Salton Sea – Western Shores

The Salton Sea is California’s largest lake, but you might also call it an engineering accident. This 350 square mile body of water was created in 1905 when a diversion of the Colorado River in Baja California to irrigate land in Imperial County went wrong. The flow of the Colorado River overwhelmed the banks of an engineered canal and the resulting overflow of water flowed into the Salton Basin for two years, creating the Salton Sea. It was 1907 before the mistakes could be corrected and the course of the Colorado River controlled.

At first, in the 1950s, the Salton Sea was a magnet for tourism and water recreation, but over the years, the increased salinity and pollution of the water and the smell of dead fish have caused the towns located on the shores of the sea to shrink in population. The water of the Salton Sea is 5 times saltier than seawater and only a few species of fish now survive in its waters.

We visited the Salton Sea at Salton City, a once hopeful resort town. It was about a 45 minute drive from Borrego Springs and the roads weren’t in the best condition.

This beach was private property so we weren’t able to go walk out onto the sand here. The first thing you notice when you get out of the car is the smell. It was so bad it gave most of us a headache afterward. It was also very, very windy!

The Salton Sea does serve as a migratory stopover for birds. We only saw a few seagulls while we were there.

It took us about 20 minutes just to find a place where we could actually walk down to the shore on public land. There were no signs anywhere and it seems like there is no tourist industry at all. We drove around in circles many times and ended up at quite a few dead ends!


We finally found what must have once been a public beach. There was a sign covered in graffiti in the parking circle that said it was open to public use sunrise to sunset. It looked like no one had been in the area in a long, long time.
I really hope the graffiti on this doesn’t say anything awful… Even the graffiti is old. It looks like it’s from 2008 maybe?
I have never seen water this color. It was black and almost forbidding. You don’t want to go swimming in that!
Josh and 3 of my boys went down to the shoreline. From what they told me, it was not a pleasant experience. I’m not sure what the clouds in the distance are that over the water. Maybe it’s water vapor from the lake.
The Salton City golf course… or driving range? Or both.
Another view of the golf course.


I wonder if this was a tilapia.


The shores were littered with dead fish. The smell in the air was mostly dead fish and even some sulfur. Because of the increasing salinity of the water and algal blooms, the fish die in mass quantities.
Josh said the sand wasn’t really sand. They were walking on crushed shells.
In this picture, you can see a few lenticular clouds forming in the distance. They are also called UFO clouds. We saw quite a few more on our way home. Probably because of the rain heading toward the desert over the mountains.
It was quite an experience to go from the hot, windy desert to the rainy, cold mountains!
Of course, we had to stop in at Julian on our way home for some apple pie at the Julian Pie Company. We were there right before closing time. Their cinnamon ice cream and Dutch apple pie are awesome. The kids like their pie crust cookies.

The Salton Sea was definitely our most interesting adventure that day. In fact, someday we would like to drive to a part of the southeastern shore, near a place called Salvation Mountain in Niland, California.

Visiting Salton City was almost like seeing what an apocalypse would do to a town. In fact, an episode of the TV series Life After People examines this former resort town and its abandoned tourism industry.

2018 would probably be the point of no return for the Salton Sea if nothing is done to save it. It looks like there may be some state funding going toward saving the Salton Sea. We are only two years from that point of no return, so we will see what happens.


Follow-up post is here.

We have a Facebook page.

Note: I am a bit flabbergasted by how many times this has been shared as an article. It was never meant as an article but was only supposed to be a blog post finishing a short series I wrote about a family day trip we took to the desert – Borrego Springs – Wildflowers and Borrego Springs – Galleta Meadows. There are inaccuracies in this blog post, but I am going to leave it the way it is. I am writing a follow-up blog post that will correct these inaccuracies and detail some of the ways that have been presented to save the Salton Sea. I hope to have it posted within a week.