One of the first things I did when I got to California is visit the Salton Sea. Located on the San Andreas fault in SoCal, this shallow saltine lake is a popular attraction in the Cali desert. It is surrounded by farm lands in the Imperial Valley, some forests in the west, as well a vast desert landscape. If you head north of the Sea, you will stumble upon the iconic Joshua Tree National Park.
The Salton Sea was created by accident in the early 1900's after the Colorado River flooded into irrigation canals, which lead to the creation of the Salton Sink. Since the Salton Sea was formed, it has begun to shrink.
As the salt levels continue to increase, it is expected to see a decrease in the wildlife that inhabits this area. This is currently an excellent fishing spot, but it's possible the fish may die out in the decades to come due to the extra salt in the water. Once a thriving tourist spot, the attraction of the Salton Sea also continues to diminish.
Aside from fishing, the Salton Sea is a also a popular place for birdwatching. Depending on the time of year you can see a variety of different birds. Migrating bird sightings tend to start in October and end around May. More than 400 species can be found here, including pelicans, herons, osprey, seagulls, and more.
Although people still come to the Salton Sea for water sports and to escape city life, this place is not as busy as it once was. Many towns have died off around the Sea, but you can still find a handful of locals who still call this place home. There aren't a ton of stores like in a big town, but there is a casino in the area! On the flip side, you will also most likely drive by a few abandoned structures as well.
The Salton Sea offers over 1,000 campsites, and has some trails, picnic sites, boat launches, and more. Please note that you're not allowed to drive on the beach in many areas so be sure to look for authorized places.
Aside from the barren desert landscape, you can still find many trains running along the Southern Pacific Railroad. The railroad specifically targeted the Coachella Valley to build on due to the excellent location in the Southwest desert to refuel and clear the engines of sand.
Surveyors created a train station in Indio, which is about halfway between Yuma, Arizona and Los Angeles, California. This ended up being a popular place and helped grow the town of Indio, formerly known as Indian Wells in the late 1800's. During the prime of the railroad, the town was booming as an agricultural center thanks the to the train business. Today, Indio is still very much alive, but totally different.
Crowds depend on the time of year. You will find it pretty empty in the warmer seasons, but a bit more popular in the cooler seasons. It is estimated that approximately 1 million people visit the Salton Sea annually. Dust storms are pretty common in this area, and paired with the smog, you can expect low visibility to occur often.
The Salton Sea may not be for everyone, but if you like nature and playing on the lake, this is a great spot. It's not too far outside of Los Angeles or San Diego, California so it would make a great weekend trip.
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