The Salton Sea is not actually a sea, nor is natural. The Salton is a lake and was accidentally created during the construction of irrigation canals along the Colorado River in 1905. It is considered one of the worst environmental disasters in California. During the construction a cut was made in the river and the water flow overwhelmed the canal and flowed into the Salton Basin forming the Salton Sea. Today the lake is fed by a few rivers, agricultural runoff, and rain.
The Salton Sea’s salinity and mineral content, along with pollutants, changes with rainfall and runoff. This leads to a lot of die offs and variations in water levels. When I took the photo with the dead tree, I had to walk out into a field of mud. Southern California had received unprecedented rain over the previous few days and it had raised the water level in that area for a short time. Fortunately, by the time I visited the levels had dropped.
Not long after the Salton Sea first formed, several resorts were created along its shores, many in the 1950s. Most of the communities are ruins now, covered in layers of salt. Interestingly, the “resort” town of Bombay Beach is 223 feet below sea level (as in the level of the ocean) and is the lowest community in America with just under 300 people. Walking around these places gave me a really eerie feeling. There was so much desolation and despair all around.
Despite the environment disaster the Salton Sea was, it has become an important layover and feeding ground for many birds. Over 400 specifies of birds have been documented at the Salton Sea and it is one of the significant bird populations in America. Efforts are underway to improve the sea’s water quality and protect the surrounding area.
On a side note, while driving around the Salton Sea there was an US Boarder Patrol station. Now, to put this into perspective, I was about 100 miles from the border with Mexico. When my friend and I drove by, we had to stop and they asked if we were both Americans. I did not answer (I was offended at being stopped in my own country), but my friend said yes and we were on our way. He is black and I am white, but I can promise you if we would have been treated very differently if we were a shade in between. I was going to complain to the agent and basically get all white privilege on this border patrol guy, but my friend who is far more respectable than I am asked me to pleeeeaaase not make a scene, so I settled for glaring at the man and not speaking.
Still, I found that border patrol stop in the middle of California to be very problematic, in terms of freedom of movement within my own country and constitutionally. I realize this type of thing is common in other countries, but not in the US. We are supposed to have protections against this very sort of thing. When I looked into it, I found out that many people find it problematic and there are a lot of legal uncertainties about the practice. The practice of stopping people like that is questionable at best, though no one seems to have seriously challenged it and the CBP seems to not push the issue. I complained to the CBP Commissioner and am waiting for a response.