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Cruising around the Salton Sea

The truth is, this place is fascinating.

There have been railroad towns, a salt farm, and lake resorts, now it’s just “has been.” I will admit right now that I do not know all the politics around the Salton Sea, but after spending two days there, I see opportunity.

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Based on my experiences in Detroit last year, I know that a city is more than just the exploited photos of ruins, but when I drive through the towns of Salton Sea, for the most part, that’s all I see. There are a few shimmers of light where people have rebuilt and it is with those shimmers that I can see whole towns revitalized for tourism.

It may just be naïveté, but that is the dreamer in me.

I encourage you to visit the Salton Sea area. There are the towns, the ruins, the seashore, the birds, the farms, a lot is happening around this body of water and it is not all bad news.

Here are my highlights from cruising around the Salton Sea.

Desert Shores and Salton Sea Beach

Salton Sea Beach

Located on the western side of the Salton Sea, Desert Shores and Salton Sea Beach were two major resort areas hopping back in the day. With about 800 people living in this area, it is hard to call them ghost towns, but it certainly feels like one when you are driving through. There once was a beautiful yacht club and marina, but all that remains of that era are street names like Shoreview, Seaview, and Beachcomber.

Given that we are riding around in an RV, we are of course interested in the RV/mobile home aspect of these towns and when these spots are rebuilt, they can be adorable.

Yellow Salton Sea Motor Home

There are lots of homes with an RV or mobile home as its foundation with the rest of the “home” built around it, like decks, additional rooms, and we even saw several mobile homes sewn together.

But of course, most of the spots look like this. These dilapidated homes make for great HDR photos as Mr. Misadventures will attest to, but all I can think about is how awesome they would look if someone came in and restored these mobile homes to their former prime.

Salton Sea Abandoned Mobile Home

Do you think that Justin and Anna from Flippin’ RV’s could move here for a few years and get everything shipshape?

Sonny Bono Refuge

Sonny Bono Refuge
Photo credit: Sel & Poivre Photography

Located on the southern end of the Salton Sea, the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge is a great spot to stop and explore. Particularly for bird observation (there isn’t much other wildlife) and hiking. The refuge was created to protect birds resting on their migratory route south.

The refuge includes farm fields, wetlands, and trees. Just outside the main park on the road headed to Niland, you will find an amazing set of three trees standing alone on the salted seabed, it makes for a super dramatic photo, like the one Mr. Misadventures took above.

This is a peaceful spot to reflect on how important it is to protect our avian population.

P.S. if you have a spouse, loved one, or friend who is not a native American, you may have to explain who Sonny Bono is! I connected the dots for Mr. Misadventures by singing “I Got You Babe” and then informing him that the male part of that duo was the man the refuge was named after!

Bombay Beach

Abandoned Motorhome at Salton Sea California
Photo credit: Sel & Poivre Photography

Bombay Beach was the second major resort area on the Salton Sea. It is also the lowest community (it is not really a town) in America, at 223 feet below sea level. We saw a lot more people here (there are around 300 residents) but not as many updated houses making it look like the vast majority of these folks live in a dilapidated state. There were two businesses (a market and a hotel) that I could see, along with a fire station.

We visited twice. The first time during the day to check out the beach. The beach looks gorgeous until you get closer. First, you catch the smell, maybe seaweed that is a little too ripe, but then you start seeing the dead bodies.

Lots and lots of dead fish.

Dead fish on the Salton Sea
Photo credit: Sel & Poivre Photography

In Desert Shores or Salton Sea Beach, there was no access to the beach that we could find without trespassing, so it is cool to be able to get to the water, but the price is the smell!

We were going to take sunset photos here so we came back a second time, but as we were waiting for the sun to start its descent we kept noticing a few men taking swaths on bikes or on foot to observe us. They were sketchy. I am not trying to be discriminatory, but with the amount of money we have invested in photography equipment, we went with our gut and left to find another spot for photos.

I have also since read that other photographers warn of problems here after dark. But during the day we felt perfectly safe!

Salton Sea Recreational Park

Salton-Sea-Recreation-Park
Those ain’t shells you’re walking on!

We moved up the road to another spot we had previously visited. There are several beaches and campsites along the 14-mile stretch that encompasses the Salton Sea, Recreation Park. In addition, the Salton Sea museum is not too far. I would have liked to have stopped in, but both times we passed, it was already closed.

There were at least six groups of people on two of the beaches we visited, so it seems to be popular, you have to get used to the smell, which I think you do quickly (you’ve seen those Febreze commercials where people don’t notice bad smells…). When we walked down to the beach I thought we were walking on white shells or rocks. Nope. Turns out when you take a closer look it’s fish bones from the millions of decomposed or decomposing fish. Eek! Please note, flip-flops probably aren’t a great idea. I had on sandals and would have preferred hiking boots.

