Catching Up: Part IV – Badlands and Salton Sea

I’ve been sleeping in a tent for the last eight or nine days. Now staying at a friend’s house in Phoenix. To recap some of my experiences …

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For seven or eight days, with a couple of breaks in between, I had been using a small patch of desert just south of Joshua Tree National Park as my home base. Here is dawn over the desert on my last morning.

A couple of hours later, just minutes into my drive, I was into Box Canyon, in the California Badlands, which soon opened up into the Salton Sea, in the Imperial Valley, 80 or so miles east east of San Diego.

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You are looking at the lowest elevation beachfront property in North America, 200 feet below sea level, about the same depth as Death Valley, though considerably higher then the Dead Sea. Back in the early twenties, an engineering mishap resulted in Colorado River water filling up the 15 by 35 mile basin. The Sea remains topped up by three streams running off from the nearby mountains.

During the 50s and 60s, the popular resort towns sprung up along the shore, frequented by the likes of the Beach Boys and Sonny Bono. But dust to dust. Water levels dropped, algae blooms erupted, and the water grew more saline. The air gave off a deathly stink. Human life exists, but with a certain post-Apocalypse, Mad Max ambiance. Here’s my car, parked in Bombay, literally sinking below the surface, on the eastern shore. The good news – rents are cheap.

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And here’s a sign that explains it all …

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As for the Salton Sea, receding water levels have exposed large briny tracts of former sea bottom, not to mention fish graveyards. The increasing salinity of the water (saltier than the Pacific) has killed off all but the most hardy fish, and they, too, will go, along with the birds that feed on them. Getting to the water involved tiptoeing through rings of dead fish, their carcasses oddly preserved by the salt.

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Like any ecological disaster, there are lessons to be learned. It just may not be our species that learns them.

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