jj_maccrimmon, the photographer and walking encyclopedia, wrote this nice blip about the Salton Sea:
For those who haven’t read about it, The Salton Sea is California’s largest inland body of water (in area not volume), and it’s all there due to a monumental accident. In 1908 a levee holding back the Colorado River broke and began filling what had previously been a dry wash that lay mostly below sea-level. By 1912, an area the size of Los Angeles was covered with water up to a depth of 40 feet (13m). By the 1920’s, word spread about the massive lake and people began building cottages close to the water and using the area for recreation. In the 1940’s, work of this “paradise” spread and developers began building motels, resorts and tourist facilities. In addition, the farming communities south of the lake were thriving. What could possibly go wrong?
What went wrong was over 50 years of not just poor planning but no planning at all. The Salton Sea has two inlets and no outflow. What gets there, stays there. This included pollutants, agricultural run off, and minerals leeched from the soil below the lake. By the 1970’s the salinity of the Salton and the pollution levels contributed to massive die-offs by fish introduced to the lake. Swimming or even wading were highly discouraged by the 1980’s, and the communities along the shore began to suffer or fold up. It's now utterly abandoned.
Sometimes wind pushes the water in such a way that it kicks up all the nasty shit in there; fish suffocate due to lack of oxygen and die in massive amounts. They wash ashore, coating the beach in a thick layer of death. (See second photo here.)The "sand" is bones, salt, and barnacles. Also, when JJ says the salinity is up, he's not joking. As you drive up to the area, you start seeing what appears to be snow on the ground...it's not...it's crusty layers of salt. It's toxic. The communities nearby report higher levels of cancer. We had to wash our hands after every stop with alcohol wipes. As stated earlier, it rusts out everything that metallic that remains; it turns to dust when touched.
Pictures from the Salton Sea are at this post here. JJ's son took some photos too, which are here. There's an abandoned Yacht Club on the property and a hotel
It gets weirder. Ever seen a salt bog? Nearby is Bombay Beach...it'll take your breath away. Here's more from JJ:
Bombay Beach is a small community on the east side of the Salton Sea. Originally, it was developed on a low sane. Low is something of an understatement as Bombay Beach is the lowest settlement in North America (-223ft below sea level). It also sits pretty much on top of the San Andreas Fault. While it would not be a far reach to say the town was really poorly planned, Bombay Beach also suffers from several other significant problems. The Salton Sea is broad and shallow, so when the wind blows there, the lake can shift. The surrounding area became marsh and as the salinity of the water increased in the 60’s, these became salt bogs. What should have been the coupe’ de gras for Bombay Beach was a series of serious tropical storms which hit southern California in the winter of 1976 – 77, inundated the southern half of the town (500 lots). A large dike was hastily built to protect the northern half but the damage was done. Now the remains of the southern half of town are slowly but steadily sinking into a salt bog.
It's really sinking. If you stand there, you will start to sink too. You have to walk on the hard salt crusts instead of the wet areas. Hundreds of shoes litter the area from when bored teens got their feet caught in wet patches.
More of JJ's incredible photos are here and here.
I repeat, all of that white stuff is SALT. The whole area smells really odd, like saline and death and marshes. Nevertheless, it was beautiful and captivating yet tragic.