The Salton Sea was created in the early twentieth century when the Colorado River was redirected to a dry lake bed in the Southern California desert. Several decades later, the “Salton Riviera” became a booming desert playground, rivaling nearby Palm Springs, with resorts, marinas, and yacht clubs that attracted celebrities such as John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, the Beach Boys, Jerry Lewis, the Marx Brothers and Desi Arnaz.
Developer Penn Phillips, who had led a speculative boom in the late 1950s, buying and selling thousands of acres on the lake’s western shores, abandoned Salton City without explanation in 1960. A decade later it became evident that the sea’s high salt content was killing fishes and creating environmental problems.
According to Wikipedia, “By the 1970s, scientists issued warnings that the lake would continue to shrink and become more inhospitable to wildlife. In the 1980s, it became clear that contamination from the farm runoff promoted the outbreak and spread of diseases. Massive die-offs of the avian populations have occurred especially after the loss of several species of fish that they depend on. Dead fish would wash up on the shore as the lake became so salty that large die-offs occurred. Tourism was drastically reduced.”
Today, the somewhat apocalyptic looking tourist attraction has hundreds of 60 year old vandalized abandoned houses and trailers, countless fish carcasses, and plenty of street signs marking houseless roads, ditched in the early 60s by contractors before the accompanying homes were constructed.
There’s still plenty of wildlife including seagulls, pelicans, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, coyotes, rabbits, lizards, and sometimes deer and bighorn sheep. Not to mention feral flamingos and alarming reports of komodo dragons in the marshier southern areas, rumored to be narco zoo escapees.