Occupying 595 square kilometres, it is the largest lake in California. The Beach Boys and other top entertainers performed concerts on its beach. Movie stars purchased large lots and built mansion like waterfront homes.
The Salton Sea was a major tourist draw just a half a century ago. But today it is a significant destination because of the way it all ended, as the Salton Sea became a dead; or at least dying sea.
There is rarely a week go by when one of the newspapers in region does not talk about the need to address the potential airborne environmental disaster from the Salton Sea that will set upon Southern California if something is not done to address the problems created here soon.
While historic measurements show that water may have existed in the Salton basin many times during different evolutionary periods, the current version of the Salton Sea was created by an engineering accident.
During spring flooding in 1905, the power of the rushing waters crashed through canal gates going to the intended Imperial Valley. Instead, in just two years all of the waters of the Colorado River ran into the Salton trough, and created the freshwater mass of what is now called the Salton Sea.
It quickly became a tourist paradise. But agricultural pesticides, evaporation, and a decreased water flow into the basin have slowly turned the lake into a body whose salinity levels are higher than the waters of the Pacific Ocean.
As decades past and conditions worsened, the population shrunk with the disappearing tourist industry. The movie stars and rich industrialists simply abandoned their dream castles. And as jobs disappeared, what was a once a wealthy community became the near-ghost town it is today.
Approaching the Salton Sea, the first impression is of an amazingly wide and beautiful white sand beach. But as we get closer, we realize it is not sand, but rather the thick salty residue that has blown off the lake and onto the receded shoreline.
It is still a tourist playground of a different kind, as dozens of motorized parachute pilots fly over its now deserted beaches. Other than their noise and their colorful punctuation marks against the clear blue sky, the landscape would be a perfect location to shoot an apocalyptical end of the earth movie.
It is a fascinating site, and a unique experience to see and learn how important man’s harmony with nature must be, and to understand firsthand the consequences when it is not.
Billions of dollars must now be spent to save the lake, and prevent 100 tons of the finest microscopic dust per day from blowing into Los Angeles, and many of the other major populated cities of southern California.
Leaving the Salton Sea we wound our way through the hills and valley on the small two lane highway leading to the village of Borrego Springs.
The topography shifts dramatically as we enter the region adjacent to the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountain ranges. The visual power of the protruding mountains compel us to stop a number of times to breathe in their beauty, and take photos to remind us later of how fortunate we were to have taken this route.