|The Salton Sea|
Two years ago while on a mini-vacation with my girlfriend in Palm Springs, I had the wild idea to head out to the infamous Salton Sea. I do not know what exactly possessed me to leave the spas, golf courses, air conditioning and cultivation of Palm Springs for a large, smelly hot sea below sea level. (I am sure she was annoyed by this decision and I really can't blame her) Not only that, but if one was to have an outdoor adventure in Palm Springs, there were much better options on the more temperate San Jacinto Mountain or in the comparatively cooler Joshua Tree National Park. No, for some odd reason I had to finally see the Salton Sea.
So, we loaded up the car at 8 o'clock in the morning when the temperature was already 101 degrees and headed 60 miles south into this seemingly bottomless valley. Past the outlet stores, past that one place where they have the concerts, past the golf courses and into the Salton Sink.
|The shores of the Salton Sea|
Whether or not you've heard of the Salton Sea, this place has actually shown up in many small documentaries and some literature. Most of it I find appalling- trying to frame the Salton Sea as if it some post-apocalyptic scene where the wealthy have left their scar on its lonely beaches or the Salton Sea as an environmental catastrophe on par with Chernobyl and the Aral Sea (seriously?). I suppose parts of that are true, but really, most of it is meant to entertain. A much more accurate and fact-based picture of the Salton Sea can be found on the Salton Sea Authority's website. While it is certainly a place in need of conservation and attention, it is not this abandoned toxic dump that it is commonly portrayed as by modernist photographers and amateur documentaries. Here is another excellent resource you should see before you go out trying to make the Salton Sea look like a wasteland.
As I came to find out when I visited, the Salton Sea is neither the "California Riviera" it was once envisioned to be but also not a horrible disaster either. It's actually somewhat of a clever dimorphism and not entirely unnatural. Long story short, the Salton Sea, as it is seen today, was "created" by heavy flooding on the Colorado River which broke the levees and slowly filled this below-sea-level valley. So for two years, almost all the water from the Rocky Mountains, Colorado Plateau, Grand Canyon and everything came to the Salton Sink and created this massive lake. Of course, there was always seasonal fluctuations of water in the sink from the San Bernardino, San Rosa, and other smaller ranges surrounding the basin. For that reason, its been a major truck-stop for migrating birds long before it was ever considered a sea. It still is today and it is one of the best birding areas in the Southwestern United States.
At the Salton Sea State Recreation Area, we stepped out to the classic, brine-y smell of the sea not unlike the smell of a fishing dock. There were dozens of people fishing and despite the common sight of dead fish on the shores, fishing is perfectly safe. There were a few broken down buildings and signs of development. I am sure some hipster photographer was absolutely ecstatic for the opportunity to make social commentary from a picture of an abandoned building.
|Walking further away from the highway, we could appreciate the size of the Salton Sea|
At one point during the trip, we parked off the side of the road and hiked a little into the desert hills to get a better view of the lake. The scenery became more recognizable for the Colorado Desert. Stout cresolate bushes, occasional Ocatillos and a dozen other shrubby plants I don't know the name of. Each plant has its unique little lot surrounded by sand and dirt- like a desert suburban. We even caught a glimpse of a few bats and lizards.
Here is the list of places to hike around the Salton Sea.
|The Colorado Desert's Mascot|
|Looking towards the Salton Sea from the summit of Mt San Jacinto|