DasP Summer Stories: Salton Sea, California

Now the final exams and presentations at TU Delft are behind us, the summer holiday has finally begun. In addition to the standard vacation destinations with white beaches or romantic cities, there are some amazing alternatives where only few people go. DasP will take you this summer on a journey around the world to abandoned, dilapidated and forgotten places with a great story. This time: Salton Sea, California, USA

The Salton Sea is located in the Colorado dessert in the south of California. It was accidentally created when a dike –built for the irrigation of the area- broke and the Imperial Valley filled with water from the Colorado River.

The resulting lake, turned out to be a blessing.  Billed as “Palm Springs by the Sea”, it quickly became a tourist mecca.  First manly for Sport fishing but by the 1920s, tourists came from all over the world to experience the beautiful desert oasis. Marinas, hotels, restaurants, shops and nightclubs popped up, turning it into the ‘Riviera of California’. In the 1950 and 1960s, the lake became a hip hotspot for the rich and famous as Frank Sinatra and the Beach Boys.

However, the Salton Sea’s bright lights would quickly fade in the 1970s after its water level kept rising due several years of heavy rain. Shorefront homes, businesses, resorts and marinas flooded over and over again and the fertilizer runoffs reacted with the salty water causing large algal blooms and high bacteria levels which led to a toxic environment.  Massive amounts of rotten smelling slime soon covered the surface, killing most of the fish and birds. Within a few years, the resorts had closed, the marinas were abandoned, and all who could afford it left.


Nowadays the villages around the lake are mostly abandoned and turned in some kind of semi-ghost towns with only a few hundred inhabitants: an interesting group of outcasts that live in the sinister ruins of a bittersweet history. Interesting for photographers and filmmakers as Alma Har’el’s beautiful surreal documentary, “Bombay Beach,” and Jeff Springers Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea. Two must-sees for this summer.

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