Meandering in the desert: Salton Sea, CA to Kingman, AZ

The salty shore of the Salton Sea

The salty shore of the Salton Sea

Looking at the Salton Sea, I wondered how permanent is human impact on the environment?  I think the climate is changing.  But I suspect in the long run, mother nature does just about anything she pleases.

Leaving Joshua Tree National Park, we meandered down Box Canyon Road to Mecca.  (Despite its name, Box Canyon Road has an outlet.)  Then we went out again, over the desert to the Colorado River at Earp, California and followed the Colorado River north to old U.S. route 66 and then took 66 to Kingman, Arizona.  Although we had a general direction in mind, mostly we were just meandering through the Colorado, Sonora and Mojave Deserts.

A nice picnic area if you have no sense of smell.

A nice picnic area if you have no sense of smell.

The Salton Sea lies at the end of the Imperial and Coachilla Valleys.  Over thousands of years, the Colorado River changed course many times.  It entered and left the valleys.  It built up fertile soil.  It built a delta keeping the Gulf of California from filling the valley, now more than two hundred feet below sea level.  The river’s course changes created fresh water lakes, left saline lakes behind and left desert lake beds.

First Americans reported to early white settlers that the Salton Sea filled up again sometime between 1600 and 1700.  By the time the settlers arrived, however, it was a desert.

But when engineers brought water in a canal from the Colorado River to the Salton Sink, a dry lake bed in 1905, they misjudged potential flooding, and water rushed into the sea for two years before it could be controlled.

Irrigation near Mecca, CA

Irrigation near Mecca, CA

The Salton Sink again became the Salton Sea.  It became a great recreation area.  In the 1950s, the largest lake in California became home to numerous motels and campgrounds.  We saw a boat ramp that could accommodate 17 vehicles at once.

But again the water came under control. Inflows to the sea were limited. When we drove into Mecca, California at the head of the lake, we were surprised to see lush green fields and vineyards.

The water is used by those farms now.  The sea is drying up again.  The 1950s resort towns are drying up too, if not totally abandoned.  The sea’s water is becoming more saline.  There is a stink of dead fish lying along the shore.

Route 62 east of 29 Palms

Route 62 east of 29 Palms

To this point, most of the desert we had seen had lots of vegetation, even if it was mostly cactus and sagebrush.  But as we drove California 177 and 62 northeast to Earp, even early in the spring we saw les and less vegetation — it was what a Floridian imagines desert to be.

In our youth, we read how developer Robert McCulloch had dismantled the 1830 London Bridge and moved it to his planned community in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.  But when we saw it, it underwhelmed.  Perhaps there was not enough lake and too much development.

We did enjoy the drive along the Colorado River, however, noting all the snowbird’s campgrounds.  Later, our drive through the Black Mountains on old U.S. Route 66 was spectacular.

The dying communities on the Salton Sea and the ghost towns in Arizona remind us the works of man are ephemeral at best.

Click on photos to enlarge.

P.S.  Long time readers know we like to meander.  The Meander River is an actual river in modern-day Turkey that was known even in classical times [Homer’s Iliad] for its winding course.


About ralietravels

Ray and Alie (Ralie) are a retired couple who love to travel. Even during our working years, we squeezed a trip in whenever we could, often when we had to stretch the budget to do so. We have been fortunate to vacation in all 50 states, all the provinces of Canada and one territory and a little more than 50 countries. We like to drive, but we particularly love to travel back roads to find unusual sights, people, and experiences.
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