An Intriguing Fluke: Salton Sea, California

From the blooming paradise of Hot Springs, California, we followed I-10 south to Thermal, California, a wide spot in the road near Salton Sea. The inland sea might look pretty, but its history is as troubled and its fumes are toxic.

The Salton Sea came into being by accident, when Colorado River seeped through faulty irrigation controls in the early 1900s. Ever since, the sea that covered 400 square miles has been shrinking and becoming saltier and saltier, killing most of the fish that found a home in its waters. At one time, the area was a vacation paradise, and amenities for visitors still adorn the sea’s beaches. However, the locals will tell you the ugly truth: the sea is toxic, having collected runoff from nearby agricultural areas, thus being full of pesticides. The high desert temperatures and winds evaporate the sea’s water, releasing arsenic, selenium, and DDT dust into the atmosphere. This explains the high number of children with asthma in the area: one in five and double the state average’s number of hospitalizations. Over the years, efforts and plans have been made to save the sea and its nearby human and other inhabitants. The most recent endeavor targeted the extraction of lithium, a renewable energy source fueling electric batteries. In addition, discussions to connect Salton Sea with either the Sea of Cortez or the Pacific are still on the table, although they would involve a huge budget and other resources. To read more about the current state of affairs, check out this article.

We explored the area briefly, while, unknowingly, our dogs took copious naps in the shade of orange and lemon trees.

At Salton Sea State Recreation Area, birds still fished in the dying and drying sea, and we held our breath as a stinky vapor floated around whenever the wind picked up. I could smell the salt in the air and I could see it on my palms.

We stopped by a local grocery store, thinking that I could just pick up a few things quickly and avoid the crowds I came to expect in say Walmart. I didn’t expect to be packed in nose-to-nose with a lot of the locals, so, with COVID-19 in mind and since I couldn’t actually see anything I needed right away, I quickly turned around and left.

Beauty can be deceiving, but there was no question about the magnificence of the sunsets we experienced!

We toasted to our last stop in California, and headed into Arizona, to catch I-40 going east.

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