A Three Part Series:  Salton Sea, Salvation Mountain and Slab City
Salton Sea, CA and Niland, CA
By Lynn Bremner of DesertUSA.com

In late May of 2009,  I spent an afternoon driving along the eastern side of the Salton Sea and south to Niland, CA home of Slab City and the infamous Salvation Mountain.

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Since this road trip article is longer than most, I’ve divided it  into three separate posts for easier reading.  The Salton Sea was my first stop during my most recent road trip, so let me begin there.

Road Trip Series
Part 1: Salton Sea
Part 2: Salvation Mountain
Part 3: Slab City 

Part 1: The Salton Sea

The Salton Sea is an inland saline lake in the Sonoran Desert of extreme southeastern California. It occupies the Salton Basin, a remnant of prehistoric Lake Cahuilla. It is flanked on the south by the rich agricultural areas of the Imperial Valley and on the west, by Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Both the Salton Sea State Recreation Area and the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge are located on its shores.

The Salton Sea.
The Salton Sea.

Less than an hour from Indio, CA lies the Salton Sea.  Once a recreation mecca for desert snowbirds, the Salton Sea is a far cry from the vacation spot it used to be.  Due to high salt levels fewer fish are able to reproduce, so they are dying off.  The day I visited the Salton Sea the temperature was about 103 degrees.  The smell was not bad at all.  The campground and Visitor’s Center were empty.  It was the end of May, so I didn’t really expect any crowds.

A young Ring-billed Gull.
A young Ring-billed Gull.
A brown Pelican at the Salton Sea.
A brown Pelican at the Salton Sea.

My first stop was the Salton Sea Visitor’s Center located along Highway 111 on the east shore of the Salton Sea.  At this location there were some people fishing, but I didn’t see anyone else at the park.  I strolled along the shore for a short distance. From afar, it looked like white sand lined the shore, but upon closer inspection it was all crushed bones and shells.

While the sea was beautiful and the birds abundant, there isn’t much to do there unless you like to fish.  It is, however, a great place to photograph the birds and bird watch.  I stopped in several locations along the east shore, south of the Visitor’s Center, and I took pictures of seagulls, pelicans and other birds as they dove into the sea to hunt for their lunch.  As I continued south along the shoreline I passed many abandoned structures, houses and what used to be bait shops.  It was obvious that businesses have died off with the birds and the fish.  The little towns that once used to boom with winter tourists are no more than a shadow of the past.  A memory of what used to be.

White pelicans taking flight.
White pelicans taking flight.

Location-Directions to Salton Sea

30 miles south of Indio on Highway 111.  Located on the north shore of the Salton Sea, it is about a three-hour drive from the Los Angeles or San Diego areas.  From Los Angeles, take Interstate 10 east to Indio, take 86S exit then turn left at Avenue 66, then right onto Highway 111.  Go south about 12 miles to the Salton Sea SRA Headquarters entrance.  From San Diego take Highway 78 east, then left (north) on Highway 86.  Turn right at Avenue 66 and then right again onto Highway 111.  Go south about 12 miles to the Salton Sea SRA Headquarters entrance.

Road Trip Series
Part 1: Salton Sea
Part 2: Salvation Mountain
Part 3: Slab City 

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Lynn Bremner is the author of DesertRoadTrippin.com, a blog about desert road trips and tips. She started the blog after moving to Indio, CA where she now resides. Now a true desert dweller, Lynn has added in some of her own views on desert living. The heat does not keep her indoors in the summertime. She is out running, golfing or taking short day trips to some of the local points of interest. After years of traveling along the dusty, desert trails with her father, she has come to appreciate the beauty and solitude of the desert landscape. Her father’s passion for prospecting, desert lore and exploring the desert parks took their family to many interesting places, mostly in California, Nevada and Arizona. Lynn now writes about her desert road trips and intertwines a little bit of desert living into the mix. In addition to the DesertRoadTrippin’ blog, Lynn also writes articles and produces content for the DesertUSA.com, Empire Polo Lifestyle Magazine and PoloZONE.com.

4 COMMENTS

  1. grew up in elcentro. dad was a truck driver back than 30’s-40’s we drove by the lake many times…there was a navy ship on the lake than.

  2. I live for awhile in El Centro California. I visited the Salton Sea a few times. I always found it sort of “haunting”. Reading this article makes me think it is time for a road trip.

    Thanks
    Ron

  3. Robert Bashore
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    July 21st, 2009 at 9:21 am
    I lived in La Quinta, Ca for a while in the 1980& part 0f 1990’s. Did alot of camping and fishing at the Salton Sea. The sea bass where large then, alot of fun catching. Though the temp. was in the 3 digits, it was well worth it. I have fond memories of those outings. Looking forward to getting back there. I am in Texas now. Thank you for the article. As I stated, it brouhgt back good times.

  4. I’m sure the Salton Sea has changed a lot since you were there. It would be interesting to hear your perspective on it if you go back for a visit. Thanks for the comment!

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