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Salton Sea in California

Visit the largest lake in California located in the desert. The Salton Sea was created due to extreme natural forces and has been changing from year to year, and may disappear in the nearest future

Salton Sea
Salton Sea
Salton Sea

What was a desert once, has turned into the largest lake in the state. Who could imagine that only a century ago the lake didn’t exist at all? The Salton Sea appeared as the result of a massive flood in 1905.

In 1900, the California Development Company started building irrigation canals, which allowed farmers to plant crops. But the heavy rains and snowmelt in 1905 made the Colorado River overflow and caused the water to pour down the canals to the Salton Sink. As a result, two new rivers were created—the New River and the Alamo River. The flooding of the Imperial Valley continued, and the Hoover Dam had to be constructed to stop it.

Nowadays this area is a large and shallow saline lake that occupies the lowest elevations of the Salton Sink in the Colorado Desert. It is located right on the San Andreas Fault. The surface of the lake is around 889 square km with the maximum depth of 13 m. The Salton Sea is fed by the New, Whitewater, and Alamo rivers.

There was the time when the lake was quite popular as a fishing and bird watching spot. It was also a popular resort with yacht clubs and golf courses everywhere around. But due to the fact that the lake has no outlet, the levels of salt and chemicals started to rise, while the volume of water remained the same. The increased concentration of toxic chemicals made the fish species die out fast and resorts became empty. Geologists say it’s a natural cycle that repeats every 500 years or so. Thus it’s better to see the biggest lake in California while it’s still there.

You can visit the lake anytime you want. But summer is not recommended because of the extreme heat. Season from October to May is the best time to visit the lake to enjoy all sorts of activities like boating, water skiing, kayaking, camping, birdwatching, and hiking.

Practical info

When was the Salton Sea created?

In 1905, heavy rains and snowmelt caused the Colorado River to overflow, flooding the Imperial Valley in California, which resulted in the formation of the Salton Sea. This large and shallow saline lake occupies the lowest elevation of the Colorado Desert and is believed to have been created in less than a year. Show more

Where is the Salton Sink located?

Found in southeastern California, the Salton Sink is surrounded by mountain ranges and is situated in the Colorado Desert. It is the lowest point of the Sonoran and Colorado deserts and is home to the Salton Sea, which is situated on the San Andreas Fault - this fault marks one of the tectonic boundaries between the Pacific and North American plates. Show more

What caused the fish species to die out fast in the Salton Sea?

As the Salton Sea has no outlet, the concentration of various chemicals in the water, most notably mercury and selenium, gradually increased while the volume of water remained the same. This led to a sharp decline in fish populations, which has been a concern for both scientists and environmentalists. Multiple initiatives have been undertaken in recent years to restore the ecological balance of the lake to its previous healthy state. Show more

When is the best time to visit the Salton Sea?

If you are looking to visit the Salton Sea, the best time to do so would be between October and May. During the summer months, temperatures can get extremely hot and may hinder your ability to enjoy certain activities, such as camping, hiking, or kayaking. However, in the fall, winter, and spring months, the temperatures are mild enough for you to go boating or take a dip in the sea while being able to savor the marvelous scenery without enduring excessive heat. Show more

How did the flooding of the Imperial Valley stop in 1905?

Following the flooding of the Imperial Valley in California in 1905, the construction of the Hoover Dam began. It was built between 1931 and 1936 by the Black Canyon of the Colorado River on the border between Arizona and Nevada. The dam was designed to serve as a flood control mechanism by trapping a substantial amount of water for later release, effectively stopping flooding in the downstream areas of the Colorado River Basin, including the Imperial Valley. Today, Hoover Dam provides water to residences and industries in the region. Show more

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Last updated: by Eleonora Provozin