GhostTown: Abandoned Salton Sea -
Abandoned Salton Sea

The Abandoned Salton Sea

It’s hard to imagine, but this place was once a desired getaway destination for tourists, with beautiful views, and relaxing by the water. Those days are long gone, thanks to the lake being destroyed by human activity. “According to a report from San Diego State University, the shoreline is heavily receding because of rapid evaporation, which is onset by climate change. “. Today, the abandoned Salton Sea is little more than a ghost town with some art installations along the beach.


History of the Salton Sea

At the start of the twentieth century, in 1905, the landlocked lake was created by accident/economical disaster, when an inflow of water from the Colorado River flooded a dry basin, which was known as the Salton Sink. After the flooding was done, the Salton Sink, now known as the Salton Sea, grew to 400 square miles over a few years, remained full because of drainage water from local farms, and had become California’s largest non-coastal body of water.

In the mid 1900’s, tourism and wildlife at the newly created lake flourished. The area turned into a crucial habit for millions of migrating birds, as California had lost about 95% of it’s inland lakes and wetlands. And people were enjoying the new waterfront area as well. It was estimated that roughly 1.5 million people visited the “Miracle in the Desert” annually. Throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, vacation homes popped up around the Salton Sea, eventually leading to the creation of a new town, Salton City. The ideas of a resort town and beachfront property in the middle of the desert attracted tons of people, especially boating enthusiasts. 

Developers mapped out 25,000 residential lots, and paved more than 250 miles of roads along with providing electrical, water, and sewage infrastructure throughout the new town. Plans and projections were made for accommodating roughly 40,000 people, but the demand never rose to those heights.

Evens so, for a while, the new Salton City project was as success and life was great. It was an in-demand location and brought in celebrities, politicians, entertainers, and athletes. Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack would take weekend trips to the Salton Sea. There were stories of The Beach Boys and the Pointer Sisters performing concerts on the shores of the beach.

Downfall of Salton City and the Salton Sea

Even though Salton City and the Salton Sea were a hot destination, that wouldn’t last. In the 1970s, the lake became “poisoned” by rising salinity levels and contamination from agricultural runoff. Thousands of fish began to die, floating to the top of the lake. Birds that depended on the lake became sick., and the tourists began to disappear. The once thriving restaurants, bars, and the Yacht Club where Sinatra performed, all closed down and became abandoned.

By the 1980’s, the once booming town was almost completely abandoned. Resort development plans were halted mid-construction, buses, RVs, campers, and vacation homes were all left behind as people left the dying town. Speaking of dying, by the 90’s, the wildlife were also dying off in astonishingly high numbers. During a four-month stretch, more than 14,000 birds died. The corpses of the birds and fish littered the shores of the beach. A large percentage of the birds that died were Pelicans. Due to their large bodies, they had to be disposed of by being burned, which lasted for several weeks.

The Abandoned Salton Sea Today

The vibe and experience of visiting the Salton Sea today, is a lot different. The lake’s ecosystem is in a state of collapse and it is believed that it will become so salty that only bacteria will be able to survive. More and more of the 400 different species of birds who depend on the lake the lake to survive, are dying. Only one fish species is still managing to live in the water,  while all other fish species are now dead.

“But even more than that, the former lakebed that is exposed as the lake recedes is turning into an exposed playa that is creating a public health hazard for over 650,000 people around according to CNBC.”

However, the apocalyptic looking ghost town that looks like an inspiration for the video game, “Fallout”, and its neighboring towns are still a popular destination for photographers and urban explorers. The abandoned buildings and art installations on the beach provide for some unique subjects, unlike any other. 

A few things to keep in mind if you plan to visit the abandoned Salton Sea. Plan accordingly. It’s in the middle of the desert and it gets super hot (and the hottest part) so keep that in mind for what time of the. year you plan to visit. The water isn’t safe to swim in/boat/etc., even if you see others in it. Do it at your own risk. While there are lots of intriguing and unique things to see in the local towns, remember that there are still people who live there, so please be respectful. 

Salton Sea Photo Gallery

Below are some image from the Salton Sea, as well as a nearby abandoned ice manufacturing plant.