Salton Sea California | Let’s take on another weird place: Salton Sea, just a few miles south of Palm Springs in sunny California. Not too far away from the Mexican border. Disaster tourists find a gem here. Salton Sea is a highly toxic artificial lake. But this was not always the case. At its peak, Salton Sea California was drawing more yearly visitors than Yosemite NP. By 1960, the Salton Sea had developed into a well-known tourist hot spot.
Names like Salton City, Salton Sea Beach, Desert Shores, Desert Beach, North Shore, Bombay Beach did draw a decent amount of attention among holiday makers. Several multi-million dollar yacht clubs and marinas sprung up around the shoreline of Salton Sea. Golf courses began to appear everywhere. Even a 500 mile powerboat endurance race established some kind of tradition: Thousands showed up to watch the so-called “Salton Sea 500”.
Unfortunately, little thought was devoted to the management of this artificial lake, that appeared in 1905 after water from the heavily controlled Colorado River accidentally flew into Imperial Valley thanks to a chain of stupid moves by engineers of the CDC (California Development Company). Salton Sea lacks any outflow. In the late 1970s a series of heavy tropical storms caused the water level to rapidly rise and flood its banks. Surrounding towns were severely damaged, many beyond repair. Tourism began to shift away. In the 1990s the lake began to recede dramatically, shaking off most residences and businesses. Changing water-management priorities diverted more water from agricultural areas to other cities.
Since the Salton Sea has no outlet, the salt and chemicals dumped by agricultural runoffs and industries began to rise while the water level remained the same, resulting in increased concentration of toxic chemicals. Over the years, fish began to die in large masses – tens of thousands of dead fish and birds began regularly washing up on the shores. Then in the summer of 1999, approx. 7.5 million Tilapia died from oxygen starvation caused by the overabundant algae. The authorities knew: this case is lost. Trotting carcasses rimmed parts of the Sea for over ten years. Combined with the decaying algae, the smell was overwhelming.
On October 28, 2015 the smog-control agency for Los Angeles issued an odor advisory for the intense rotten-egg stench that was permeating the air of southern California’s Coachella Valley. The source: Salton Sea was burping up hydrogen sulfide, a gas created by decaying organic matter trapped beneath the water. It was the Salton Sea’s fifth odor advisory for October alone; depending on winds, the hydrogen sulfide can be smelled as far as 130 miles away in Los Angeles.
But that smell is only one part of a more serious public-health problem, one that has the potential to affect millions of people in southern California and beyond. The Salton Sea is shrinking, a phenomenon due to rapid evaporation — summer temperatures around the lake routinely top 110 degrees. And the window of time to do anything about it is closed.
Last not least: Slab City
What else? Ah yeah! Let’s mention it: the last lawless city in the United States – Slab City, in large parts just a snowbird community. But approx. 150 people live there permantly. Slab City is located in the Sonoran Desert located at the south-eastern edge of Salton Sea. In Winter this becomes a hot spot for recreational vehicle owners and squatters from across the U.S. Thousands of campers, many of them retired, use the site during the winter months. These “snowbirds” stay only for the winter before migrating back north in spring. In Slab City and anywhere near Salton Sea, temperatures during summer are as high as 120 °F (48 °C).
Those permant residents are called “Slabbers”. They derive their living from government programs. Many of them might have been driven to “The Slabs” by poverty, not sure. Just a rough guess. For sure some have moved there simply to learn how to live off-grid. One can see many solar panels.
Slab City is both decommissioned and uncontrolled. There is no parking fees, no electricity, no water supply. There aren’t any sewers. There is no trash pickup service. The closest body of civilization with proper law enforcement is four miles away: Niland. Slab City residents often go there to do some shopping.