Salton Sea

Pelicans on the Salton Sea

Pelicans on the Salton Sea

I was getting antsy for a little road trip, so the other day I hopped in my truck and headed out to the Salton Sea for a day trip.

Years ago, when I used to play in the Anza-Borrego Desert, I’d get close to the Salton Sea, but never really took the time to stop and actually walk right up to its edge to check it out in person.

I always knew that the Salton Sea was below sea level (226 feet below, to be exact) sitting on top of the San Andreas Fault, but until I did a quick Internet search, I didn’t know that it was formed rather recently–1905–as a result of an irrigation levee failure along the Colorado River during a large flood.  Two rivers leading into the Salton Sink were created as a result of the failure, and over a two year period, there were times where the entire flow of the Colorado River was diverted into the newly created sea.

The sea has no outlet, so whatever goes into it, stays in it.  That includes all of the fertilizers and chemicals that are used in the Imperial Valley agribusinesses.  The salinity of the sea continues to increase–it’s higher than that of the Pacific Ocean, but less than that of the Great Salt Lake in Utah–and eventually the fish living in the sea will completely die off.

The Salton Sea is a stopover for many migratory birds along the Pacific Flyway, and I suspect that they’ll be adversely impacted as the sea continues to die a slow death.


Because this was a short day trip, I opted for the fast route out of San Diego–Interstate 8 east to CA 111 at El Centro.

It was a quick drive, and I always love coming out of the Laguna Mountains down the steep grade into the desert.  The geological formations are intriguing and, to me, wondrous.

My destination was the Salton Sea State Recreational area ($5 day use fee; honor system) on the northeast side of the sea.  It took the better part of three hours to get there from my home at a leisurely pace.

Summer comes early to the desert, as it was already in the 90’s and I was reminded that I need to have my truck’s air conditioning system recharged.  With the hot weather came haze, so it wasn’t the best day for photography.

The one thing that struck me right away as I walked up to the shore line was the smell.  The beach at Salton Sea is an odiferous place, that’s for sure.  It’s not a knock-your-socks-off smell, but it’s not like walking into a chocolate shop either.  I’m guessing it’s mostly from the decomposing fish carcasses on the beach that are generating the smell.

Beach at the Salton Sea

Beach at the Salton Sea

Fish Carcasses at the Salton Sea

Fish Carcasses at the Salton Sea

I had a hard time deciphering what actually made up the beach at the Salton Sea.  At first glance, it appeared to be a gazillion little shells.  But on closer inspection, they almost looked like little barnacle homes knocked loose from their rocks.  I’ll have to ask my buddies at theNAT.

If you go, you have to be prepared to be in the sun, as the only two bits of shade around were inside my truck or in the port-a-potty (which I didn’t dare venture into in 90° + heat).  Also, make sure your gas tank it topped off before leaving El Centro or Brawley, as there really are no services to be found once you get near the lake.

It was an interesting trip and I may have to go back a few more times to check it out in more detail.  I’m sure there were things that I missed in my afternoon there.

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