DesertUSA’s Guide to the Salton Sea

The Salton Sea: Past and Present

The Salton Sea is a shallow, saline lake located in the California desert. Both the Salton Sea State Recreation Area and the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge are located on its shores. Read more about the Salton Sea: Past and Present.

One of the best areas for bird watching in Southern California is the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). The refuge was established in 1930 by presidential proclamation. Read more about birdwatching at the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge.

Over the years I’d heard tales of an old abandoned Naval Station on the western shores of the Salton Sea. Atomic bomb practice runs, movie sets, seaplanes and Navy seals were all said to have been part of its curious history. More about Salton Sea Test Base.

Most people don’t know that there are active volcanoes in Southern California. They are the Salton Buttes, five lava domes in areas named Mullet Island, Obsidian Butte, Red Island, and Rock Hill. Read more about mud pots and volcanos located at the Salton Sea.

Bombay Beach is located in Imperial County, California, on the eastern shore of the Salton Sea. The city has a small population of only about 200 people. Bombay Beach and its surrounds have been reinvented as a destination for desert art. Read more about Bombay Beach and the art installations. 

Nearby Points of Interest

This colorful canvas is Painted Canyon, a high-walled, narrow gorge tucked within the 41,300 acres of the Mecca Hills Recreation Area of California. Read more about Painted Canyon and the Mecca Hills Recreation Area.

Located 15 miles east of the City of Indio in the greater Palm Springs region, is one of the most popular hiking trails in the Coachella Valley, Ladder Canyon. Ladder Canyon Hiking Trail is located in the Mecca Hills Wilderness area, managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  Read more about Ladder Canyon Hike.

A few miles east of Niland, California, is an area know as the Slabs (Slab City) and a man-made mountain called Salvation Mountain. The Slabs have been referred to both as “the last free place on earth” and an “anarchist RV town.” The site was the location of Camp Dunlap, a U.S. Marine Corps base activated on October 15, 1942 as a training facility during World War II. Squatters and Boondockers have taken up roost at this old, abandoned military base. Read more about Salvation Mountain. and Slab City


Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is tucked into the southeastern corner of California. Running about 25 miles east to west and 50 miles north to south, it is California’s largest state park encompassing more than 600,000 acres. There are more than 500 miles of roads in the park. There are routes up rocky hills, through deep sand, along scenic streams and down steep hills. Both primitive jeep roads and paved roads are also open to bicycles. Read more about Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.