During a recent visit to the home of my daughter, Shannan, we went to see the Salton Sea.
Shannan lives in La Quinta, Calif., which is near Palm Springs in the Coachella Valley. The Salton Sea is also in the Coachella Valley, which made it a convenient stop on the trip.
I had traveled to La Quinta with another daughter, Adrienne, and her three children, ages 5, 3 and 8 months. I know what you are thinking about the prospects of being locked in a car with three darlings for 12 hours traveling over 600 miles in one day. But it wasn’t that bad. Really, it wasn’t. Honest. Thank goodness for portable DVD players.
Anyway, once we got there we were looking for stuff to do that didn’t take a lot of driving (see last paragraph). And since the Salton Sea is only about a half hour from Shannan’s home, and her family had never visited, we packed up the kids — Shannan’s three plus Adrienne’s three, and drove to the Salton Sea State Recreation Area.
The Salton Sea is oddly beautiful, but also unusual in an unnatural way. Until 1905, it was the Salton Sink, the dry, vast remnant of an ancient lake bed that is below sea level. But in the early 1900s some enterprising humans dug canals to bring the water from the Colorado River to the fertile land between the Salton Sink and the Bay of Cortez, where the Colorado empties into the ocean a little south of the US border.
It was a great idea until the floods of 1905, which caused a canal wall to break. For the next 18 months, the Colorado River emptied into the Salton Sink, creating an accidental sea that covers 376 square miles, making it California’s largest lake. It is saltier than the ocean, but not as salty as the Great Salt Lake.
It is a sanctuary to over 400 species of migrating birds and while many different species of fish lived in the lake at one time or another, about the only fish left is a species of tilapia which can tolerate the increasing salinity of the lake better than most fish.
But not as much as they would probably like, if you were to judge by the carcasses of dead fish we found lining the lake shore when we go there. The kids were a bit put off by the piles of the dead fish and the smell they created. But we looked around anyway.
The reactions to all the dead fish varies. Max thought they were cool, especially the way many of the fish no longer had eyes. He is five, so his fascination is understandable.
Rachel, who just turned 8, was horrified by the fish and the smell and
everything. But she bore it all with good humor, even if she makes the most horrified faces.
We had brought a lunch, so after a visit to the visitors center where we learned about the creation of the Salton Sea, and the town and railroad tracks that were covered up with the water flowed in, we found a better beach for our lunch — one away from the fish.
We saw lots of cool birds, and Rachael and I chased them up a bit so we could watch them fly. A large flock of pelicans flew by, and that was fun.
Nobody took a dip. It was kind of warm, about 70 degrees, but with all those floating fish carcasses, no one wanted to swim, or even wade.
Maybe next time we’ll visit in the summer, when the temperatures are always over 100, and then the Salton Sea won’t look so bad. But I doubt it. Next time, we’ll just make that drive to the ocean.