Glimpse of the apocalypse

Before entering a vacation-induced blog hiatus, I’d just finished reading The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller. It’s a post-apocalyptic novel about a survivor who flies a Cessna 172, similar to a plane I have also piloted, around what was once Colorado. Heller uses spare prose. And sentence fragments. Sort of like this. Quite effective, in some cases.

The apocalypse came to mind when I visited the Salton Sea southeast of Palm Springs, California, last week. Thought I’d use Heller’s technique to tell you about it.

Big, salty lake. Dead fish everywhere. Dead birds too. Shells of saltwater sea life in which you sink up to your ankles. Nasty. It smells.

One of the towns along its shores, Salton City, has what I imagine to be a post-apocalyptic look. Unfinished houses. Streets with marine-themed names empty of houses. Littered with faded realtor signs promising cheap lots. Streets that have been reclaimed by desert sand. And still others that probably led to the beach once. But now the water has receded so far that they end more than a quarter-mile from water.

The Salton Sea is described in some history books as a man-made mistake. Water was diverted there from the Colorado River and other tributaries, into an area that was formerly a dry seabed. Then the diversion ended.

For a time, it was a splashy, fun place. Even had a yacht club. Idyllic for water sports. And for floating without need for water wings because of the salt content. Sort of like Watrous, Sask.

But those salts accumulated. The water receded. Fertilizer runoff from nearby fields and date palm plantations was partially blamed for lowering water quality. Farmers, the familiar whipping boys for water quality, deserved or not.

Now it looks like a place of broken dreams. A place that fun forgot. Gulls and pelicans are the only signs of life. Tilapia carcasses float near shore, bodies gently rolling in the light swell. Many lie rotting in the sand.

The local daily, The Desert Sun, reported Jan. 20 on a “Save our Sea” plan. Research shows it is one of many. This plan, spearheaded by California politician V. Manuel Perez, seems less hopeful than some floated over the last 40 years.

“The campaign includes a series of bills Perez hopes will provide a comprehensive and structured plan to prepare for the lake’s inevitable deterioration,” the Sun reported.

It is hard to imagine how the Salton Sea could be restored to any semblance of its glory days. Maybe it could. Maybe it couldn’t. Maybe it shouldn’t. Hard to tell, from one touristy visit.

It’s California, so the Salton Sea’s status has been debated, discussed, distilled, analyzed, examined, documented, documentaried, filleted and fictionalized many times over.

Interesting to see. Thought-provoking place to visit. Wouldn’t want to live there.






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