The Salton Sea is a salt water lake located in the Colorado Desert in the Imperial and Riverside counties of California, just southeast of Palm Springs. Currently the surface of the sea lies about 234 feet below sea level. Over millions of years the Colorado River has flowed into the Imperial Valley depositing soil and creating fertile agricultural landfill, with the course of the river continuously changing. Over thousands of years, the river has "flowed into and out of the valley alternately creating a fresh water lake, an increasingly saline lake, and a dry desert basin depending on river flows and the balance between inflow and evaporative loss." (see Wikipedia entry for 'Salton Sea') The most recent inflow occurred by accident in 1905, when engineers for the California Development Corporation, while creating irrigation canals to increase water flow for farming in the area, caused the river to breach the canal and flood the historically dry Salton Basin, and creating the modern day Salton Sea - the largest lake in California (roughly 15 miles by 35 miles).
In the 1950s, the Salton Sea became a popular tourist and recreational area with resorts developed on both the eastern and western shores including North Shore, Bombay Beach, Desert Shores, Salton City and Salton State Beach. In the late 1970s, a series of heavy tropical storms caused flooding and severe damage to many homes and businesses, resulting in a dramatic decline of tourism. In the 1990s, as water was diverted away from agricultural areas to urban areas, the lake receded, leaving many homes and businesses abandoned. By the early 2000s, it was clear that an environmental disaster was developing, as the salinity of the lake increased, killing off the lake's fish species, except for introduced Tilapia, which can tolerate the high salinity and pollution levels. In 2002, the Imperial Irrigation District agreed to continue supplying water to offset the evaporation and shrinkage of the lake for 15 years, on the condition that the state of California assume responsibility for the Salton Sea. Since then, little has been done to remedy the situation, and time is running out on the 15 year agreement (2017). This could result in the Sea rapidly shrinking, quickly exposing acres of toxic dust, causing serious air quality issues and threatening the last remaining wetlands for over 400 species of resident and migratory birds.
In March of this year, Gov. Jerry Brown is to be presented with a proposal to save the Salton Sea, including improving the water quality and air quality as well as restoring and maintaining the wildlife habitats - the cost will probably be between $1 billion and $3.5 billion. For more information, check out the websites: http://saltonseasense.com/ (Salton Sea Sense) and http://blog.castac.org/2015/05/save-salton-sea/ (Save Our Sea).
I spent two days in the area surrounding the Sea in November of 2015, including the largely abandoned tourist areas on the shore surrounding the Sea, and the nearby "tourist attractions", Salvation Mountain and Slab City.
My first stop on Day 1 was North Shore, on the northeast corner of the Salton Sea, once home to the North Shore Yacht Club. Surprisingly, there was no foul odor present as I had expected, probably due to the relatively mild weather in November. In the summer, when it gets quite hot here, I'm sure it's a different story. For the moment though, there was a oddly serene beauty about our first glimpse of the sea.
My next stop was Bombay Beach, a town on the eastern shore of the Salton Sea - once known as a poor man's Palm Springs, the remaining population is now about 300. The graffiti rich remains of the now mostly abandoned "seaside homes" makes for a post-apocalyptic feel to this bizarre place that seems to be frozen in time.
As I wandered around this maze, we encountered some strange and at times, remarkable graffiti. Of course, being in Southern California, I also ran into a film crew working on a small film, "Don't Come Back to the Moon", directed by Bruce Cheung, pictured below
Although it was not always obvious, there was some evidence of actual living, breathing residents, at times - an old beat up car; laundry hung out to dry.
To the south of Bombay Beach, on my way towards Brawley CA, where I was to spend the night, I ran across a strange looking structure and some rather timely graffiti. This was shortly after the November terrorist attacks in Paris.
On the way to Brawley and my hotel, just south of the Salton Sea, I made a brief detour to see the late, Leonard Knight's (1931-2014) 'tribute to God', Salvation Mountain - a work of folk art created by the long time local resident from adobe, straw and thousands of gallons of lead paint.
Nearby Salvation Mountain, we visited Slab City (below right) , a funky snowbird campsite used by RV owners and squatters. It gets it's name from the concrete slabs that remain from the abandoned WWII Marine barracks of Camp Dunlap. About 150 permanent residents live in Slab City year round. The site is uncontrolled, with no electricity, running water, sewers or trash pickup and no charge for parking.
Heading on to Brawley at sunset, I caught a glimpse of a flock of birds on it's way out of the Salton Sea.
Stay tuned for the 2nd day of my trip to the Sea, from my drive up the western shore on my way back home.