June 7, 2017

The Salton Sea is a Strange Place

by Steve and Rosemary

The first stop on our trip was to the Salton Sea. Once a prehistoric lake, the current Salton Sea was created from flooding of the Colorado River in 1905. Now, it is fed by agricultural runoff and has no natural supply of fresh water. For a while it was a popular resort, with marinas, boat docks, and hotels, but now the area is mostly deserted due to the receding waters and increased toxicity and salinity of the water.

What looks like a pristine white sand beach is actually made up of pulverized fish bones. The mummified bodies of fish are scattered around.

To paraphrase Monty Python, this is an "ex fish".
A close look reveals that these pebbles are actually fish vertebrae.

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.
Nevertheless, the lake is popular with many varieties of water birds who, despite the condition of the water, seem to thrive here. We were informed that tilapia still do well here, and that even the rare desert pupfish survives. We saw people fishing, but no one caught anything while we were watching.

Around the lake are a few remnants of its prior life as a resort, but many of the structures, mostly mobile homes and trailers, have been abandoned. In the late 1970s severe flooding completely covered many buildings, which stayed underwater for decades. Eventually the water level went down, and the ruins were uncovered, often still full of rotten furniture and household items. Anything of value has long since been removed, and the area has been thoroughly vandalized.

We drove around the lake and walked to a few view points, but the 105 degree temperature made it difficult to enjoy. We had lunch in the tiny town of Bombay Beach, which was mostly mobile homes and RVs (many in dilapidated condition).

The next day, we went to a few more sites. Salvation Mountain is a man-made structure created by Leonard Knight, who died in 2014. Painted in various colors, the mountain encompasses numerous murals and areas painted with Christian sayings and Bible verses.

Part of the mountain is a series of caves and other structures where more words and vibrant colors abound.

Steve seeking salvation and shade.

Nearby is a site called East Jesus, an outdoor "museum" of artwork made up of random materials the artists found abandoned in the desert -- old cars, propellers, scrap metal, duck decoys, houses that had collapsed -- whatever was available. With no religious connotation, the name refers to a saying about a place so far off the grid as to be beyond civilization. Some unique themes run through the place, including a strong libertarian streak, and an apparent dislike of dolphins.

The area around Salvation Mountain and East Jesus is called Slab City. At one time there was a WWII Marine training camp here. After it was dismantled, only the concrete slabs that had supported the buildings were left. It now is a community of snowbirds and squatters who pay no rent, and have no utilities or other services available. Some use solar panels or generators.

There is also the famous "shoe tree".

Do you have anything in a black loafer?
We drove to Red Hill Butte, one of five lava domes in the area, known collectively as the Salton Buttes. These are active volcanoes (they last erupted between 1,800 and 3,000 years ago), associated with the region's geothermal field. The area includes Red Hill Marina, which seems to have been a good spot for boating decades ago when the water level was higher.

It would be difficult to float a boat there now.

We did see several of the geothermal energy plants. We also saw some huge solar energy farms, covering hundreds of acres.

You think it's hot at the surface?
We had both heard about the Salton Sea but neither of us had ever been there. Now we can cross this off the list. On to the next location!


  1. Jon BurlingameJune 11, 2017

    Absolutely fascinating. I can tell I'm going to love reading these occasional dispatches from Anywhere, USA. I especially love the amusing asides ("Steve seeking salvation," a bit late for that). Thank you, hope you're having a great time, and keep 'em coming! Love from us both. JB


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