Mysteries - Salton Sea
Copyright © Erik Pennebaker, All rights reserved

In 1905 heavy snowmelt caused the Colorado River to flood via irrigation canals into the Imperial Valley, a low desert in southern California. Like Death Valley, it sits over 200 feet below sea level and so the river poured in. It took years to completely stop the flow. The sea that formed now usually measures about 15 x 35 miles.

The problem with water flowing into a basin is it evaporates, leaving behind salts and minerals and everything else. Water may flow in and replace it but that will also evaporate. The only way to avoid this completely is if water flows out of the basin, flushing it rather than concentrating it under the desert sun. Accelerating this effect for the Salton Sea, much of the inflow is from irrigation runoff, itself already salty.

The influence people can have on large areas of the earth is astounding. Although sometimes things happen quickly in nature, most of the time things change over time and are in a rough balance. The Salton Sea, created by accident, will not find that balance.

The boom times for the area were in the 50s and 60s, when it became a popular resort and there was a great deal of development. The desert heat and sun fed a strong population of fish and attracted fisherman, water skiers and beach goers. It seems not unlike Las Vegas in concept - the high life, cocktails, lots of triangles on signs.

Although people seemed to know the salinity would keep increasing, it didn't stop the development. If you search google maps for Salton City, you can see the extensive, sprawling community. Switching to 'satellite' you realize perhaps one in 20 lots have anything built. There wasn't as much demand for resort life as was thought. By the 80s flooding destroyed much of the commercial resort resources. Additionally the salinity and summer heat can choke the oxygen out of the water suddenly killing millions of fish.

Apparently when there aren't piles of dead fish along the shore, the Salton Sea is harmless to swim in. Given the beach and sun, mountains in the distance, imagining a pool and clubhouse bar, what wouldn't be great about spending a week here? The initial vision is still there under the mess, dead but not yet buried deeply.

There are endless dramatic photos of old broken down signage and other dead fish on the net, and this is certainly interesting eye candy, but there are a lot of other things going on here. Among the empty lots of Salton City are kept houses, families having parties, kids playing. I'm sure there are thousands of stories underneath the photo candy.

The synthetic history of the area leads to many mysterious also. Odd signs, things buried in the sand, projects and ideas sterilized in the sun. They sit where they were left, while new growth persists.

Most of what you see doesn't immediately make sense.

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