Try and picture this! A tourist town that has beaches full of white sand, luxurious yacht clubs, vacation homes, and RV parks where people come every summer and weekend for a little R&R. Now picture this. A completely abandoned tourist town where the beaches are covered with the skeleton remains of dead fish, yacht clubs full of birds, vacation homes that are long since vacant, and RV parks that have been abandoned for years. This place is called Salton City.
Salton City can be found not even 60 miles from Palm Springs, California. Palm Springs is full of beautifully maintained golf courses and 5-star hotels and resorts, but not even an hour away lies the completely abandoned Salton City. When looking at this abandoned tourist town from a distance, it still looks beautiful BUT when you get to the city itself, you can see and smell why it’s abandoned. Salton City was started as a resort town in the 60s and 70s and was thought of as “the next Palm Springs.” It was a great vacation spot for boaters, water skiers, and vacationers alike. They called it the “miracle in the desert”. There were vacation homes all about, and people enjoyed its beautiful beaches and yacht clubs while watching the sun set.
Because Salton City was not on the ocean it was a little confusing. Salton City was located by the Salton Sea which is the largest lake in California. It came about because of an accident. In 1905, there was flooding caused by the Colorado River and it caused flooding in the irrigation canals, which lead to the Salton Sink. The Salton Sink is 40 miles of deserted desert. After two years, the flooding stopped, but by then the lake had already been created. After 50 years, this lake finally became quite the vacation spot. The town had 15,000 residences, but had thousands of tourists visiting on the weekends.
While the postcards and memories make this place an enviable vacation spot, that ended in the 1970s. For some reason, masses of fish were suddenly dying and floating to the surface. But what was killing these fish? The local authorities quickly realized that the local farms were allowing their agricultural run off to go into the Salton Sea. Because this lake wasn’t necessarily made on purpose, it did not have the proper drainage system in place or an ecosystem of its own to help keep it healthy.
With the fertilizers from the local farms draining into the Salton Sea, it caused an overgrowth of algae. But when this algae died, it created a thick layer at the bottom and there was no oxygen. Because there is no oxygen, there was a bacteria that was eating all of the dead algae, which in turn created hydrogen sulfide gas. A little confusing, but as you can see, it was very, very deadly for the fish living in the Salton Sea. Hydrogen Sulfide is as toxic as cyanide and causes the central nervous system to shut down, making it so you are unable to breath. Hydrogen Sulfide was actually used as a poisonous gas during the first World War. This poisonous gas ended up killing up to 7 million fish at one time, but then the birds that ate the fish also got sick and died. The residents even stated that they could smell and taste this gas in the air. For a town that is trying to bring in the tourism dollar, this is definitely not ideal.
After the fish and birds started dying, and the air smelled and tasted like gas, the tourists stopped coming. Because of this, the whole town basically shut down. Vacation homes were abandoned, buildings were stopped mid-construction, and even things like RVs and boats were just left behind. Most of the 15,000 residents have long left this tourist town, but still, a few hundred of them decided to stay behind.
After being abandoned for decades, you can definitely tell the type of effects that the water, salt, and sun have left behind.