The Salton Sea, a peculiar body of water, came into existence during the early years of the twentieth century when the mighty Colorado River was skillfully redirected into a parched desert basin in Southern California. Over the ensuing decades, what was then termed the “Salton Riviera” evolved into a thriving desert oasis that rivaled the nearby Palm Springs in popularity. It boasted an array of resorts, marinas, and yacht clubs that attracted luminaries such as John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, the Beach Boys, Jerry Lewis, the Marx Brothers, and numerous others.
A prominent developer by the name of Penn Phillips, who had spearheaded a speculative real estate boom in the late 1950s, engaging in the fervent buying and selling of thousands of acres along the lake’s western shores, inexplicably abandoned his project, Salton City, in 1960. A decade later, the devastating impact of the sea’s elevated salt levels began to manifest, leading to the demise of fish populations and environmental disturbances.
By the 1970s, scientists had issued grim warnings, prophesying that the lake’s continued recession would render it increasingly inhospitable for wildlife. In the 1980s, it became unmistakably clear that contamination stemming from agricultural runoff was contributing to the proliferation and dissemination of diseases. This environmental crisis led to massive die-offs among avian communities, particularly following the disappearance of several fish species on which they depended. Fish carcasses would wash ashore as the lake’s salinity escalated, severely curtailing tourism.
Today, this eerie and seemingly apocalyptic tourist destination stands as a testament to the passage of time. It is dotted with countless abandoned and vandalized properties, many of them dating back six decades. The streets bear peculiar signs, relics from the early 1960s when they were laid out by contractors, even before the accompanying residences were constructed.
Despite its desolation, the area still hosts a variety of wildlife. Seagulls, pelicans, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, coyotes, rabbits, lizards, and the occasional sightings of deer and bighorn sheep continue to thrive. Intriguingly, feral flamingos have made their home here, and there are unsettling accounts of Komodo dragons lurking in the marshy southern regions, rumored to have escaped from a clandestine narco-zoo.