But there’s no one recreationing….

Out & About

One of my goals on my 476-mile journey through Southern California a couple of weeks ago was to visit the beaches on the east and north shores of the Salton Sea.

Bombay Beach at the Salton Sea in California

The Salton Sea is a shallow, salty lake located directly on the southern stretch of the San Andrea Fault. With a surface area of about 376 square miles, the Salton Sea is the largest lake in California. The level of the lake is about 226 feet below sea level, and its maximum depth is a mere 52 feet. Salinity is about 44 grams/liter, higher than the Pacific Ocean but still below that of the Great Salk Lake.

Salton Sea State Recreation AreaGeologically, the Salton Sea is an endorheic rift lake, meaning that the lake basin formed as a result of subsidence related to earthquakes, and that waters come in to the lake—from the New, Whitewater, and Alamo Rivers, as well as creeks, agricultural runoff, and drainage systems—but don’t flow out. In other words, it’s a pretty stagnant, nasty lake, and a good whiff of the air confirms that.

The sea was created by engineers of the California Development Company in 1905. They attempted to increase water flow into the area for farming by creating irrigation canals from the Colorado River into the valley. They cut into the bank of the Colorado River to further increase water flow and prevent silt buildup. The resulting outflow from the river overwhelmed the canals, and the river flowed into the Salton Basin for two years, creating the sea, before repairs were completed.

Corvina BeachIn the best days of the Salton Sea, the ’50s and ’60s, traffic on Highway 111 would back up as campers and boaters crowded the entrance to what was then California’s second busiest state park; it even had more visitors than Yosemite National Park. More than 400,000 boats crowded the Sea each year.

As the agriculture industry in the Imperial Valley grew, agricultural runoff caused the sea to become saltier and saltier. Fish began dying when algae fields depleted oxygen from the water. Birds then contracted botulism by feeding on the rotting fish. Tens of thousands of dead fish and birds washed up on the shore of the Salton Sea each year.

In 1992, over 150,000 Eared Grebes died, a wildlife disaster that overwhelmed the facilities of the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge. Their disposal incinerator ran 24 hours a day for many months.

Brown pelicans in flightA smaller Brown Pelican die-off in the late nineties received massive media exposure, bringing the plight of the Salton Sea into living rooms throughout America.

In the summer of 1999, algae fields depleted the oxygen in the lake, causing 7.6 million Tilapia to die from oxygen starvation. Their rotting carcasses rimmed parts of the Sea for over ten years. The stench was a smell that had to be experienced to be believed.

I stopped at every campground and beach. Those 400,000 boats from years gone by? I saw one boat. Looked like this:

Abandoned boat near the Salton Sea in California

And all those people? I saw only one, and that’s when I looked in my car’s rearview mirror.

Salton Ssea State Recreation Area

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

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23 thoughts on “But there’s no one recreationing….

  1. laurie27wsmith

    The lonely recreationist indeed Russel. The only good thing that came out of the whole dieback was the Talapia. They’re a major problem here, some idiot released a few into some huge dams around the place and now they are decimating the native species. If you are found to have them in your possession while fishing you can be prosecuted. there are special bins to put them in. I imagine they’re fine in Africa where they come from but not introduced.

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    1. Russel Ray Photos Post author

      With your climate over there, which is pretty much the same we have here, invasive species, both fauna and flora, are a constant battle. Many of the jurisdictions here now consider the eucalyptus to be an invasive species here since it’s not native, having been brought over from Australia in the 1850s. Some are trying to eradicate it, but if they do, I shall miss it.

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        1. Russel Ray Photos Post author

          They imported them here for the purpose of using them as railroad ties. Turns out they are too brittle and could not carry the weight of the trains.

          Our insurance policies here don’t cover natural disasters and acts of God, so when I find a tall eucalyptus tree planted just feet from the house, I warn my home inspection clients. Sadly, each year during the winter rains or the Santa Ana wind season, there are way too many stories of these big trees falling on houses and cars.

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          1. laurie27wsmith

            They imported the wrong trees for the railroad ties. They needed the Iron Bark, another species of eucalypt. they make excellent railroad sleepers (ties) and houses built using that timber in the mid 2800’s are still standing. White ants (termites) can’t bite into the wood, although they’ll eat the sap on the living tree. here’s what I found online:
            Common uses
            Heavy engineering construction, marine construction, poles, piles, sleepers, flooring, decking shipbuilding.

            Yep, they brought the wrong ones over. Although they still come down in huge winds, it depends on how wet the ground is. When Lorelle and I got together we lived on a rental property near the mines. There was an Ironbark tree went down in a storm and I took a look the following morning. Man, what a monster, it’s girth was huge. Three of me with arms outstretched would have been able to touch hands. Every time we see the aftermath of storms on TV there’s always some huge eucalypt on top of someone’s car or house.

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    1. Russel Ray Photos Post author

      Yes. Unfortunately, there are too many third parties involved. All sorts of permits, certifications, fees, etc. The latest proposal is to create two rivers, one carrying water from the Salton Sea to the Gulf of California, and the other one bringing water from the Gulf of California to the Salton Sea. Cost estimate is $3.9 billion. No one knows where to get $3.9 billion.

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  2. elizz

    tilapia is the kind of fish an average filipino family could afford.. it may be a nuisance to some countries but it is one of the most affordable fishes for us.. i felt sad for knowing that it became a major problem to some areas in the US.. if only those could be thrown here to feed the poor.

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    1. Russel Ray Photos Post author

      Tilapia is about the only fish I have eaten in 21 years here in San Diego. My personal favorite is catfish, but for some reason restaurants in San Diego don’t carry catfish. Salmon is their preferred fish, but I dislike salmon intensely.

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  3. kelihasablog

    I had NO idea about this “place” before today. Guess it just didn’t filter down to Georgia. some of the older people here are just “waiting for California” to fall off into the ocean… LOL, (sorry)
    I guess if they tried killing the algae, they would still kill all the fish and birds. That is really weird… very interesting post though… and Laurie’s add about the “Iron” tree withstanding termites. That’s always a good thing, here at least. Tilapia is one of the most popular fish around here, unless you’re in a sushi bar, in which case you can find just about anything. I don’t like Salmon alone, but but it over a rice ball and dip it into soy sauce with Wasabi in it, and I love it… LOL Catfish are everywhere here…. it’s kinda thought of a the “poor man’s fish” cuz you can catch them in the river and just about every where else you go fishing near land, deep sea is of course different. They usually fry the catfish around here though cuz so many people like to eat the tail and the fins… crunchy. : O

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  4. karenlawrencephotography

    Great post Russel, it seems such a shame that the powers that be cant pull their heads out of their ar5es, use the local fish, salty water to make specialist salt and use the proceeds to fund the regeneration of the lake. Cant wait for more photos!

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  5. tchistorygal

    What a riveting story! What we think is going to be a good thing may work for a while, then it backfires. This is one of those ideas which ended disastrously, and remains a disaster. Thanks for sharing. In our area, we had Tulare Lake, the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. It was drained in the late 1800s for agricultural purposes. During it’s highest recorded level in 1862 it covered 486,000 acres or 759.38 square miles.

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