Salton Sea – Miracle in the Desert

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Salton Sea – A Miracle in the Desert

Deep in the California desert, an hour from the Mexico border, lies the largest lake in California- The Salton Sea. Engineers trying to increase water-flow to farmers in the area accidentally created the Salton Sea in 1905. The engineers made a cut in the Colorado River, which flowed into an ancient dry lakebed in the desert. Two years later, the problem was fixed, and the assumption was that the Salton Sea would dry up. Agricultural run-off kept the Salton Sea around, and it was soon touted as a “Miracle in the Desert”. People flocked to the Salton Sea as a resort town to fish, boat, and party. The California Department of Fish & Game stocked the Salton Sea with fish. It all turned sour when the salinity from farm run-off made the sea toxic and fish began dying. The water became murky and the smell of death unbearable. People left in a hurry leaving behind homes, cars, and everyday essentials. Today the area looks like a post-apocalyptic world.

Salton_Sea, Bombay Beach, Largest Lake in California

Fast Facts

  • 234 feet below sea level
  • It is the largest lake in California—15 miles wide x 35 miles long
  • Although constantly fluctuating, the sea is about 44ft deep
  • Salinity level greater than the Pacific Ocean ~ 54g/l
  • Resting stop for birds on the Pacific Flyway
  • Water temperature ranges from 95 degrees in the summer to 50 degrees in the winter

Where To Go

Bombay_Beach, Salton Sea, Tilipia Die off

Bombay Beach

Start your trip off with a stop at Bombay Beach. The stench and humidity hang heavy in the air at this previously thriving beach. The beach is littered with dead fish and crushed bone. The town around the beach is crumbling and abandoned. Stop in at the Ski Inn, a small bar covered in dollar bills from visitors. The locals are very friendly and the beer is good and cold. See below for some Q & A’s with the bartender.

Salvation Mountain, Leonard Knight

Salvation Mountain

Like being plopped into a Dr. Seuss book, Salvation Mountain is a must-see. Created by Leonard Knight, Salvation Mountain is a very colorful, 150 feet wide and 50 feet tall,  painted hill with messages of God and Love. Knight used hay bales, clay, and paint and spent decades on his masterpiece.

The Range, Slab City, Niland, East Jesus

Slab City

Slab City is about 3 miles away from Niland, CA and often called the “last free place on earth”. It is an abandoned marine training facility that hosts an RV community. Parking is free, and many snowbirds spend their winters in Slab City – living cheaply and enjoying the heat. Slab City is near an active bombing range and you can hear explosions in the distance. Visit on a Saturday and check out a show at the outdoor stage/bar, The Range.

Red Hill Marina, Docks, Salton Sea

Red Hill Marina

Check out the Red Hill Marina on the eastern shores of the Salton Sea. It is a small inlet that used to be a boat launch and now contains a campground. The sunset from Red Hill Marina is amazing. Grab a tall beer and carefully walk out on the docks to finish off your Salton Sea visit. Don’t mind the buzzing, it’s just a swarm of 1,000+ black flies circling above your head.

Ski Inn, Bombay Beach, Bar

Q&A at Ski Inn

Q: How many fish are in the Salton Sea

            A: 400 million

Q: Tell us about the fish die offs

            A: About 7 million fish die at a time and the prevailing winds push them on shore. We had a die off about a week ago.

Q: Do you swim in the Salton Sea

            A: Oh yeah

Q: Do you eat the Tilapia

            A: Yes, they taste better

Red Hill Marina, Sunset

Future of Salton Sea

The Salton Sea is shrinking, and many fear it will dry up altogether. If the Salton Sea dries up, the sediment on the lakebed could cause toxic dust to spread across Southern California. Many solutions have been proposed to save the Salton Sea. Let’s hope one of them is implemented!! The Salton Sea isn’t a beautiful sight, but it certainly is something to see!


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