Imagine...you're driving in the desert. The real desert. The kind where the dying man crawls on his hands and knees gasping for a drink of water....like this....
And then you come across the largest lake in California, the Salton Sea. What a beautiful place to live!
The geology and history of this sea are incredibly complex. In a nut shell, it has variously been a sea or a dry lake bed more or less on a 500 year cycle, depending on the whims of the Colorado River. Most recently, in the early 1900's, due to some water diversion project failures, the entire flow of the Colorado river entered the basin for almost two years. This filled it about to the level where it is today. Now, several rivers flow into the basin, but none flow out. Because these rivers contain salt, and the water from the lake is continually evaporated (98 degrees when we visited in early April), the water gets saltier and saltier. At present, it is saltier than seawater at 56 g/l salt, and almost no fish can survive in the sea. Due to recent changes in water allocation and management, there will be less water going into the sea, and the surface level is expected to drop in the near future, and the water will get even saltier.
The sea is about 35 miles long by 15 miles wide, and just 43 feet deep at the deepest spot.
You might check out the wikipedia entry on the Salton Sea for details. Karin and I first learned about the sea when we saw a documentary a couple years ago. A lot of the video focused on the failed development of the area. Here's an old sign we saw for 3 bedroom homes for $69,000.
If you think about Palm Springs, Los Angeles, and other areas where the desert has been successfully developed into communities with houses, you might look here and think, why not? That's what developers thought, so they planned their plans, and quite a few people invested their savings on the dream of living in beautiful sea-side communities. The wikipedia site says:
"many of the settlements substantially shrank in size, or have been abandoned, mostly due to the increasing salinity and pollution of the lake over the years from agricultural runoff and other sources. Many of the species of fish that lived in the sea have been killed off by the combination of pollutants, salt levels, and algal blooms. Dead fish have been known to wash up in mass quantities on the beaches. The smell of the lake, combined with the stench of the decaying fish, also contributed to the decline of the tourist industry around the Salton Sea. Many people now visit the Salton Sea and the surrounding settlements to explore the abandoned structures."
You see a lot of gates that lead to no where,
a lot of empty streets with hopeful watery names and the desert sand blowing across them.
There's a lot of real estate for sale, and you can stay at this RV resort if you want to. We didn't. You can see the sea way in the background.
We tried getting to the water in the town of Salton City, but the marina drive didn't seem to go to the water. We went to the next community, Salton Sea Beach, which was more promising.
Here's one of the beach front businesses, now a burned out shell. It takes a lot to kill a palm tree like these.
Well, that walk down to the beach sure was worth it. Here's the gentle waves, lapping on the shore.
...but the beach is made of, gozillions and gozillions and gozillions of tiny shells, barnacles, and fish bones. These suckers hurt a lot when you get them in your Birkenstocks. It stinks of decay and rotting fish.
This is the entrance to the marina. You'd drive your boat up between the two jetties where Mrs. Dr. V and Sophie are standing.
View from the entry of the harbor looking up to the marina.
View of the sea shore.
A Killdeer (I think), feeding at the shore. I wish you could smell it, and feel the salt and the heat and the intense sun.
Uh...we didn't do this.
View of the "town" and mountains. I can see how a visionary developer would think "mountains, sea, near LA, near San Diego, how can it miss?" Well, miss it did. A lot of people invested their retirement money into homes, building lots, and the like, and honestly, this is the most dismal, depressing place I've seen in a long, long time. For me, it was like having a dementor suck my karma and energy away. I was really happy to have this in my rear-view mirror.
However, even in the dismal squallor, there was beauty, such as this amazing bit of graffiti...the middle one is obvious, but also look carefully at the two ladies on the right and left. I missed them at first glance.
and humor, this, an old water tank with a pipe coming out of it, painted up as a mastodon. It's about 6 feet tall.
And weirdly, just a mile or two down the shore was an incredibly prosperous date palm and citrus plantation, with miles and miles of date palms and fruit.
The palms are heavily irrigated from water that travels via canal from the Colorado River, and the mountains to the north.
As always, water = life, in more ways than one.