This area is a great place to see pelicans, there are dozens and dozens of them. These birds were once endangered but now thrive in this location. I am not really sure how with all the fish dying, but that is mother nature for you!

P.S. They have really clean toilets in this park!

Mecca

Mecca California Date Trees
Photo credit: Sel & Poivre Photography

As you make your way out of the Salton Sea towards the north, you start to see something rather incredible. Farms. After witnessing death, how is it possible that there can be such vibrant life in the form of food? There are citrus groves, vineyards, and dates. Lots and lots of beautiful dates. The trees are gorgeous and there was a little road between two groves that allowed access for us to stop to take some photos.

The farms lead up to Mecca, an agricultural town that also hosts the International Banana Museum (go figure?) along with biking and hiking trails like Ladder Canyon and Box Canyon. We didn’t spend much time here, but it is worth a stop, if for nothing else than to hug a date tree!

How about you, what do you think? Is the Salton Sea a place you’d like to visit? See restored? Have you visited? Do tell!

If you become as fascinated as I have about the Salton Sea area, you may want to watch this hour-long documentary from KQED (go Bay Area!)

Like it? PIN it!

Cruising the Salton Sea in California USA Cruising the Salton Sea in California USA Cruising the Salton Sea in California USA Cruising the Salton Sea in California USA

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59 Comments

    1. @Kristin, it’s been fun to see things from my hubby’s photographic perspective. He is driving a lot of the spots we visit at the moment. When we get out of the Southwest, the roles will reverse.

  1. I know who Sonny Bono is! I hadn’t heard of this area. I wonder why all those dead fish are there.

    1. The fish primarily die off in summer when warm water and algal blooms mean less oxygen in the water. The fish suffocate, sadly.

    2. @Jasmyn Phillips, Salton sea salinity is increasing. It is current too saline for all the fish species that used to live there.

    3. @Mike,

      There are basically no fish left in the Salton Sea. Even the talapia, who were the last survivors of the increasing salinity and chemicals from the agricultural runoff, have died off. The Salton Sea has no inlets of water and, bcuz of the 20 year, on going, drought she is evaporating rapidly. What little water was flowing into the “Sea”…it’s actually a lake…has been sent to San Diego. Gotta keep those golf courses green. There has also been huge die offs of birds. We’ve seen the Sea recede at least 15′ in the last four years. Cone see it now, while it’s still there.

  2. I’ve never heard of the Salton Sea. It’s sad to see these relics from the past, isn’t it? I don’t think I could handle the smell on the beach. Hopefully they will find a way to maintain it in the future.

  3. I’ve never even heard of this place before. It looks really interesting and kind of spooky! Love that you found the beauty in it though. I have a soft spot in my heart for dreamers.

  4. What a beautiful spot! This is one of those places that you would never know exists – it is so gorgeous! Love your pictures!

  5. It’s so cool to see someone covering parts of America that I didn’t even know existed!! I’m glad you listened to your instincts though and left without taking the sunset photos. And that fish bone beach? Ew! But still cool to see!

    1. @Katie, a lot of it is driven by Mr. Misadventures, he has a tendency to find really cool places for photography.

  6. These pictures make me so sad. I grew up in the Imperial Valley near there. It’s not far from where the big Coachella music event is held. We would spend all day Sundays on our boat. My mom would make food and we would swim and ski and hang out on the water. It was beautiful and the water was clean and cool and slightly salty. The run off of pesticides from the farming is what I understand ruined the water. Thanks for the awesome pictures. In was 9 in 1962.

    1. @Beth t, I grew up camping there at Salton sea Beach and I wanna say walts place place also parents use to go to the rowboat it was a local bar it was in the 70s may 75 till 78

    1. My friend and I were returning to Phx from San Diego and noticed the sea out in the middle of nowhere so decided to go that way. Long story NOT short, 5 hrs and $275 later (locked keys in car on Memorial weekend) we learned a lot about the area from people in the Salton Sea Cafe and Marina. It is truly how Andi described it, desolate, smelly and hot, so my friend and I decided to return it had to be better on the other, NOT SO go to Ski Inn, Bar and Restaurant in Bombay Beach and put your dollar on the wall, check out Salvation Mountain & Slab City squatter/art commune and the Mud pots

      1. @Andi Fisher, yes, expensive, hot and long day but a once in a lifetime adventure that we have shared with many friends and family. We met and took pics with Leonard (Salvation Mt) when he was alive and got a tour and demonstrations on how different pieces were created, he also gave us a DVD of the Salton Sea. Been back multiple times. Been reading new articles that have popped up lately.

