History of the Salton Sea:
From a thriving hot spot for the rich and famous, to its demise into urban decade, the Salton Sea has quite an interesting history.
One of the world’s largest inland seas and lowest spots on earth at -227 below sea level, Salton Sea was created in 1905 when high spring flooding on the Colorado River crashed the irrigation canal gates leading into the developing Imperial Valley. For the next 18 months the entire volume of the Colorado River rushed downward into the Salton Trough. By the time engineers were finally able to stop the breaching water in 1907, the Salton Sea had been born at 45 miles long and 20 miles wide – equaling about 130 miles of shoreline.
Instead of quickly soaking into the ground, the water stayed because the spot was actually the location of the ancient lake dating back to 700 A.D. Sitting at lowest point of the basin the lake has collects enough water runoff to maintain its water table.
Peak Time 1950s-1960s:
For years this sea became a huge vacation hot spot for people from all over because of its wide open water and great beaches. It big became an even bigger vacation spot in the 1950’s once all the Hollywood stars found out about it. The Hollywood influx quickly turned this small vacation getaway into an attraction drawing in 500,000 people a year. Star-filled clubs such as Ace & Spades and the 500 Club sprouted up and recreational boating took off. Many celebrities would come from Los Angeles and down from Palm Springs to take part in the beach life and great water sports offered at Salton Sea. The state even introduced fish to the lake which led to a boom in sport fishing. The celebrity who is the most associated with the Sea was Sony Bono, who actually learned how to water-ski here. In the 1960’s the sea quickly gained salt content which began killing off the fish. The smell of rotting fish along the shore became so bad that people almost instantly stopped come to the Salton Sea and most of its villages quickly turned into Ghost Towns.
The Salton Sea Today:
The sea still has a really high salt content, 25% more than the ocean, and remains a quite deserted but cool to stop at. Starting in the 1990’s and still going on, the government has been trying to find ways not only to be able to use water from the Sea but also to be able to control the rising salt water to protect the current wildlife. The salt level continues to go up and the fish continue to die, however, it is still the biggest stop for migratory birds in CA and recent tests show you can catch the more fish per hour here than anywhere else in CA. Because the high salt content creates extra lift on boats allowing them to go faster, the Salton Sea is the currently the fastest place in the nation for recreational boating. While the boating and fishing remain quite good, there are only trickles of visitors and the most beaches are now covered in crunchy white barnacles. The best actually sandy beach is located at Mecca Beach which is just south of the state park headquarters. You can find a ton of really neat deserted buildings on the east side of the Sea both at Desert Camp and Bombay Beach. If you are looking for something uniquely cool, check out the mudpot field located just south of Niland.
The Sea may be quite deserted but you can still get gas and food in the 1,000 person town of Niland and can get Wifi on the north side of the lake at the park office near Desert Beach. Overall, the cool beaches, date palms, wildlife, rundown/abandoned buildings, and mudpots are not only cool to see but led to some of the most unique photo opts around.
Photographer Will Pearson recently took an amazing series of panoramic photos that capture both the eeriness and beauty of the Salton Sea ghost town around Desert Beach. The photo below, courtesy of Will Pearson©, is from inside an abandoned building. Check out 360 degree panoramas of the Sea’s urban decay Here.