Only 150 miles from my corner of Los Angeles, the Salton Sea is a world away. It is a land of glimmering heat and desert scrub, American flags and big rig trucks hauling produce towards the city. I was out there on a brief visit to my sister. In her bathroom are all manner of cowboy artifacts, such as drawer pulls in the shape of longhorn cattle heads, and a stack of “American Rifleman” magazines perched on the edge of a whirlpool bathtub. Indeed, she is a real-life horsewoman, riding in a posse, and all that. In her front yard an old covered wagon has halted its journey. So much of this landscape looks like my childhood years in Arizona, and it also carries the feeling of those years.
I was surprised to learn that the Salton Sea is the largest lake in California. It is man-made. In fact, it exists because of a catastrophic accident. In 1900 engineers built canals to divert water from the Colorado River. Within a few years, silt filled the canals. Dredging began, then came heavy rains. A dike was breached. More mistakes ensued, and the flow of water gouged a waterfall into the sandy basin, which is 234 feet below sea level. At one point it was feared that this trough would work its way backward to the Colorado River itself, at which point the mistake could never be fixed.
Obviously, the problem was finally solved. Today the Salton Sea is a major site of avian diversity. In fact, it is a significant stop on the Pacific flyway migration path. Due to the fact that the Salton Sea lies smack on top of the San Andreas Fault, there are geothermal bubbling mudpots. I foresee more excursions in the near future.