Sunday, February 12, 2012

Salton Sea: Once in a Lifetime, No Need to Repeat

The bucket list got shorter this weekend with an excursion east to the Salton Sea. I've seen it in a distance from mountain tops and flyovers but never set foot on its dead fish bone beaches.

My buddy in adventure, Kathleen, and I picked up her friend, Laura, on a ridge top in Julian in the early morning. Laura's home had been totally crisped in a San Diego wildfire. Rebuilt on the same location, the home has a stunning view across the mountains and high desert to the Salton Sea 50 miles away.

We drove through the Anza Borrego Desert, down Banner grade - I blinked, and missed Banner - through all terrain vehicle Ocotillo Wells where those young men and boys get maimed and killed while tearing up the desert, past the Los Puertecito marker where DeAnza camped on his way from Mexico to San Francisco in 1775, and dropped down 200 feet below sea level into the Salton Sea Basin.

The accidental lake of the Salton Sea lies on the site of Lake Cuahilla, an ancient sea that dried up in the 1500's when the Colorado River feeder on its way to the Gulf of California silted up. A engineering incident in 1905 breached the wall of the river, again filling up the basin until the breach was repaired in 1907. Since then, the sea has been kept alive with feeder run-off from farm irrigation in Imperial Valley filled with pesticides and fertilizer. The salinity has risen to exceed the Pacific Ocean and Great Salt Lake. Periodic die offs of unbelievable millions of fish and the 2003 water deal to divert Colorado River water from the Imperial Valley farms to San Diego has sealed the fate of the Sea in spite of token bureaucratic gestures to restore the area. The playground of celebrities and resort mecca of retirees in the 1950's has been replaced with rusted out trailers, naked telephone poles, and crumbling concrete piers.

Kathleen and I had romanticized preconceived images of the Salton from an Scott London's online photography site and You Tube video, The Accidental Sea.

Getting out of the car at the Salton City pier we were met first with a wind that nearly took off the car door, then a less than romantic stench of dead and decaying fish lining the shore.

The blue lake color is a reflection of the sky as the water itself is a dark tannish brown. The "sandy beaches" are actually pulverized skeletons of the millions and millions of fish that have died off.

Kathleen and I walked to the end of the pier where Kathleen checked out a circular grime encrusted concrete mystery. Yes, in its day this had been an old hot tub out in the water.

We continued our circumnavigation around the lake from the western shore to Mecca at the northern shore where two thirds of the population are in the federal poverty range and a new Indian gaming casino has been opened. We turned south down the eastern shore and stopped to picnic at a little beach in the Salton Sea State Park, clearly the most pleasant part of our day.

We watched the sea,

and the birds,

before heading farther south to check out Bombay Beach. We thought our photographic opportunities might lie here, but it was another rusted out, decaying, smelly, and very windy place. Telephone poles and foundation outlines, even toilet bowls in the sand, stand where once there was a beach community. Not to say there isn't still a beach community. Set back from the beach is still a community consisting mostly of trailers.

Pilons from a long gone pier,

and a truly bizarre crusted construction crane. What ever possessed those who left it here to further junk up the "beach".

We stopped by the Sonny Bono Wildlife Refuge, checked out a large flock of napping white snow geese, and later I regretted not climbing the small Rock Hill in the distance when I learned it is an extinct volcano. We passed several huge geothermal plants dotting the south shore, all taking advantage that the San Andreas fault passes directly through the Salton Sea basin on its way north.

The Salton goes into the category of a once in a life time adventure, not needing to be repeated.


Pat said...

Looks, uh, lovely.

Timeless said...

Wow, it's been a long time since I was down in the valley. Of course for that matter California. I'm now in Sweden, but a Desert Rat at heart. Enjoyed the photos.


JasMyn said...

I've been coming to the Salton Sea for 30 years. It is beautiful and alive. It's too bad people visit once and think it's just dead fish. There's so much more to it. But to each their own. It's great you went to see it :)