During a trip to Palm Springs last week, I toured California’s largest lake, visited a desert ghost town, and had a meal in Mexico, all in the same afternoon. While it was not exactly the stereotypical tourist trip to Palm Springs, the city is the perfect jumping off point to explore the desert attractions in and out of the city, all within a reasonable driving distance.
As the state’s largest body of water, the Salton Sea is 376 square miles or about eight times the size of San Francisco. It was created by accident in 1905 after an agricultural canal overflowed. The northern end of the Salton Sea is about a 50-minute drive south of Palm Springs. The incongruity of a huge lake in the desert is part of what makes it so unique. But you may smell it before you see it. Algae blooms in the lake often cause a strong sulfur smell. And because of the water’s increasing salinity, more and more of the lake’s fresh water fish are dying.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Bombay Beach was a thriving resort town. But all that changed as the water became saltier and most of the fish died. The carcasses of dead fish line the lake now, which is saltier than the ocean. You can see only remnants of beachfront resort structures now. The town has the distinction of being the lowest community in the U.S.: 223 feet below sea level. The sign on the town’s bar proclaims it as the world’s lowest bar in the Western Hemisphere. Bombay Beach would be a complete ghost town except that about 300 people still live there among buildings and rubble that is left to decay.