Experiencing winter bird migration, 2008 travel blog

Elevation of the sea

The beach

Salt-encrusted shore

Salt crusts

They dare to eat the numerous fish they caught

White 'sand' on the beach

Close-up of the fish bones that make up the beach

Campsite of the Desert Cahuilla indians

Our campsite

The lagoon

Visitors Center adjacent to the lagoon

This is one of the most bizarre places in California. Lying 228 feet below sea level, The Salton Sea was formed in 1905 by a disastrous breakdown of badly constructed irrigation canals. Irrigation and rain water ran unchecked for 2 years but with no outlet to the sea, water collected in this depression. Over the years the cycle of run-off and evaporation resulted in a high concentration of salt. The remarkable consequence of this unique biology is that it became a great birding site with the birds feeding on the equally large population of fish. Originally there was a variety of fish species but they were killed off by the high salt content. Now only tilapia thrive in huge numbers.

In winter the east coast of the Salton Sea is a beautiful place, with balmy breezes, sunny skies and pure white beaches.

In summer, it's a different story. Day temperatures average 120F. The water warms, the algae blooms, the fish breed profusely, and the smaller ones die off in massive numbers, poisoned by algae and lack of oxygen. The 27ft shallow depth added to evaporation, raises the salt concentration, and compounds the problem. The dead fish wash ashore and the smell of rotting fish is unbearable.

On close examination of the beautiful white beach reveals that, what is mistaken for white sand, is actually millions of crushed fish bones bleached by the relentless sun.

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