Winter in the Desert - 2013 travel blog



picnic area





low elevation

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bird heaven

The Salton Sea is an incongruous sight; a huge blue lake in the middle of the desert, lies 226 feet below sea level about an hour north of the Mexican border. Many eons ago this lake was a natural phenomenon in such a low spot which came and went as the rainfall amounts changed. In 1900 it was created once again when a canal project which was supposed to bring irrigation water from the Colorado River into the area misfired big time and the water poured in for eighteen months until new dikes and canals were completed. Generally the lake is about 15 miles by 35 miles, so big you can’t see from one end to the other. At 525 square miles, it is the largest lake in California. After the canal repair three “rivers” sometimes flowed into the lake, but none flowed out.

During the 1950’s the lake became a huge recreation spot. More folks came here than to Yosemite Valley. They brought boats and fished and swam. Resort communities arose on the shore with hotels and restaurants. Then in the 1970’s two hurricanes brought huge floods of salt water into this deep depression so far below sea level. The water had nowhere to go and the salt destroyed any vegetation nearby. The fun was over.

People expected the lake to evaporate away in the excessive summer heat, but the irrigation waters from the fields north and south of the lake seep down into the depression and the lake continues to exist. However, water does evaporate and today it is twice as salty as the ocean and half as salty as the Salt Lake in Utah. The only fish that can handle the salinity are tilapia and there are millions of them. The lake is also a major stopping point for migratory sea birds.

There are nice campgrounds and picnic areas along the shore, but hardly anyone is there. The huge lake is empty. There are no boats. No one is fishing. Lots of dead fish skeletons line the shore. They could smell really bad on a hot day. We drove to the shoreline town of Bombay Beach which is 95% ghost town. We could still see some of the remains of buildings from the pre-storm ’70’s. Here and there a mobile home appeared to be still occupied, but all in all it was pretty sad. Nothing lasts forever.

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