Salton Sea Circle

Plague or Pleasure? Explore the unique history and future of California’s inland sea

Discover the unique evolution and ecosystem of the Salton Sea. One of the world’s largest inland seas and lowest spots on earth at 227 feet below sea level, Salton Sea was re-created in 1905 when high spring flooding on the Colorado River crashed the canal gates leading into the developing Imperial Valley. For the next 18 months the entire volume of the Colorado River rushed downward into the Salton Trough. By the time engineers were finally able to stop the breaching water in 1907, the Salton Sea had been born at 45 miles long and 20 miles wide – equaling about 130 miles of shoreline.

Today, the lake, which supports diverse birds migrating along the West Coast, is fed mostly by agricultural run-off flowing into nearby rivers. See evidence of its former success as a resort, its current state of decline, and hear of elaborate plans to restore the environment. Circumnavigate the Salton Sea, making numerous stops at the unique sights that characterize the area. Learn about the ecological issues and the tenacious, eccentric residents that define the area.

At Salvation Mountain, marvel at Leonard Knight’s 50 foot by 150 foot hill made totally of local adobe clay, straw and donated paint, truly unique in the United States and probably the world. From its Sea of Galilee at the bottom, to the big red heart in the middle, to the cross at the very top, the reoccurring theme of “love” is everywhere.

Visit Slab City, a squatters community sometimes called “the last free place in America”. Its permanent population of around 150 hardy souls is supplemented by winter snowbirds. The site is both decommissioned and uncontrolled. The camp has no electricity, no running water, no sewers nor toilets, and no trash pickup service. Many use generators or solar panels to generate electricity. It takes its name from the concrete slabs that remain from the abandoned World War II Marine barracks of Camp Dunlap.

In Bombay Beach, an almost abandoned town, view the devastation of a 1990’s flood. Like many communities along Salton Sea shores, it has had to contend with fluctuating water levels. In the 1950s and ’60s, Bombay Beach in California was a thriving resort. Guests swam, water-skied, and golfed during the day, then headed to the yacht club to party into the night. Now, Bombay Beach is a bleached, rusted, abandoned wasteland.  A berm now protects the west end of the town, but a portion of the town beyond the berm is either submerged or is half-buried in mud.

Continuing northward along the eastern shore, pass through Salton Sea State State Recreation Area. It covers 14 miles of the northeastern shore and has long been a popular site for campers, boaters and anglers.  Increasing salinity in the Salton Sea basin has limited the number of types of fish that can be found there, and most fish currently caught are Tilapia. A bit father north is The North Shore Beach and Yacht Club. The Albert Frey-designed building was abandoned and vandalized for years, but was restored in 2010 and listed on the register of National Historic Places in 2015.

Pause for no-host lunch at Shields Date Garden. The cafe serves a variety of delicious items including signature salads topped with homemade dressings, sandwiches served on homemade bread, authentic Mexican cuisine (using organic/cage free eggs and hormone/antibiotic free beef.). We have arrived in the Coachella Valley, “Date Capital of the World”. Palm groves have thrived here since the 1800’s. A visit to the date garden is not just a buying experience, but a cultural experience as well. Taste many varieties of dates, date shakes, cookies, breads and pies baked fresh daily. To learn how dates are grown, watch the 15-minute film “Romance and Sex Life of the Date”, shown continuously during store hours. Stroll the magnificent garden, stopping to reflect and enjoy the beauty.

Turning southbound, drive along the west coast of the Salton Sea. The community of Desert Shores was once a thriving resort town, evidenced by the decaying motels, homes and docks surrounding the man-made “fingers” of waterfront, and streets optimistically named Honolulu, Capri and Naples. See the many now abandoned “Salton Riviera” lots purchased as investments in the 1960’s.

Surprise! The San Andreas Fault is longer than you thought. The area on the south shore is rife with geothermal activity.  We pass one of 11 geothermal power plants that churn out electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The final stop is Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge. It is situated along the Pacific Flyway, a major north-south route of travel for migratory birds in the Americas. The Refuge is the only one of its kind, located 227 feet below sea level, a sanctuary and breeding ground for birds and wild animals.  Over 400 bird species have been recorded at the Refuge and at least 93 species have nested there.

Dress comfortably and casually. Wear walking shoes — there will be several 3-4 block walks. Don’t forget your camera. There will be a breakfast stop at a fast food restaurant in Brawley, and lunch at Shields Date Garden Cafe (both no-host). There is no dinner stop — you are welcome to bring snacks.

Friday January 26

7:00 AM depart the Foothills.
7:30 AM depart Yuma.
Return anticipated 6:00 – 6:30 pm

$69 … Escorted tour includes deluxe motorcoach transportation, admissions where required.


For a description of tour policies, including cancellation penalties, click “Policies and Procedures” at the very bottom of this page.

Tour West America Yuma Tour Office . 333 S Main . Yuma, AZ  85364

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