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.


  1. Daren says:

    Lynn and Josh,

    I’m glad you posted your family adventures bringing light to the plight of the Salton Sea. It certainly has been a more attractive tourist spot in the past.

    The lake has been around, off and on, for thousands of years. It would fill whenever the Colorado River flooded and some of the river would flow north to the Salton Sea. Indians have lived and visited here long before the arrival of Europeans. Some say that the Spaniards also visited the Cahuilla Sea (as it was then called) in the 1600’s.
    In the 1800’s an old Colorado River channel was converted/rerouted into an irrigation canal for the Imperial Valley. In 1905 the inevitable Colorado River flooding returned and broke through the canal and began flowing back into the Salton Sea. Engineers went to great lengths to fix the break in their newly built irrigation canal knowing that if the river continued to fill the Salton Sink that the resulting lake would cover all their farmlands from Indio to south of Mexicali as it had in the past. They finally stopped the Colorado River flow into the Salton Sink. Several decades later the building of Hoover Dam would forever stop the flooding of the lower Colorado River.

    If you do post a page discussing plight of the Sea I hope you’ll consider mentioning this. It’s a lot harder to justify fixing an accident, rather than fixing what we’ve destroyed through our negligence.
    If your’ interested, I’ve posted a page discussing one possible way to refill the Sea using canals from the Sea of Cortez. I don’t have a flotilla of consultants looking to get rich off the project so it’s a humble page with an idea to let gravity do all the work for centuries to come.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Lynn-Marie says:

      Thank you, Daren, for the link to that Facebook page. I will check it out! We had no idea what the Salton Sea was or why it was there when we visited it. Now we do. There is always something new to learn.


  2. John Kariotis Jr says:

    This article is a nauseating piece of trash. “Quick summary of “article”: We drove, we got lost, we couldn’t find a public beach, we saw dead fish, it smelled, we concluded it is a pit, we left. This place was horrid, but I sure hope they fix it because I sure don’t want this smell coming to my home!” This is from someone who spends more time here at the Salton Sea than did the author.I am a resident of the West Shores of the Salton Sea, for 13 years now. This article does a great disservice to the Sea. Maybe you should consider doing some research before you write another article. I wish you better luck next time.


    • Joshua says:

      I am sorry that you feel this way. It was never meant to be an article about the Salton Sea. It was part of a blog post about a day we spent in the desert. If you look you will see a post about the wildflowers in Borrego and one about some metal statues we stub led upon. Since we end d up doing a lot that day, my wife broke the post up into 3 parts.

      We didn’t get lost by the way. We drove straight out of Borrego Springs and into Salton City. There are no signs showing where interesting sights are on the Sea. We drove along the water trying to find a place that didn’t look attached to somebodies house. It is rude to assume you can park near a person’s house and walk through their yard to get to the water.

      Once we got to a public looking place (again there are not signs showing good places to go) there were dead fish by the hundreds. Our boys found that to be fascinating, but it is an image that sticks with a person.

      Maybe rather then blasting us for our ignorance you could attempt to teach. Maybe we could learn something that we could post in our little blog. We already have heard from friends of ours that have lived in San Diego for decades that know nothing about the Salton Sea. Some of them have never even heard of it. This could be your chance to help educate your neighbors.


      • John Kariotis Jr says:

        I would be glad to educate you more about the Sea. let me know when you want to come out and I can introduce you to some people giving their all to rehabilitate the Sea.

        Liked by 1 person

      • John Kariotis Jr says:

        Are you interested in talking to me? I am willing to educate if you’re willing to learn. I had really hoped that you were serious about education. I really hope you’re not the kind to hide behind those dead fish pictures. I can not tell you how sick and tired of people taking pictures of the fish bones and thinking that this is the extent of what the Sea has to show. I guess you didn’t know about the geothermal work at the south end of the Sea or how you can now launch boats at the Salton Sea State Park south of North Shore?
        I feel like I’ve wasted my time here. Please prove me wrong.


      • Lynn-Marie says:

        I am working on a follow-up blog post about what is being done to save the sea. The Desert Sun has been a great resource but if there are more publications I can read, I will gladly read them. The new boat launch and the possibility of a second geothermal plant are already in my post. I need to look up where the first geothermal plant is and mention that as well. I also plan to write about the wildlife preserve on the south shore and the ideas that are being presented to save the sea. The post may take me about a week to write since there is a lot of information to condense into a blog post.


  3. Derek Branum says:

    About two months I was reading up on Salton Sea and it’s water quality. I was surprised to discover that the water is rated clean enough, safe enough for swimming and other recreational sports. Of course, the salinity is much more than in the ocean.

    Liked by 2 people

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