The Salton Sea

As we were driving south along the Colorado River, Carol asked, “Did you know we won’t be far from the Salton Sea?”

“Are you kidding!” I exclaimed. “How far is it?”

“Driving west on I-10, if we turn south on Highway 86, it’s about 20 miles, or so.”

“I am a Californian. I grew up in El Cajon in San Diego County, and I’ve never been to the Salton Sea!” I exclaimed. “One time when I was in seventh grade, dad preached in Brawley near the Sea, and I knew it was over a hundred miles away. Back in the mid-1950s that was a long distance. None of us went with him because we were needed in our home church. But now I want to complete my California childhood and visit the Salton Sea. By the way, how far is the lake from San Diego?”

DSCN0333“If you get there by driving on the freeways through Riverside, it is about 182 miles; and if you go through the mountains through Julian, it is about 138 miles. But if you get there by helicopter, it is only about 70 miles.”

“Let’s go!” So we did – but not by helicopter.

Several thousand years ago (after the flood in Noah’s time) the lake was approximately 105 miles long and 300 feet deep. That lake had long-since dried up, as did the lake in Death Valley. The area is called the Salton Sink which is in a low area of the Salton Trough, and is often referred to as the Colorado Desert due to its proximity to the Colorado River. The lowest spot is 277 feet below sea level.

Throughout the centuries, the area has alternately been a shallow lake and dry desert plain. Heavy rains and snow runoff from the Sierra Nevada Mountains periodically flooded the Salton Sink, and one of the worst storms was in 1862 when the area was again submerged, creating a lake 60 miles long and 30 miles wide. That 1862 storm wreaked havoc in the entire western third of our country.

The present lake was formed in 1905 when engineers with the California Development Company were trying to increase water flow from the Colorado River into the valley for farming. But the powerful river overcame their barriers, gouged deep channels into the land, and poured into the Salton Sink basin for eighteen months. The engineers were finally able to stop the flow in 1907. Interestingly, the Salton Sea sits squarely on a portion of the San Andreas Fault.

We turned south on Highway 86. Carol took many pictures of palm tree groves, animals, low-flying military jets, and cloud formations. Looking south, we could see in the distance what looked like a rain squall forming, so we decided not to spend too much time at the lake.

The lake is currently about thirty-five miles long and fifteen miles wide. The surface is 228 feet below sea level, and the deepest part of the lake is about 49 feet deep. But this varies annually depending on rain and snow melt.

We were surprised at what we found. We saw many sand-covered streets and vacated houses with broken windows. We did see a few sandy residential areas with very small town centers, but the thriving resort and retirement communities I had read about years ago seemed to be non-existent. The lake had been receding in the past several decades but more rapidly during the recent California drought. The badly-receding shoreline was salt-encrusted, and badly deteriorated boats were rotting in the salty sand.

After stopping at four locations, I had seen enough. I wished I had seen the Salton Sea fifty-seven years earlier.

Then we saw what we thought was a rain squall. Wrong! It was full-blown sand-storm! We had a choice: either we could continue south forty miles in the midst of the length of the storm to Brawley, or drive across the storm for twelve miles. Either way, we would drive slowly for we couldn’t see very well more than 75 feet ahead of us. We chose the shorter hazard.

After ten minutes of a sandy blizzard, we were out of it; we could see blue skies, and the beautiful mountains ahead … all through a pitted windshield.

But that sand-storm reminded me of something else. If we patiently “weather the storms of life” without panicking, keeping our faith and trust in God, the Lord will bring us through to the “blue skies” on the other side; and we can see life more clearly. 

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