|Feet on the Salton Sea - Winter Solstice 2014|
I had read about the Salton Sea over the years, and most of what I read was not good. It is a dismal, smelly desert wasteland. All the fish are dead because there is so much agricultural waste flowing and blowing in, and there is such a high evaporation rate, that nothing can survive. The detritus of mid–20th century human endeavor litters the shoreline. It used to be a fun vacation spot but has deteriorated over the decades. It is a “fake” sea, anyway, so why go there?
Try telling that to the millions of birds that use the Salton Sea as a migration stopover or year–round habitat. See what they say!
|Great egret and unidentified gulls|
What is the Salton Sea, anyway?
The Salton Trough, where the Sea is found, is a rift valley where the Earth’s crust is stretching and sinking along the boundary between the North American and Pacific plates. I had long ago learned that the Sea is located at the southernmost point of the San Andreas Fault, a transform boundary. But what I did not know until a week or so ago is that it is also located at the northern termination of the East Pacific Rise, a divergent boundary. The Salton Trough is a landlocked extension of the Gulf of California.
|Image courtesy of earthobservatory.nasa.gov|
A remnant of a larger prehistoric Lake Cahuilla, the Salton Sea is California’s largest lake. Like the Great Salt Lake in Utah, it is a closed basin, where water is lost to either evaporation or seepage into the ground. There are no surface rivers or streams draining the Sea to transport its waters away to the ocean.
|Great egret and white pelican on the edge of the Salton Sea|
|Kayak with a ranger!|
|Setting out to sea|
Lake Cahuilla is believed to have been six times the size of its latest incarnation, the Salton Sea. However, when 16th century Spanish explorers first entered the area they found a dry lakebed. Indian legends, though, told of the existence of a large body of water in the valley to the west.
|Winter Solstice kayak on the Sea|
By 1903 over 100,000 acres were being irrigated with Colorado River water in what was being called “The Imperial Valley.” Two years later, floodwaters of the river breached irrigation canal works. For 18 months, until the breach was repaired, water flowed relentlessly into the basin and so created the modern Salton Sea. Then and now, agriculture is possible in the Imperial and Coachella valleys of southeastern California because of the massive thicknesses of silt that accumulated in the prehistoric lakebed.
|Appreciating the little things - a calm sea and no headwind|
The Salton Sea is an important wetland along the Pacific Flyway. Nearly half of the 900 species of North American birds have been seen at the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, more than any other location in the country except for the gulf coast of Texas. Once upon a time the Colorado River delta offered critical habitat for birds when the Salton Sea evaporated. Now that the delta no longer exists in Mexico, it is vital that the Salton Sea ecosystem be maintained.
|Great egret on takeoff|
|Winter solstice sunset on the Salton Sea|