Ryan's Journal

"My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?" — David Mitchell

Salton Sea, California

Posted at 3:45 pm, March 20th, 2005

As expected, the Salton Sea is one of the oddest places I’ve ever visited. For those unfamiliar with the history of the place, it goes something like this: a long time ago an engineer added two plus two and got five, and then smacked his head and yelled “DOH!” as a series of levees burst and the Colorado River spent from 1905 until 1907 flooding a desert valley. Since the average elevation of the valley was more than two hundred feet below sea level the water had no where to drain to, and the resulting lake was about thirty miles long and ten miles wide; all in all this was one of the more noticeable engineering failures in U.S. history.

People, being people, thought the idea of a giant freshwater lake in the desert was a pretty cool idea, so the area quickly became a popular recreation spot. Farmers, being farmers, thought having a huge water source available was a pretty cool idea, so farms started springing up around the lake. Between the detritus of tourism and the runoff from agriculture, the freshwater lake became not so fresh. Eventually the lake reached a point where the adjective “pungent” became appropriate, something that does not normally jive with tourism. As a result, what had been a booming vacation spot was suddenly not-so-booming, and today Salton City is a ghost-town wannabe on the shore of a lake of yellow-brownish saltwater.

From the summary it wouldn’t seem like this is a spot worth visiting, but I’ve kind of been curious about it for a long time now. Arriving this morning the first thing I thought is that the lake is huge, and the second is that the lake is nasty. I wouldn’t set foot in the water even if well-paid, and was even nervous about getting mud on my boots while hiking. The flip side is that migratory birds have no idea that this place should be declared a Superfund site, and tons of different species spend time here.

Another worthwhile part of this visit was the feeling while driving around Salton City. The place is eerie enough to be well worth experiencing; roads have been built with hopeful names like “Pelican Bay Rd” and “Flamingo Ave”, yet they have obviously not seen any repair work in decades, and most lead to nowhere. Large areas have been parceled out for homes, streets are neatly divided into blocks, but while there are a few fabulous vacation homes, most lots are empty with aging real estate signs posted in them. Since no one is buying in Salton City, once the current residents either leave or die then all that will be left is the ghost of what was once a booming vacation town.

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