Right along the San Andreas Fault, just an a couple of hours south of Los Angeles lies an infamous area known as the Salton Sea. Prior to 1905 this area was merely a desert basin known as the Salton Sink – a sandy crater for all intents and purposes – but it was during this time that an irrigation project gone awry caused millions of gallons of water to flood the Salton Sink and, over the course of 2 years, this created the body of water that came to be known as the Salton Sea.
For a few decades, the Colorado River continued to flood the Sea periodically until efforts were made to construct a damn to stay the waters. By the 1950’s resort towns began to pop up along the banks of the Salton Sea such as Salton Sea Beach, Desert Shore, North Shore and Bombay Beach. The Salton Sea gained in popularity throughout the 50’s and 60’s, being touted as a desert oasis similar to Palm Springs, and at its height over 15,000 people per year flocked to the booming resort for all variety of beach side entertainment. Everything from resorts to restaurants and bars sprung up and the area also became home to many celebrities of the time, including Sonny Bono of Sonny and Cher fame. It seemed that what had begun as a potentially disastrous incident had evolved into a dreamy desert vacation spot, but the dream was not to last.
Towards the late 1970’s, things at the Salton Sea began to noticeably change. Due to the lack of annual rainfall or other water sources to refresh the lake combined with run-off of fertilizers from nearby farms led to algae blooms that died and de-oxygenated its waters. As this happened, much of the wildlife, primarily fish, began dying off in massive quantities. As they died and washed ashore, the rotting corpses of fish and birds created a stench that hung over the Salton Sea. Huge swaths of people began to flee from the once booming resort town and the population dwindled so much that by 1991 many of the towns around the lake’s shore sat largely abandoned. Entire construction projects remain partially finished to this day, and the now-empty homes and motels contain ransacked scenes littered with personal belongings of their previous residents. Its as if people fled so quickly they neglected to even pack as they made their exodus.
Today, the Salton Sea has become an ecological crisis as the environment continues deteriorating and the waters slowly evaporate. Birds that have made the lake their home are losing their habitat. Many of the avian species that inhabit the area are endangered and some can only be found here. The air around the lake is also filled with toxic dust from the chemicals in the soil and the few residents that have remained suffer asthma and other respiratory issues.
The area has also become a tourist attraction for the more eccentric and, one might even say, more macabre-variety of tourist. A phenomenon known as dark tourism that has become a recent trend, marks the Salton Sea as one of the great ghost-towns of America; its post-apocalyptic ambiance makes for a chilling and unique sight-seeing attraction. I must admit that as we toured the town, I felt on edge. Walking on beaches made of fish bones instead of sand and touring the graffiti’d and mausoleum-like interiors of the abandoned homes and motels we felt a dark presence. It was as if something sinister had possessed the entire area and, as the sun slipped out behind the nearby mountains, we found the speed of our jeep increasing proportionately and carrying us quickly away from Salton Sea.
I would highly recommend this sight for anyone with a flair for dark tourism. Everything about the area, from the brutal desert heat to the decay and death that is all around you, creates a ghost story come to life. You will find yourself spooked but also intrigued. My only recommendation would be to make sure that you leave yourself ample time to escape before darkness sets in.