I Went to California’s Post-Apocalyptic Beach Town
The Salton Sea, California’s largest lake by volume, exists entirely by accident.
It was created in the early 1900s after a heavy rain caused the Colorado River to burst through the banks of an irrigation canal, sending millions of gallons of water into a previously dried out lake bed in the California desert.
A screenshot from an early Salton Sea promotional film (via)
Initially, the new, giant, inland sea was a blessing.
In the 50s and 60s, it was a booming tourist attraction. Marketed as a “miracle in the desert,” it became Palm Springs but with beaches. It would regularly attract over half a million visitors annually.
Yacht clubs sprang up on the shores, people flocked to fish and waterski, and stars like the Beach Boys and Sonny Bono would visit to drive speedboats and swim.
Property was so in demand that real estate agents would fly people up in light aircraft and sell them property from the air without ever landing to view it.
But it wouldn’t last.
The sea quickly became something of an ecological nightmare soup. The Salton Sea is surrounded by nearly half a million acres of agricultural land, and water from this land runs off into the sea, taking with it salt and fertilizers and pesticides. By the 70s, the water was becoming too hostile to sustain much of any kind of life, and the shoreline became littered with thousands and thousands of dead fish.
The smell of these dead fish combined with rotting algal blooms, making the water smell so bad that nobody wanted to go anywhere near it.
The Beach Boys left. Sonny Bono left. Everyone else left, and the Salton Sea fell into misery.