First there was a Salton Sea. Then there was no sea. Now there is again.
The Salton Sea State Recre-ation Area just south of Palm Springs is both one of the world's largest inland seas and one of the lowest spots on earth, sitting at 227 feet below sea level.
In this particular incarnation, the Salton was accidentally re-created in 1905 when high spring flooding on the Colo-rado River crashed the canal gates that lead into the Imper-ial Valley. For the next eight-een months the entire volume of the Colorado rushed down-ward into the Salton Trough. By the time engineers were able to stop the water in 1907, the Salton Sea had been re-born at forty-five miles long and twenty miles wide, crea-ting 130 miles of shoreline.
The Salton Sea is one of only two parks of the 70 on the closure list that I had previ-ously visited. I know it's not the favorite park of some folks. In the winter many dead fish wash up on shore attracting a lot of flies. I find in endlessly fascinating though, and was sorry I didn't have more than a few hours to spend to view and understand the sea's oddities.
On some days, up to four million birds – over 400 species - visit the sea at one time. This was of course, a major draw for me.
Not to mention the beautiful, rainbow stripe colors of the marsh foliage and accom-panying sky!
Eons ago, the Gulf of Cali-fornia flowed all the way up here and beyond the Colo-rado River. Eventually, sand deposits formed a dam be-tween here and the ocean. Behind the dam a huge inland sea was created. Over cen-turies, fresh water from the river replaced all of the salt water creating Lake Cahuilla.
About 500 years ago the Colorado River shifted south into the gulf, and the lake began to dry up, exposing large salt deposits.
Native Americans lived along the edges of this lake for generations. Their fish traps and other artifacts from those days can still be seen.
In the mid 1800s, the lake was nearly dry. Miners came for the salt and farmers for the highly fertile soil. Water was brought in via irrigation canals, and agriculture commenced.
Today the sea is once again shrinking and becoming saltier as the fresh water evaporates.
There was a mild sulfur smell in the air on the day I visited. This was caused by large algea blooms in the sea, as a result of fertilizer in the fresh water agricultural run-off. When the algae blooms die en-masse, oxygen levels go down and the sulfuric aroma can be quite potent on some days, I'm told. This, and winter water temperatures below fifty-five degrees are what is believed to cause the massive number of dead fish - mainly Tilapia - on shore every year.
As a recreation area, The Salton Sea saw it's heydey in the 1950s and 60s, with Air-stream trailers galore popu-lating the campgrounds. Var-ner Harbor provides easy access to the sea for boating and water skiing. I personally can't imagine skiing or swim-ming in such heavily salted water. Ick! I was tempted to rent a kayak, but the after-noon winds were already kicking up so I decided against it.
Increasing salinity has not only made swimming a less popular activity here, but has also limited the number of types of fish that can be found. Most fish currently caught are Tilapia (when they're not covering the shoreline with their skeletons.)
In addition to the Tilapia, Striped Bass, Orange Mount Corvina, Gulf Croaker and Sargo are the main species that have been introduced to the Salton, beginning in 1929. Although the sea is consi-dered to be one of the most successful fisheries in the world, the increasing struggle with high salinity levels and unnatural algae blooms make it a less and less healthy environment for the fish.
So the battle is on to save the sea. In some ways though, it's the opposite of Mono Lake. With Mono, it is human interference that has caused the lake levels to drop and the salinity level to rise. Efforts to save Mono Lake primarily involve reversing the human-made damage.
The Salton Sea on the other hand, seems to be once again drying up of its own accord. True the algea blooms are aggravated by runoff from farmlands, but I found myself wondering about the wisdom of trying to save a sea that seems to be disappearing somewhat naturally.
Well, all that being said, I only have a few hours of informa-tion with which to form an opinion. So, I will leave it to those who have more know-ledge and skill in this matter than I do - and to Mother Nature of course - to deter-mine the long term fate of this sea. And where will all the birds go?
I'm anticipating finding myself in this part of the world again next winter. I will most defi-nitely alot a full day to return to this strange body of water, to take memory cards worth of photos of birds and dead fish. Yeah!
I hope to see you at the State Parks.
This blog is dedicated to the memory of my Father, who loved reading maps, exploring alternate routes, and taking the road less traveled.
Alvin David Dick, April 28, 1926 - May 20, 2012