Sojourn to the Salton Sea
When I was last in Palm Springs for the Modernism Week Preview I decided to take a side trip to a place I’d long been wanting to visit – the Salton Sea. This inland ocean created by accident a century ago long fascinated me but it was so out of the way that I never got around to visiting. Even staying in Palm Springs it would still be an hour’s drive but I was determined to see it and headed out one sunny Saturday morning.
From Palm Springs it’s a lonely ride along highway 111 to the sea and I passed through several desert towns on the way. At 343 square miles the Salton Sea is California’s largest lake and I decided to spend my visit at the state recreation area on its north shore.
At the state park is a small visitor’s area that details the sea’s unique history. Thousands of years ago the area was once part of the Gulf of California but it eventually was closed off leaving a natural land basin. In 1905 an engineering mishap caused Colorado River water to flow into the basin for 18 months creating the current Salton Sea.
The Salton Sea is a saltwater lake and since its most recent formation the water has evaporated on a regular basis causing it to get saltier and saltier. As such, much of the fish population has died off. In fact, it’s shoreline isn’t sand but ground up bones!
That being said the Salton Sea is one of the most unique places I’ve ever visited. I wouldn’t call it picturesque but it has an eerie, otherworldly quality that is extraordinary.
At one point the area was a popular recreation destination and resorts lined the shore. In fact, when my dad was a little boy my grandpa would take him fishing there. Now, it’s mostly desolate and there are only ruins of it’s former resorts. Although, there is one iconic building that, happily, has since been restored.
The North Shore Beach & Yacht Club was built in 1960 and designed by renowned architect, Albert Frey. Once the centerpiece of a resort that hosted such famed personalities as The Beach Boys and Jerry Lewis it fell into disrepair as the area stopped becoming a desirable place to visit. Luckily, in 2009 the property was restored and now serves as a Riverside County community center.
On my visit the center was open for a community celebration and I was lucky enough to go inside and look around.
The highlight is a huge panoramic window offering unparalleled views of the sea. I can only imagine how wonderful this might have been during its heyday. While I visited I could hear children laughing and playing in an adjoining room and it made me so happy that such an iconic structure is still being enjoyed by people today.
Before I left the area there was one more stop I had to make.
The International Banana Museum is housed in a former bar in the tiny town of Mecca. Only open at the whim of its proprietors I was lucky to arrive just as their day began. I was joined by several other enthusiasts and happily discovered a whimsical world inside.
Bananas here. Bananas there. Bananas everywhere! I never knew there were so many items celebrating the tropical fruit! I spent a good deal of time exploring and then sidled up to the bar for a delicious chocolate banana shake for the road.
Intent on heading straight back to Palm Springs I found myself waylaid in the city of Indio when I saw a sign for the Coachella Valley History Museum. As the day was still young I decided to stop in and ended up taking an extensive tour where I learned all about the history of the area.
It truly is a fascinating region and the museum houses an extensive collection of historical items. As the area is primary known for its date production there are several displays devoted to it and a small grove of date palms.
I especially enjoyed visiting the beautifully restored 1909 Indio Schoolhouse.
Prior to its restoration it was used as a garage for school district vehicles and was on the verge of demolition. Now, it’s a lovingly restored reminder of how far the desert community has come since its small town days.
The more I visit the Coachella Valley the more I’m convinced it’s one of the most fascinating areas in all of California. From it’s unique inland sea to its thriving date palms its filled with unique sites that can only be found in our beautiful state.