  7. In the 60’s and ’70s we frequented the Sea for camping,fishing and water skiing. It was a party place!
    Seven years ago we visited the Sea on a road trip. What an awe inspiring desolation! A real life scene appearing as post apocalyptic but with a stone quiet beauty of glass flat water, a hot hazy mist hanging just above the surface. We walked in stunned silence. The crunching beneath our feet was a mixture of fish bones, syringes and condoms. Great photo opportunities.

    1. @John, I would have LOVED to have seen it in the 60’s and 70’s! The photos from back then look so cool. I’ve only seen the “modern” version and think it is a great place for photography as well. Something for every style: landscape, architecture, macro – maybe not so much portrait, but still an interesting place to shoot!

  8. Also in the region is the Indio Date Festival, a Riverside County Fair. In the 1980s I took my family to the Fair regularly. We explored the Salton Sea along the eastern and western shores.

    El Centro, Calexico, Mexican and Yuma also are nearby.

    1. @Jerry, think I would love to try all the different date dishes at a festival! I got to see Yuma as well but not any of the others you mentioned, need another trip out there!

  9. I’ve been going down there since I was 10 years old and I am 70 years old my mother and father retired there now they have passed on and I winter there in they’re old home and summer in Oregon either you hate the Salton Sea or you love it and my wife and I love ❤️. It. The Nicholson’s.

  10. Andi, I just came across the KQED video last week. I’m the little girl in the video carrying the blue water ski’s.

  11. Bucket list last Oct, yes some areas we drove around, looked a little unsafe but glad we went. Also visited Owens dry lake…sad story too. Sam and Mary Phillips

  12. I grew up going to my grandparents cabin in Bombay Beach. Their cabin was on 2nd ,& B. They had a state beach towards the marina with a boat launch, gas pumps and little market. There were three bars “The Luck of the Irish” at the waterfront, “Tradewinds” 1st street by the marina and “Ski Inn” on 1st & A street with a couple gas pumps and restaurant. They also had Bombay market where their mailboxes be were and a volunteer Fire Station. It was a be popular place back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. You could off road and boat. On the other side of RR tracks there was a trailer park with mineral hot springs pools jacuzzi and saunas for a small fee you could use the pools. I remember fun times going there on weekends. But summer was hot. 226 in the shade was the hottest I recall.. Best times going there with family and friends.

  13. I think it will be a good place to live. Hoping that the government will fix the lake! 3 years and I will in Salton City.

  14. What? You missed the American Legion bar/restaurant in Bombay Beach? Friendly folks and cold cold beer!

  15. Just be careful not to breath the dust when the wind blows. Here is where the real danger lies.

  16. Were the people who approached you from the movie “Deliverance”? I used to visit & fish for corvina back in the late ‘60’s.

  17. Off course I would love to see Salton sea restored.
    I am 38 years old I remember my mom taking me down there when I was 12. I been there are so many times. We would go by the date farms and get date shakes and head over to Salton Sea. We would go to Bombay Beach and camp there or some other place on the 111 highway Bobs I think it was called a small trailer park. Man I had so much fun. I have pictures from my dad when they would visit in the 80s catching huge fish corvina’s sargos and all sorts of other stuff. I got so many stories from the salton sea It is sad to see such a beautiful place go. I truly hope they could restore it so, I could take my little ones one day.

  18. I use to live there. The building boom came and left as fast as it came. Wonderful people, but the heat is deadly.

  19. You are out of your mind to visit that place at anytime
    Do your research on all the sickness associated with it and in the surrounding communities associated with it in that area
    NO JOKE!!!!!!

  20. My fiance and I have been full-time RV’ers for almost 5 years. We discovered the Salton Sea in December of 2018 and we have spent every moment we possibly can there. It’s our favorite place on earth. Corvina Beach feels like home to us. We are generally in the area from September to May. We only leave because of the incredible heat. Hard on us, but could be fatal for our rescued cockatiel companion. It’s unique to the planet. It’s a real shame the politics that have let her die…but not surprising.

  21. Thanks for the pictures, but I lived there in the. ‘70’s when it was thriving and hundred and hundred of people use to come to the sea to fish.
    At any given time I ALWAYS had 100 lbs of
    CORVINA in my freezer. Me and hubby would fish every morning before work. We owned
    The chevron station at North Shore. You
    didn’t mention N.S. in your travels around the
    sea. There was a hotel, yacht club, mobile
    home park, etc. I can go on forever.
    The die off happens when there’s lack of
    oxygen in the water. Usually summertime.
    I’d love to talk more about the sea.

  22. I have been to the salton sea many times and love it . Very interesting stuff to see out there most definitely

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