My Salton Sea Adventure

Today I headed south on Highway 86 from Palm Desert toward the Salton Sea. The Salton Sea (as the name implies) is a large saline body of water in southwestern California. This "sea" is actually a lake which lies 225 feet below sea-level, and with a surface area of 376 square miles is the largest lake in California. (But before you bow down and worship Salton Sea for its sheer size, please note that my own beloved Lake Michigan covers a whopping 22,300 square miles!)

Due to several factors both geographical and chemical the Salton Sea has been increasingly viewed as an ecosystem in its final stages of survival. Only in the 1990's have efforts to salvage this unique resource emerged with rationales ranging from environmentalist concerns to San Diego's increasing need for water sources.


Here's a satellite map (via google maps) showing the relative location of the Salton Sea. (BTW: From this map you can see why certain theorists suggest the Sea of Cortez once reached as far north as the Salton Sea and that somehow a land barrier seperated the (saline) Salton Sea from the Ocean.)

Highway 86 South descends on the West side of the Sea and passes several small sea-side communities. I pulled into the communities of Desert Shore and Salton Sea Beach (here's a satellite pic). Both towns were well-trafficed resorts from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Here are the photos I took today with brief description:

"San Souci" means "free and easy" and is a common name for resort hotels. I can find no reference to Desert Shore being called "Peyton Shores", so I envision an over-ambitious and desperate resort owner named Peyton attempting a town coup when the economy turned disastrous. (That's only my imaginative guess.)

I was unable to find any direct access to the Salton Sea from within the town of Desert Shore, so I headed further south to the town of Salton Sea Beach. A sole main road seemed to pass through the entire community when finally I found the following sign:


Just in case you fail to intuit the ambiance of this moment, I will repeat it:

The Salton Sea has always been a refuge for diverse species of birds. As early as the 1920's the area became a hotspot for bird enthusiasts. (And this alone seems to have paved the way for the region's very brief status as "tourist attraction" from the 1930's to the 1950's.) To this day birds you would never associate with the desert thrive at the site:



There seem to be no "sandy beaches" on the Salton Sea, at least not on the West shores I visited. Rather, in the place of sand, there seems to be a millenia-worth of crushed vertebrae. Walking on this shore results in a very audible crunching sound as you contribute to Nature's dissolution of once-living marrow into coarse white gravel. It immediately called to mind the ancient Japanese folktale of the "mountain of skulls".

Here's the rather eery result of "water meets land" in the Salton Sea context. That reddish formation you see is as hard as rock and is obviously formed by water-bourne sedations.

And I kid you not. These are true-to-life colors showing an almost miraculously PURPLE PUDDLE. Apparently this is what happens when you consistently evaporate the contents of Salton Sea water in an isolated, sun-baked environ. (High waves apparently continue to feed this little pool, but water leaves only through evaporation, leaving only the questionable residues which here shine a bright purple.)

I later found this piece of driftwood which like the earlier (purple puddle) pics appears absolutely bleached. As a child of Lake Michigan, I know what weather-worn driftwood ought look like, and this seemed a bit unnatural. (No offense to bleach blonds.)

I couldn't resist taking the following photos:

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