Day Three: The Salton Sea.

This is a part of a series detailing our itinerary for the upcoming trip through the California desert. For details, and to donate, check out our Kickstarter page.

South of the Mojave National Preserve, we will next encounter Joshua Tree National Park. The headquarters for the park are located in Twentynine Palms, CA, a city that sits just on the northern border of the park.

The park itself is where our road transitions from the high Mojave desert down to the Colorado desert. The Colorado is in fact an extension of the Sonoran desert of northern Mexico. Joshua Tree features rock formations known as inselbergs, isolated hills or mountains left behind when magma cooled underground and was then weathered by wind and water, creating curving, sometimes dome-shaped profiles.

But we will not be stopping long in Joshua Tree, for our ultimate goal is just around the corner. The Salton Sea.

The Salton Sea is an accidental salt lake. Created when the Imperial Valley was flooded by a botched irrigation process, the sea is wide, shallow, and saltier by half than the pacific ocean. It was once more popular as a tourist destination than even Yosemite, but as the sea has become saltier and more polluted by agricultural runoff, storms and massive fish die offs (sometimes numbering in the millions of fish) drove the tourists away.

Now many of the towns and amenities stand abandoned, the beaches are littered with bones, and the lake produces clouds of hydrogen sulfide gas that sometimes travel as far as Los Angeles.

We arrive at the north end of the sea, and will then travel down the eastern shore, and hopefully will get to see some of the geothermal features of the area, including mud pots and mud volcanoes. We hope to explore some of the abandoned towns and resorts while we’re there, and perhaps to enjoy the significant migratory bird population. Since wetlands along western California are being drained and/or developed, more than four hundred species of migratory birds now use the Salton Sea as a vital stopover.

The surface of the sea itself is more than two hundred feet below sea level, so we expect the weather to be comparable to that in Death Valley. As the sea shrinks, with more and more water being diverted from its already meager inflow, it leaves behind long shores of dust and salt and bones. Salt encrusts the abandoned ruins of the marina and fishing clubs, and eats away at the structures as the years wear on. I am so excited to get to explore these now dead communities, and to breathe in the sometimes unbreathable air coming off the sea. This place is so dead, and yet still so very alive, and it will continue to shrink, the evaporation rate increasing as the inflow is further restricted, until the sea dries up entirely and becomes a vast, dusty salt flat.

Camping, with amenities sometimes including showers, is available around the shore of the sea, and I anticipate that we will likely stay at Mecca or Bombay Beach. In the morning, we will pack up our cars and head east, for what may be the strangest leg of our trip… the short journey to Slab City and East Jesus.

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Author: adrennan

An artist and writer in Bellingham, Washington.

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