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Abandoned places: Salton Beach resort


Beaches are universally recognized as popular vacation spots and with good reason.

Clear blue waters under the open sky with sand beneath your feet invoke up an image of summer fun and enjoyment making white sandy beaches quite literally, visions of an idealistic getaway.

The Salton Beach - a veritable oasis set in a desert not 60 miles from Palm Springs in California was once the very embodiment of that image.

The beach was a result of the Salton Sea, which is the largest lake in California.

The formation of the sea however, was a complete accident.


After flooding in 1905 caused the Colorado River to overflow from the man-made irrigation canals into the Salton Sink - which was 40 miles of pure desert - the largest lake in California was formed even before the flooding - that lasted two years - stopped.

What was originally desert land would go on to become a popular home and holiday destination.

To capitalise on the lake's popularity, M Penn Philips and the Holly Sugar Corporation began developing a town called Salton City in the 1950s.


It was officially established in 1958.

Its location and popularity caused the population to swell to 15,000 people easily without including the thousands that flooded in over the weekends.

The Salton beach resort eventually became a shining beacon, a miracle upon the sands.

A true oasis on the desert.

It was not long before golf courses, restaurants, yacht clubs and hotels began popping up alongside vacation homes.

Celebrities would sail their boats into port and dock at Salton City to go water skiing alongside the wealthy businessmen and politicians.  

However, despite having a sizeable community in a popular real estate area, very little development and additions were made outside beach-related improvements. This was attributed to its isolation and lack of diverse employment opportunities.

Being a small location based around a business borne out of cashing in on the man-made lake, the industry in Salton City was small and saturated.


But for a time, it thrived.

The resort and residential real estate alongside Salton's beaches became a playground for the rich, famous and powerful.

Yet, for all its attraction and wonder, the Salton Sea with its growing population was in for a rude shock.

Originally a freshwater lake, constant salt-heavy soil - remnants from a prehistoric ocean - was steadily flowing into the Salton Sea.

Salinity rose to dizzying heights by the ‘70s and in addition to the toxic material waste leaking in from a nearby company and pesticides from the Imperial Valley agricultural fields, more salt and pollutants were added to the lake.

The Salton Sea became a poisonous cauldron. The fish began to die and the birds that ate the fish died too.

This was so prevalent that it was tragically common to see millions of dead birds and fish floating on the water - where the salt content was 30% higher than the Pacific Ocean.

Eventually, the sea rose and the homes and establishments close by were invaded by the rust-colored water. Residents claimed to be able to also taste and smell the gas in the air.


This gas was a result of hydrogen sulphide which, like cyanide, causes severe damage to the central nervous system. It kills people by destroying their ability to breath.

In World War 1, it was used as poison gas.

Suffice to say, by the mid 1980s, the once vibrant resort became a ghost town that was drowning in contaminated water and saturated with poisonous air.

The constant berating of sun, water and salt turned the affected areas into a dystopian cemetery where the buildings and abandoned RVs (recreational vehicles) became tombstones.

Attempts were made to bring back the vitality of the area before the lake became so thoroughly polluted but other than reigniting interest through a museum not much else has happened.

A large part of this failure is due to increasing salinity.                                        

Currently, there's no way for the water to flow out naturally. With more salt washing in regularly combined with evaporation, the salt percentage just grows.

At an increase of 1% per annum, it would take a lot of effort and money to build a dam and purification system to begin fixing it.


Plans have been drawn up - even approved by government officials -to reinvigorate the town but nothing came out of it.

For now, it is awash with sand, salt and rust-colored water.

Will Salton City ever see a revival?

It is possible but unless a real need for it to exist ever crops up, there is little reason to think that Salton City will rise from its depths, in our lifetime at least. 

As the years blow by and salinity rises, it won't be long before the desert reclaim the area and turn the sad story of Salton City into another Atlantis of the sands.


For more pictures of abandoned cities around the world, check out our Pinterest board!

Written by: Christopher Chitty

Interested in abandoned cities? Here's a few more you might like;

5 Abandoned cities in the world

Lost Cities: Atlantis of the Sands

Mysterious places: Hashima Island

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