The Salton Sea

We wanted to go somewhere we’d never been before. I’d read conflicting reviews about the Salton Sea Recreational Area, it seemed to be a love, or hate it type of place. We drove through waves of wildflowers on the way down to the sea on State Road 22-Lupines and other flowers covered the sides of the road. I was not expecting the stark beauty that appeared before us. We drove past groves of Date Palms as we rounded the Northern end of the lake. The evidence of salt was everywhere. Arriving at the Mecca Campground we stopped and the camp host came out, lovely couple, and suggested we take spot 140, as there had been a cancellation. They are oddly shaped spots 20′ x 40′, more like blocks. We backed in sideways and just fit with our windows pointing out at the sea. Spectacular. The 4 sites along the center of the campground facing the sea have full hook-up as well! But we are sitting right on the San Andreas fault;)

We were surrounded by friendly campers, a Canadian couple, Sharon and Graham, a lovely Czechoslovakian woman, Merka, and her husband Mark and a man familiar with Baja, Mike with his two lovely older dogs-don’t let Groot hear I said that! Merka loved cats so the kids got some extra attention:) We also had some hints on where to go, and not. Mark said he wished he could “unsee” what he saw at Slab City and Bombay Beach. We can wait to witness the apocalypse on down the road, don’t wish to see that now:( He was shaking his head in dismay at the culture of anarchy there. There is no official electricity, running water, sewers, toilets or trash pickup service or any law enforcement. Most who are there have nowhere else to go, tweakers have overrun what at one time was an area people went to live off the grid and away from society, maybe misfits but now crime has taken over from the many accounts we read.

The first quarter moon was up so we unloaded the telescope and set it up, inviting all our neighbours for a look if they wanted to! The seeing was not the best but it was wonderful to share the views and drink mulled wine in front of a campfire. Everyone was complaining about the cold, what wusses are we but these folks had come from Minnesota and Ontario to escape it! We went online and decided to stay a few more nights and explore the area as the spot we were in had opened up with further cancellations.

The following days new visitors arrived from the campground near the park headquarters, the train whistle there had been driving them crazy as there is a road that crosses the tracks. At the Mecca campground you could hear the train but there was no whistle. Our new neighbours said it was not pleasant where they had been, that explains many of the bad reviews. Hopefully we cheered them up with a look at the universe!

It looks quite bleak this landscape, but there is so much beauty. All the small wildflowers spread about the beach and inland. It is amazing anything can grow. This is not sand but billions of tiny particles of shells, fish bones and accumulated salt. The natural rise and fall of the surface level over the years has resulted in a band of salt-encrusted land around the lake. In some places you can walk on it, in others, well, I learned after setting up my small three legged chair to photograph the Black Necked Stilts that is was not strong enough to support me, both chair, Pamela and camera fell over backwards, camera saved, never hit the ground, but I’m not sure I will ever get the stains, or wretched smell out of my clothes where I fell into the muck. Yuck! The boat ramps have long been abandoned with the falling level of the sea, even a kayak launching area at the headquarters keeps getting moved closer as the sea recedes.

According to Wikipedia: “Over millions of years, the Colorado River has flowed into the Imperial Valley and deposited soil (creating fertile farmland), building up the terrain and constantly changing the course of the river. For thousands of years, the river has alternately flowed into and out of the valley, alternately creating a freshwater lake, an increasingly saline lake, and a dry desert basin, depending on river flows and the balance between inflow and evaporative loss. The cycle of filling has been about every 400–500 years and has repeated many times. The latest natural cycle occurred around 1600–1700 as remembered by Native Americans who talked with the first European settlers. Fish traps still exist at many locations, and the Native Americans evidently moved the traps depending upon the cycle.

The most recent inflow of water from the now heavily controlled Colorado River was accidentally created by the engineers of the California Development Company in 1905. In an effort to increase water flow into the area for farming, irrigation canals were dug from the Colorado River into the valley. The canals suffered silt buildup, so a cut was made in the bank of the Colorado River to further increase the water flow. The resulting outflow overwhelmed the engineered canal, and the river flowed into the Salton Basin for two years, filling the historic dry lake bed and creating the modern sea, before repairs were completed.”

A town and reservation was swallowed as well as many miles of railroad track and a salt mine, time will only tell when they will resurface as the lake is shrinking yearly. Saltier than the Pacific Ocean and getting saltier every year as run off does replenish the lake, but more water is taken/evaporated than restored.

A small path links together the Mecca Campground to the Park Headquarters and visitor center. Hundreds of Western Painted ladies danced from wildflower to wildflower. I walked back along the beach after reaching the Northern Campground. Black Necked Stilts poked about in the water and flocks of Gulls landed and took off as I walked by. The park brochure needs to updated and have “swimming” removed from the Mecca Breach area. I can’t imagine wading into the muck and actually floating in it:( The only fish species that can survive in the water is Tilapia, and a fisherman would want to eat one after they catch it? I don’t think so. With agricultural wash off there have been huge algae blooms and just recently Avian cholera hit the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge in the South where thousands of birds died and are being cleaned up trying to stop the spread of the disease.

We took an afternoon and drove down there. It was somewhat depressing with Geothermal Power plants spewing clouds of..(?) into the air as you drive to the refuge. The office was closed and we couldn’t find any maps so wandered down a few paths. I don’t think I’d go back. In the distance snow geese were feeding but most of the paths were closed, perhaps because of the avian flu. A few White Pelicans did a lovely fly over and the resident burrowing owl barely poked his head out of the pipe buried into the ground that was his home:) A cottontail graced us with his presence but it felt, well, sad.

Did I mention there was an awesome cat climbing tree right beside the trailer? Groot and Gamora went out twice a day just to climb the many branches of the Salt Pine and poke about in the bushes looking for lizards warming up in the sun. I have never seen two happier cats! They also had a beautiful female Anna’s hummingbird to watch as well:) and those sunrises….

and sunsets….

We didn’t run into the fly problem so many reviews talked about, or stench coming from the sea. We were far enough away even though the wind blew from all directions while we were there. The cool, no, cold nights most likely kept the bugs at bay. A sandstorm appeared on the Western shore of the Sea one afternoon and eventually blew over us but without the ferocity I was expecting, the next day the mountains looming over Palm Desert were covered in snow.

Sandstorms on the Western Shore

North of the Salton Sea Recreation area is the small town of Mecca. There are several small grocery stores, El Super Toro Loco has a bakery attached, delicious bolillos, great tortillas and meat department as well as fresh produce, felt like home, back into Spanish we slip so easily. Taco Time is not to be missed. Delicious nopal tacos as well as carne asada and al pastor:) Lot’s of Mexican beer and a few bottles of wine, girl at the counter shyly asked me what the chardonnay tasted like:) You can also visit the Banana Museum if you feel so inclined and stop at the liquor/market next door for a walk back to the late 50’s.

The flowers, lupines and brittle brush, blooming alongside State Road 111 were beautiful. The colour stretched for miles and miles along the winding road that follows the shore of the Salton Sea. The cats were very sad to leave their tree but we wanted to push East, thinking it might be warmer…only time will tell:)

Saludos amigos! Stay tuned to see if we warm up, or don our toques and mits;)

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One thought on “The Salton Sea

  1. Glad to hear your travels are going well. Saltan Sea looks forgotten by nature and time, otherworldly. I enjoyed your letter.

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