Happy Tuesday everyone! I’m still recovering from the long weekend, but I just keep reminding myself that it’ll be a short week (smile). This month’s Travel Tuesday prompt is about “unexpected destinations.” I actively seek out the strange and lesser known destinations as often as possible. I’ve found that each of those destinations often come with their own lesson – some historical, others social. As I was driving back from California yesterday, I saw the signs for the Salton Sea and instantly knew that had to be my unexpected destination for today’s post!
The Salton Sea is a salt water “sea” located in southern California near the Coachella Valley. In the early 1900s, the California Development Company created a series of canals in the area in an effort to increase water flow into the area for farming. Due to an engineering error, the water fed to the canals overflowed for a period long enough to create the Salton Sea. With an estimated shoreline of approximately 130 miles, it is the largest lake in California. At 226 feet below sea level, it’s also one of the lowest points.
During the 1950s and ’60s, the Salton Sea was the place to be. Celebrities came to race boats or sun along the shores. Unfortunately, the Salton Sea has no outlet. It depends on rainwater and agricultural runoff for it’s survival, and it’s salinity increases every year. As of now, the salinity of the sea is greater than that of the nearby Pacific Ocean, but less than that of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. This salinity makes the Salton Sea a less than hospitable environment for most fish and a walk along the shore these days involves more fish bones than sand.
I first heard of the Salton Sea when Anthony Bourdain made a stop on an episode of No Reservations. Once I saw the show I knew I had to go see this place for myself and I’m glad I did. When you first drive up to the lake, it looks like nothing short of a ghost town on a movie set – the buildings are falling into disrepair and there’s often no one in sight. The water, however, appears almost as a mirage – deep blue with the sun sparkling along the top and giant pelicans floating gently on the surface. It’s one of the eeriest places I’ve ever seen. Walking along the shoreline only confirmed this feeling – there were tiny fish skeletons everywhere! As it was late afternoon, my friend and I didn’t stay too long before heading out. We didn’t see another person during the entirety of the couple of hours we spent cautiously exploring the neighborhood. I think we were just waiting for someone to jump out with a chainsaw and yell “BOO!” (smile)
For all that it is a weird destination, the Salton Sea is also unexpectedly beautiful. It does take some quick mental adjustment to see that beauty once you spot/smell the dead fish, but it is there buried in the desolation. The area has a truly fascinating history and you can’t help but wonder how a place riding so high could fall into disrepute so quickly. There are talks now about how the Salton Sea could play a role in easing the drought plaguing the nearby farmers; perhaps it may yet see another 15 minutes in the limelight.
Personally, I plan on scheduling some time on my next leisurely California trip to stop in again and explore further. The Salton Sea has developed a reputation as the “crown jewel of avian biodiversity,” boasting over 400 species of birds. There’s also a state recreation area that I missed on this first journey. Despite the eeriness, there was also a pervasive peacefulness once you acclimated to the quiet. I also happen to know firsthand that it makes for a gorgeous location to watch a sunset (smile).
Have you ever heard of or been to the Salton Sea??