the salton sea

the afternoon of january 14th… plan for cameron’s birthday are yet undecided. the hike to goat canyon trestle in anza-borrego proves impossible, upon further reading, without the use of a jeep or off-read vehicle. what to do? web page after webpage, we search vigilantly in hopes of a breakthrough; nothing, so far, stands out. a few clicks later and we are directed to a page on some shabby desert hiking website devoted to an old 1800’s farm in anza-borrego. seems interesting enough! we try to find it on google maps.

zooming in, it seems to be… wait. there it was, that familiar great body of water; seen every time we open google maps, yet completely neglected. the salton sea.
cameron had wanted to visit for a good while, but never had she — or any of the rest of us — gotten around to it. its name conjured up images of decrepit motels, half-sunken boats and long abandoned trailers; a place all but stripped of its former glory. little did we know what awaited us, and while those were all valid in their existence, there were things far less glamorous that we were to encounter.

january 15th, early morning; kevin is off work and bearing coffees. mmm. starting the day off right!
we prepare our favorite ezekiel bread, baked tempeh, grilled bell pepper, lettuce, and avocado sandwiches, in… well, not so record time, and then we are off.
the drive is lovely, albeit windy, and the slightest bit less green then when we traveled it not so long ago on the way to julian. summer, should we be expecting you?
a long stretch later, and we turn, hugging the mountain, and its bend presents us immediately with a spanning view that humbles one greatly in stature; the desert stretches endlessly out in front of us. the hazy distance can’t cloak our destination; the salton sea spans its lowest regions. a standout beyond miles of desert; it beckons us forward. a hawk soars below us.

we mosey down the ridge and we descend from the craggy high desert and alight at its base, and we may as well have just stepped foot onto mars; the deserts’ expanse is indiscernible from ground-level. a bathroom and snack stop in anza-borrego later…

and we further hug the mountain in search of the inland ocean. red rock and brush cling nappy to the sand; rugged mountains soon give way to fissures, gaping from the ground like the mouths of hungry animals; their gullets fall away what looks like miles as we stand on their cliffsides; a shadowy wash looms beneath our feet, its floor a deadly fall below.

back in the car; soon, we arrive. a harbinger to what this trip will bring stands, decaying, before us.

an old man wanders up the dirt road for a market not but a stone’s throw away; his lips move, but nothing short of grumbles escape. this hotel is his home, and he spares us not but a glance, continuing on his way. we, too, continue on.

with sand below our feet, and the salton sea stretching out in front of us, we have arrived.

it is not long before the choking smell of decay closes in on us. we walk out along the pier; the water beneath us is black, layers of dead fish float on and under its surface.

how could a place once a paradise be neglected so severely that it has fallen into this state of being?

we are enthralled by what we see.

we take it all in. this place is deeply wrong, yet wonderful in that fact. it is a disaster of magnificent proportions. it is a cesspool. like a rotting carcass in a pond, it poisons the land of which it abodes. it is wonderful.

at this point, we weren’t so sure what would come next. stop #2 ended up being this little beach where a few people in a scarce few trailers were playing “lawn” (sand?) bowling in their yard… and garnering quite a crowd. where do these people come from? they live here? why? desperation?

when now lawn bowling, it appears that they spend their time burning last year’s christmas trees.

wanna go for the swim? i’m sure this water is clean.

down the road a little, this sign made it quite clear where we would be heading next.

so the pack of wild dogs running around was a bit unnerving, but we proceed nonetheless.

there’s a market/time machine here. step through the door, suddenly it’s 50 years ago. step out again, and it’s sometime after the impending nuclear war / apocalypse. or just the salton sea. they’re looking pretty interchangeable at this point.

sit and enjoy the sea breeze?

and then there’s this boat/trailer thing, and we’re really not so sure what it is, but it’s pretty cool, right?

another motel sits on the roadside, stoic, decrepit. pigeons eject themselves frantically from the window frame as we draw near. decomposition hangs heavy on the air near this place; something drew its last breath here.

back up the hill.

it appears gaudiness is the only thing here that stood the test of time.

the moderately less gaudy trailer had a much more sombre fate.

yeah, irrelevancies!

we head towards the shore. broken palm trees overlook the water like pillars of a greek temple long felled to ruin.

the sand crackles under our feet as we draw closer to the shoreline; its density it distinctively less, it pulls deeper yet at our feet.
it, upon closer inspection, is made up entirely of bone. hollow-eyed skulls protrude, the rest was long unidentifiable as anything more than a shore comprised completely of bone fragments. this moment alone was greatly sobering.

the sun falls lower in the sky; we, at this point, were certain that the salton sea is not a place you ever want to find yourself in at night. we begin to scout out where we will eat our lunch; our appetites, however, wavered by the day. we find a nice spot a few miles yonder, and we park the car and eat, far enough that the breeze carried to us no decay from the inland ocean.

indisputably, the salton sea is a debacle.

it is a disaster of a grand scale, it is a horrible cesspool of poison and death and rot.
the salinity levels are rising so quickly that in a mere handful of years, the only fish that will be able to survive in its waters are tilapia. despite their ability to cope with the water’s increasing salinity, however, yearly algae blooms kill an unfathomable number of them, too. the birds eat the fish and are poisoned, their carcasses as well can be spotted amongst the fish. even a cat — not but a week dead — lies on the shore, bloated and seeping into the sand that is not sand at all.
it is akin to walking in a nightmare. it is a throwback to any post-apocalyptic movie you can conjure up in your mind. it is in its death throes; it itself, as a whole, is decaying. formed by the colorado river in 1905, it has been dying ever since it came to be.

yet, it is magnificent. it is unfathomable that something like this could even exist, or be allowed to exist. it’s nearly impossible to wrap ones mind around the sheer grandeur of what it holds, both good and bad.

one thing is for certain… we will most definitely be visiting the salton sea again.


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