Visiting Salton City is like stepping into a post-apocalyptic landscape. Located just a short drive from the golfing resort town of Palm Springs the contrast just couldn't be greater. Palm Springs is an awesome attraction in itself and is a great base to explore Salton City, Slab City, and Joshua Tree National Park.

Just next to Salton City is the odd and must-see squatter / seasonal snowbird community of Slab City. Slab City may seem like anarchy being "the last free place on earth" it is certainly one of America's strangest places.

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The Creation of The Salton Sea

The Salon Sea is the result of one of California's greatest environmental disasters. It was formed in 1905 when the Colorado River broke through a canal head-gate and diverted parts of the river into the Salton Basin for two years until the repairs were completed. Today it is a shallow highly saline lake about 15 by 35 miles in size.

  • Created: By An Ecological Disaster In 1905

A resort boom started partly fueled by the that in the 1900s California had lost 95% of its wetlands and inland lakes, this made Salton a critical habitat for millions of migratory birds. But by the 1970s the lake started to get poisoned as its salinity rose and contamination from agricultural runoff.

  • Wildlife: It Became And Important Refuge for Birds As Other Wetlands Disappeared
  • Impact: The Birds and Fish Are Dying

Today the lake's ecosystem is in a state of collapse and it is thought that it will become so salty that only bacteria will be able to survive. Tragically more and more of the 400 species of birds who have come to rely on the lake are also dying. Only one fish species is still managing to cling on while all the other fish species are now dead.

  • Toxic: The Water In Salton Sea Has Become Toxic

But even more than that, the former lakebed that is exposed as the lake recedes is turning into an exposed playa that is creating a public health hazard for over 650,000 people around according to CNBC.

The major cause of the Salton Sea's decline is California trying to save the water of Colorado and conserve more of it. The river is vitally important as among other things it supplies water and power for over 40 million people in California, Arizona, and beyond.

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The Rise And Apocalypse of Salton City

In the 1950s and 60s, the lake became a resort destination and communities sprung up with hotels and vacation homes along its shores. The greatest project was Salton City in Imperial County.

The population of this place was 5,611 up from just 978 in 2000. But that growth is hiding what is really going on. It was planned and developed as the largest resort community to support a population of 40,000 residents with 12,000 residential lots.

  • Planned City: 40,000 Residents with 12,000 Residential Lots
  • Actual Population: 978 in 2000 (5,611 in 2020)

The infrastructure was built, the roads, the water systems, the sewers, and the power grid for the future city of 40,000. But the people never came. The demand for property in Salton City fell drastically short of what the planners had in mind.

  • See: The Infrastructure for 40,000 People Who Never Came

In 2010 81% of the surveyed lots remains undeveloped while 38% of the habitable residences in Salton City were unoccupied. Today it really does feel like an eerie modern ghost town. Its infrastructure is developed and yet there is almost no one living there, it is haunted and mostly abandoned. Most of the homes were demolished or just never built.

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What Is Like To Visit Today

The vision was for a bustling resort community where locals could enjoy their own boat docks and stroll down the palm tree-lined streets to the beach. Today the docks are far above the receding waterline, the beaches are far from the water and the coastline is filthy squelchy mud, and the palm trees are dead sticks. To boot the sea is toxic.

Once people would come fish, swim, and bring their boats there. But it all changed from being a California desert paradise to a living hell.

  • Accommodation: Recommended To Stay In Palm Springs

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A visit to Salton City will take one into the world of dystopia movies of a world of post-apocalypse. See places like the beach of Bombay where the yacht club once hosted figures like Frank Sinatra and the Beach Boys. It is now basically deserted and badly polluted.

It may give one a feeling of disgust or send shivers down one's spine to think that 50 years ago there were restaurants, nightclubs, and golf clubs there. It has gone from a resort frequently by the wealthy elite to “The worst environmental, health and economic crisis in modern history" - CNBC

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