and lower basins having been used: there is no salt floor in the upper basin as seen in the above photo. In the satellite photo shown above as a map, there is a peculiar dark and light structure to the lower basin that looked intriguing in the satellite shot.  

Close up it turned out to be layers of plastic sheeting severely disrupted by wind at this later time (satellite photos on the Internet can be, and often are, several years old especially in areas where remaining current is not high priority--no one is checking here to see if what car is in their driveway, for instance, while that can be done for big cities where photos are updated more frequently--for example, once my brother asked my about a little red sports car in my city driveway, he has seen it on the Internet!  I had not told him I'd bought a much-used but bright red and cute sports car for one of my kids. He believed my explanation.  As he should have since it was what I wanted him to believe.  Satellite photo evidence is circumstantial evidence, you have to fill in the circumstance to spin the photo- evidence into a complete 'story.'):

I saw no evidence of this lower basin having been used either.  Only the center ponds had residual salt on their bottoms indicating use.

Our next stop is Queen Basin, a natural depression thought to have been formed in the same way that Nash Draw was formed (a karst feature, in other words).  This little basin is about a mile and a half from the well we saw above near the river. Whether salt was moved here by truck or by pipeline I can't say.  I had read it was a pipeline, but saw no evidence for it.  I did see the brine-loading depot, which was obviously built to be serviced by trucks.  

There was also supposed to be a pipeline carrying brine into Lea County oil fields and into the adjoining oil fields over the nearby border in Texas, but all I saw evidence for was truck-loading of brine. Just because I failed to see evidence foe pipelines doesn't mean they did not exist: Maybe a kind reader who knows will correct me?

In whatever manner the brine was moved up here, the experiment lasted just over two years, and by the end of the experiment the basin had ~12 feet (~ 4 meters) of salt!

There are just a few piles left at or near that height today (that is local dust covering the white salt, in case you wonder):

There was once an estimate of this bowl being able to hold 100 years of salt. Maybe that was based on the calculation of how much salt was contributed to the river by the brine aquifer below it. But by pulling on that aquifer, and lowering its water-level by more than 20 feet, perhaps much more brine was pulled out then would have naturally welled up from the aquifer into the river.  As a salt mining operation it was a great success.  As a river cleaning operation it was a great success. While it lasted.

The bottom of this bowl reminded me of salt flats in Death Valley, which could be solid in one place, and in an adjacent place allow you to sink above your ankles or deeper into deep black mud. Salt indurated mud is very hard to clean off, it holds on to water chemically, so it really doesn't dry and let you knock it off after it dries, as is possible with some other muds.

Sure enough, I was walking confidently toward the water's edge when I lost a shoe, it was deep enough in the muck that just lifting my foot didn't pull it out.

It took some slow movements but I was able to pull the show up some with my hand, balancing on one foot, and then reinsert my foot and gently pull the shoe out. It was at that point I stopped having fun and looked for more solid footing. Where the salt piles were being crushed, sifted and loaded was quite solid.

Once again where salt is produced on a surface from evaporating brine, those nice polygon shapes form, just as on the edges of Nash Draw's Salt Lake and the Great Salt Lake of Utah, as shown and mentioned in the introduction to the Nash Draw picture pages.

Here are two parting shots of this fun place to visit for an evaporite- hound like me.  

I found it a fun place to visit, but it is illegal to visit (posted against trespassing).  Lucky for me there was a person working there who said I could take pictures all I wanted, as long as I didn't steal any tools or equipment.  I thought he was making a joke, but he said the Sheriff had just left. A small truck-load of equipment had been stolen here just this morning.  He was collecting and removing other equipment and tools that could be similarly spirited away!  They will be stored in town and brought out when needed.

The study on salt-removal from the brine aquifer suggested that the Pecos was a much better gift to New Mexico's neighbors to the south in Texas during the time this salt was being pumped out from under the river. No wonder the two states involved are begging the federal government to do it again: for the long term this time. I wish them well, good idea. But very expensive unless you can arrange for a buyers of the brine, and the salt evaporated from the brine that wasn't sold.

Now that we are done with Malaga Bend and its salty tale, we can go see the second bend to its south by getting back on McDonald Ranch Road until we approach the river once more.

Watching the Pecos go 'round the second bend (5)

Meeting the Pecos just southwest of Nash Draw (1)

Where the Black meets the Pecos (2)

The first bend east of Malaga (3)

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