Man-made disaster; the eerie and deserted Salton Sea

Last week, my article featured our travels to Death Valley; from there, we were off to Yuma, AZ.  In route, we made a quick visit to the Salton Sea, a most spooky and strange story.

View of Salton Sea, looking west across 20 mile dead sea.

We found Bombay Beach on the eastside of the Salton Sea. Bombay Beach, a former resort community was almost completely destroyed by huge floods in 1976 and 1977. Skeltons of houses, trailers, abandoned and ruined homes and restaurants located blocks inland from the current seafront makes for a very spooky, depressing visit.

Skeletons of once fine travel trailers now mired in mud from the '70s floods at Bombay Beach.

In the late 1800s, the California Development Company built a canal to take water from the Colorado River to irrigate the desert region to the south of the Salton Sink (the Sink was much like Death Valley, 275 feet below sea level, dry, arid and almost no precipitation) – this area would eventually become known as the Imperial Valley.

Flooded, then abandoned home in Bombay Beach.

By 1904 and 1905, the canal clogged with sediment; the CDC built a second canal, then a third. Later that year, with what would be determined to be an El Niño weather pattern, the desert Southwest experienced the most rainfall on record.

The Salton Sea was formed in 1906 as a result of a huge flood of the Colorado River – the entire volume of the River ripped down those silted irrigation canals and poured into the Salton Sink, unimpeded for over 18 months, forming a 25 x 35 mile inland ocean, 52 feet deep and 220 feet below sea level!

In the 1940s, 50s and 60s, fish were introduced into the Sea and the advent of air conditioning brought big resorts to several of the Sea’s towns: Bombay Beach and others on the east shore, Salton Sea Beach on the west shore.

Rusted roof of abandoned, flooded luxury travel trailer lies mired in mud at Bombay Beach on east side of Salton Sea.

But then came the new floods. Tropical storm Kathleen hit the Imperial Valley in 1976, quickly followed by Tropical storm Doreen in 1977. With nowhere to go but into the Sea, sea levels rose dramatically, inundating these resorts and ruining the local economies. By the 1980s, these towns were barely hanging on, property values collapsed and owners abandoned properties and left the area.

Today, modern-day ghost towns are the result; only a few hardy hangers-on remain. The former hope to develop world-class lakeside resorts is just a distant memory!

The floods of 1976 put much of Bombay Beach underwater and ruined this and five other resorts surrounding the huge lake.

Today, the Imperial Dam on the Colorado features huge de-silting ponds just below the dam. The ponds allow the heavy silt of the Colorado to settle out, so that relatively clean water is then fed into the gravity canals that irrigate the vast Imperial Valley – thereby avoiding future silting challenges that once led to the 1970s man-made disaster.

How to get there: From Stockton, take I-5 south, then I-210 east to I-10 past Palm Springs, south on CA Hwy. 86 to the Salton Sea, then east on I-8 to Yuma and Arizona.

What’s nearby: To the north of the Salton Sea, Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park.

What to take: Good walking shoes, binoculars and your camera!

For more info:

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at Happy travels in your world!

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