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Deadland

February 9, 2019

20190204_170056-01_resizedThe Salton Sea has been calling to me for years. My friend Joe Nichols had taught elementary school down there and had described the strange, hot, brutal countryside.

Even though Joe was long gone (he moved to the East Coast before he died) I wanted to visit to see where he had lived and to see the Sea. I didn’t want to go during the hot part of the year, and the hot part lasts about 9 months per year, so I kept missing my window, year after year.

Some background: the Salton Sea is California’s largest lake, and it is dying. Created by mistake, it was doomed from almost the beginning. An extreme rate of evaporation combined with industrial agriculture on its shores have left the formerly great lake a saline, shrinking, toxic pond.

The shores of the lake are dotted by failed housing developments (“Lots $4995” read signs), closed businesses and graffitied-over abandoned homes. The roads are so cracked and buckled by extreme heat and neglect that there are moguls, and driving Gladis felt like riding a particularly high-strung dolphin.

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And yet the lake is beautiful, rimmed in the distance by desert mountains. The winter clouds pour across the lake in dramatic bands creating ripples of light and shadow. At sunrise and sunset, the mountains are aflame with reds, orange and pinks right up until the point where darkness falls.

20190205_070424-01_resizedPeople still hang on here. They have to. For some, this was where their single-wide vacation mobile home was, and they ran out of other options. They build structures over the roofs of their metal homes to try to survive the long summers.

Other people are farm workers, braving temperatures of up to 120 degrees to bring us food year-round.

These are the people whose children and grandchildren Joe served as a teacher. He didn’t start teaching until he was in his 40s. He admitted that there were many nights where he laid on the floor drinking ice water, drained from facing the challenges of being a beginning teacher in a blistering climate.

“But the kids are so great,” he said. “I feel like I have to stay here for them.”

I thought of Joe as I drove around and slept on the shores of the Salton Sea. The wind blew hard and the air was tinged with something sharp and metallic. I had never been somewhere so strangely beautiful. I can’t stop thinking about it.

Joe is gone and soon the lake will be gone, too. I wonder who will teach the children then.

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This was on the shore of the lake. Now it is about half a mile away because the lake has shrunk.

107 Comments
  1. March 3, 2019 21:54

    Interesting read about an interesting place. Anthony Bourdain paid a visit to Bombay Beach at Salton Sea in No Reservations.

    • March 5, 2019 07:30

      Now I have to look up that episode. I interviewed him one time- he was so great.

  2. March 3, 2019 23:29

    Ok

  3. March 3, 2019 23:57

    Great

  4. March 3, 2019 23:59

    Beautiful

  5. March 4, 2019 01:18

    The Earth is full of places to see really. That’s why we need to get out of the lanes of hot tourism spots and see the hidden treasures regularly.

    • March 5, 2019 07:30

      Yes, I tend to fall in love with everywhere I go.

  6. Nirmal Roy permalink
    March 4, 2019 01:51

    hi

  7. Anonymous permalink
    March 4, 2019 02:34

    Nice

  8. March 4, 2019 03:00

    Reading your blog brought me into Salton Lake. I’m afraid that place will just be the same here in Philippines because of pollution but our President currently started cleaning the major lakes around Manila.

    • March 4, 2019 19:53

      That is good to know. Maybe California can follow your lead.

  9. March 4, 2019 03:17

    Photography superb….

    • March 4, 2019 19:51

      Thank you! I use my Samsung S7 for my photos.

  10. March 4, 2019 04:45

    Amazing! Post! Check mine if you like so.

  11. March 4, 2019 05:22

    wow nice wapsite…..

  12. March 4, 2019 05:27

    I believe each individual starts somewhere…It really improve and inspire alot to do more out of myself nor through divine order…wow wordEXpress my felling oui oui

  13. March 4, 2019 06:18

    This was beautiful. I look forward to reading more from you.

  14. March 4, 2019 06:24

    Love the way you worded this 😍

  15. March 4, 2019 07:24

    You have one fact incorrect, and missed other vital ones. The hot part of the year is not 9 months, it’s about 4. You missed the fact that once the lake dries up, it will potentially contaminate the best winter farmland in the country. So say goodbye to winter vegetables, or at least the ones you can afford. You also only showed the dying parts of the community, not any of the new buildings and houses that were built in Salton City in the last 10 years. You didn’t notice that because of the salt content and the elevation, this is the fastest water in the world. You put up a photo of Johnson’s Landing when it was closed. You should see it when we have the 4th of July fireworks and half the town is there. You never kayaked on the sea, or fished there it seems. You have missed so much.

    • March 4, 2019 13:47

      There are 7 months where the average high is over 90 degrees, so I’ll split that with you. To me, that is hot. I stayed at Johnson’s Landing and it was very much open. I didn’t have time to kayak and I don’t fish, but if I go back, maybe I will. Thanks for commenting.

  16. March 4, 2019 09:32

    great…go trough my website also

  17. March 4, 2019 15:06

    I had no idea some residents still hung on. It looks like quite a challenge.

    • March 4, 2019 19:56

      Yes, there are quite a few people, but scattered over a lot of territory.

  18. Elliott Asbury permalink
    March 4, 2019 18:45

    I have heard of this place. Your description is lovely and the photos are amazing. Great stuff!

    • March 4, 2019 19:56

      Thank you. I plan to do a lot more traveling.

    • March 5, 2019 07:28

      Thank you. I love traveling and plan to do a lot more.

  19. Brittany Rose permalink
    March 5, 2019 05:01

    Beautiful.. I’d love to visit someday. The first picture was so eerie

    • March 5, 2019 07:27

      It is well worth the trip. Take your camera. It’s also a good place for meditation. Someone recommended kayaking, which would also be so nice because there aren’t many people out on the water.

  20. March 5, 2019 05:19

    Wonderful !

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