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My Brother Sent Me Sightseeing to a Toxic Lake

by Brenda Mahler 16 days ago in nature

Sometimes a vacation provides learning opportunities

Image of Salton Sea Lake from author's photo album

A couple months ago, while I sat at our Cabin surrounded by four feet of snow, my brother and his wife sent a picture of a beautiful beach they visited in California, where they live for six months as snowbirds. They had driven to Salton Sea Lake about an hour from their home in Desert Sands. It looked beautiful and alluring. I desired to be there. So as my husband and I started planning for our pilgrimage to warmer weather, I included this destination on our itinerary.

When we first arrived at Sky Valley Resort earlier this month, it felt like an oasis in the desert, in fact it is just that. So, for the first three weeks we enjoyed the hot tubs, walking paths, golf, and many hours of playing games. The winds blew strong most afternoons, so we often retreated indoors late in the day. But yesterday, the forecast promised sunny skies and a cool breeze. The time had come for a beach get away.

I adorned a sundress, large-brimmed hat, and coated all exposed flesh with sunscreen, gathered supplies for Dagney, our dog, who would accompany us and excitedly climbed into the passenger side of our Mini Cooper. With Randy behind the wheel, we headed for the beach. Based on my brother’s description, I was excited to walk in the shell covered sand. I entered our destination into Google maps and sat back to enjoy the view.

As we approached closer to the lake, the surroundings took on a gloomy appearance: dry, desolate, abandoned. When we turned onto a road that declared beach access, my expectations coupled with reality conflicted my emotions. Our surroundings not only scared our eyes but insulted our noses. After calling my brother for clarity, I felt relief to learn we traveled the wrong way. Google directed us to the lake, but we wanted to be at the state park, a forty-minute drive to the other side.

My husband and I agreed we had come this far so let’s do it. When we turned the curve to the north side of Sultan Sea Lake, businesses displayed life and a few palm trees splattered the area, some improvement. At the park, we paid the $7.00 entrance fee still holding hope, even though warnings flashed all around.

The hard, dry ground, smell of rotten eggs and brown scum line where the water met the coast prompted questions about my brother’s mental stability. I could only assume the warmer weather had changed the environment to provide a much different experience from my brother’s.

Curiosity kills the cat and enlightens the mind

Upon returning to our car, my research began by Googling Salton Sea Lake. I wanted to learn what had happened to transform this once thriving area into a wasteland.

Image from author's photo album

Interesting facts

When I walked on the beach my feet sunk in what I thought to be seashells that had washed up. In some places leaving several inches of colored debris. Just as explained, the ground lived up to the promises. Research shared some other interesting information.

The white sand is, in fact, not sand at all. It is actually just pulverized bones from the millions of fish that died here. The water is actually murky brown; the blue color is only a reflection of the desert sky. And you cannot possibly ignore the putrid stench – like a large fish market that only sells rotten fish. - From Salton Sea Beach – A Graveyard Made Up of Millions of Fish Bones

  • It is one of the lowest points in the country at 280 feet below sea level
  • The lake formed when a Colorado River diversion broke
  • At its origin it was 400 square miles
  • Its salinity is three times that of salt water
  • Mud volcanoes and ponds have been formed by geothermal activity

Alarming headlines

What's wrong with the Salton Sea?

Terminal lakes like the Salton Sea are naturally volatile environments, subject to changes in composition and ecology over time.

The Salton Sea is sustained mostly by agricultural runoff replete with fertilizers, causing algal blooms that can provoke fish die-offs.

Agricultural runoff loads the lakebed with fertilizers, which are then introduced into the air as the shoreline recedes. This poses a public health risk to a region with already poor air quality, a risk which is compounded by economic vulnerability experienced by local communities.

As an agricultural sump, Salton Sea does not receive the same protections that most wildlife areas do.

The Salton Sea represents one of very few remaining wetland habitats in California, presenting an existential threat to migratory species.

As the Salton Sea shrinks, it leaves behind a toxic reminder of the cost of making a desert bloom

Preliminary results confirm the community’s concerns about respiratory problems in children.

The valley’s air frequently falls below federal air-quality standards. One in five children in the area surrounding the Salton Sea have asthma, a rate three times higher than the rest of the state.

Dust Rising: As California’s largest lake dries up, it threatens nearby communities with clouds of toxic dust

There’s another source of pollution in the valley that poses a major risk, though it’s only starting to make itself felt: the Salton Sea. An enormous blue void at the north end of the Imperial Valley, the Salton Sea once attracted more visitors than Yosemite. But California’s largest lake is now mostly forgotten, and those who know of it don’t have flattering things to say: they’ll tell you about vast beaches where the sand is made of fish bones; about eerie, half-abandoned Mad Max-esque communities; and most of all, its noxious emissions. In 2012, the Salton Sea burped up a cloud of sulfurous odor so thick that residents in Los Angeles 150 miles away were hit by the nauseating smell of rotten eggs.

Frightening truths and experts' fears

  • Children near the lake suffer from higher rate of asthma
  • Toxic dust covers the communities
  • Dirt is laced with chemicals and carcinogens
  • Poor air quality causes respiratory problems
  • A community of limited resources has resulted

On this day, Randy and I had an adventure

Though our day didn't turn out as we expected, we enjoyed our adventure. The drive provided some beautiful desert scenery. Dagney, our dog, found some open spaces where she could run free. And we got to eat some McDonalds French fries. It reminded me to be open to new experiences and embrace them as opportunities.

I ended the day learning about a new, unfamiliar area and was reminded that human's impact on our Earth requires temperance and dedication to preservation. This article started out to be humorous but ended up teaching me a lesson and I hope it shared information with the reader. If you are ever near Saltan Sea Lake, stop by and explore. I found it both fascinating and disturbing but a reality that makes a statement.

Brenda Mahler
Brenda Mahler
Read next: Camping > Hotels
Brenda Mahler

Stories about life that inspire emotions - mostly humor.

Lessons about writing based on my textbook, Strategies for Teaching Writing.

Poetry and essays about the of art of being human.

I write therefore, I am.

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