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Our Mission

Salton Sea The mission of the California Department of


Parks and Recreation is to provide for the
health, inspiration and education of the
people of California by helping to preserve
State Recreation Area
At the Salton Sea,
the state’s extraordinary biological diversity,
protecting its most valued natural and
cultural resources, and creating opportunities
for high-quality outdoor recreation.

millions of migrating
birds, fifteen hundred
campsites, and

California State Parks supports equal access.


generous fishing
Prior to arrival, visitors with disabilities who
need assistance should contact the park at
limits entice more
(760) 393-3059. To receive this publication in
an alternate format, contact: than 100,000 visitors
each year.
CALIFORNIA STATE PARKS
P. O. Box 942896
Sacramento, CA 94296-0001
For information call: (800) 777-0369
(916) 653-6995, outside the U.S.
711, TTY relay service

www.parks.ca.gov
Discover the many states of California.™

Salton Sea State Recreation Area


100-225 State Park Road
North Shore, CA 92254
(760) 393-3059 or (760) 331-9944

© 2008 California State Parks Printed on Recycled Paper


A long the PARK HISTORY The native people may have met their
northeastern edge Native People first Europeans in 1540 when Melchior
of the Salton Sea— Perhaps two Diaz explored the area for Hernán Cortés.
one of the world’s thousand years ago, Later Juan Bautista de Anza, looking for a
most important the Cahuilla and trade route, traveled through the Salton
winter stops for other native groups Sink in 1774.
birds traveling the occupied these Historians estimate that as many as
Pacific Flyway— lands. When they 10,000 Cahuilla once lived here. Their first
Salton Sea State Salton Sea first arrived, the encounter with Anglo-Americans came in
Recreation Area is a Salton Sink held a the 1840s, when they permitted travelers
birdwatcher’s delight. Birds begin arriving by much larger body of water—the ancient Lake to pass through their lands. By the 1850s
tens of thousands in October. By January the Cahuilla—well above sea level. Cahuilla oral the Cahuilla lands had been given to
wings of more than 400 species of migrating traditions told of a huge freshwater lake, full settlers, and the native people lost the
birds form living clouds across crystal clear of fish and teeming with abundant wildlife. resources they needed to survive. Finally,
skies. By May most of them have continued Archaeological proof of the ancient lake’s the introduction of diseases to which
to their ultimate destinations, but while they existence comes from early house pits, they had no immunity nearly decimated
make use of the Salton Sea’s rich offerings, middens and various artifacts found along the Cahuilla. Today, about 3,000 Cahuilla
the birds are an unforgettable sight. former sandbars, creeks and washes. descendants live on reservations
Typical of the Colorado Desert area, Tradition held that this enormous lake administered by elected tribal councils.
average low and high temperatures in spring covered the entire valley. As it shrank, the The Cahuilla have revived their traditional
and fall range from about 50 to 85 degrees. people moved their villages down from ceremonies, languages and crafts, and
July and August are the hottest months, with the mountains and settled in the areas they are passing these skills on to the next
75-degree mornings and afternoons well once covered by water. Their fishing camps generation.
over 100 degrees. Winter days average 60 generally followed the contours of that
degrees, but nights can drop to freezing. ancient lake, and they built fish traps of
stones in the lake’s shallower waters.
a
Whit pi ins
ewa a
THE salton sea, 1905

un o
te Coachella

Mo roc
THE SEA’S GEOLOGICAL HISTORY

t
rR

O
iver Geologically, the Salton Sink is a
In 1905, the flooding Colorado River was landlocked extension of the Gulf of
Flo Salton accidentally diverted into the Salton California. The Salton Sea, California’s
ode largest lake, is 35 miles long, 15 miles
Ro dS
o
Sink, thus creating the current Salton Sea.
sa Sa wide, and 227 feet below sea level. Unlike
M nta
ou ut
nt he Pa
Ch
oc
most lakes, it has no natural outlet flowing
ain rn cif
s ic R ol to the ocean; whatever flows in, including
.R. a
t agricultural runoff, does not flow out.
Salton restle

te
Sea The sea is bordered by the Santa Rosa

M
Borrego un

o
So ta and Coyote Mountains to the west, the
uth in
ern s
Pa Co Orocopia Mountains to the north, and the
cif lo ra d
ic o Chocolate Mountains to the east. This
R.
R. present body of water is only the latest

R iv
Coyote Mo
Alamo
un Levee

er
ta Block of many lakes that have filled this basin
i
over the years, sometimes for centuries
ns

R iv

Imperial at a time, which explains the remains of


er

Ne El Centro Yuma r both freshwater and sea creatures that can


w Blocked G il a Ri v

e
Ri
ver Intake be seen high in the surrounding hills and
CALIFORNIA
mountains.
Mexicali C anal
CALIFORNIA BAJA CALIFOR
NI A
Imper
ial The Salton Sink basin was originally
Levee the northern part of what is now the Gulf
Cut of California. Flowing from the Rocky
ARI
ZON
A
SON Mountains to the gulf, the river scoured
ORA
out the formations of Arizona’s Grand
Levee r Canyon. In wet times, the river would fill
iv e

Breach the sink; at other times, it would bypass the


Colorado R

S sink, causing the lake to shrink or even to


disappear.
on

At times the gulf waters would flow


or

a
H
Al

an
rd

Riv upwards to meet the river, depositing salt


lu

al
vi

F sa water and sediment. With nowhere else


er

e
lo

to flow, these deposits formed a delta—a


od

fan-shaped plain—southeast of the Salton


Pl
ai

N Sink.
n

Alluvial Flood Plain


Gulf of
© 2008 California State Parks California
THE “ACCIDENTAL SEA” subsided. By then the lake had flooded THE PRESENT SALTON SEA
During the late 1800s, the California nearly 350,000 acres in the alluvial plain. The Salton Sea supports significant
Development Company (CDC) The Salton Sea is so large that from some segments of many migratory bird
envisioned an agricultural empire in vantage points, the earth’s curvature populations that eat fish. Unfortunately,
the Colorado Desert. But they needed hides the opposite shore. the sea’s rising salinity threatens its
water to irrigate the fields and By the 1950s, the Salton Sea had vital importance to more than 400 bird
orchards they dreamed about. By become a popular resort area with species. With less than three inches of
1901 the Colorado River two yacht clubs. A large marina rainfall per year and limited sources of
had been tapped for this and a championship golf fresh water flow, the sea is now about 30
purpose; in two years it course attracted celebrities, percent saltier than the ocean itself.
was irrigating more than but by the 1960s, increasing
100,000 acres in what was even salinity had marred the dream of a
then being called “the Imperial Valley.” desert Eden.
However, the CDC had not provided PLANTS AND WILDLIFE
an effective method for dealing with Over centuries the fragile ecosystem of
irrigation runoff or high water levels. In the Salton Sea has provided sanctuary
1905, after an unusually wet winter, the to an extremely diverse collection of
Colorado River broke through poorly wildlife and the critical habitats that
constructed canals and gates; for about nurture them. The sea holds hundreds
18 months, the river’s entire volume of millions of fish that feed millions of
poured unchecked into the nearest low wintering birds, including egrets, brown
spot—the Salton Sink. Water inundated and white pelicans, Canada geese, snow
entire communities, the main line Wintering birds
geese, and northern pintails. Resident
of the Southern Pacific Railroad, the birds include Gambel’s quail, greater
Torres-Martinez Reservation, and the roadrunners, and endangered Yuma
New Liverpool Salt Company, a long- clapper rails. Birds of prey arrive in the
standing operation that mined the pure spring, among them rough-legged hawks
salt deposits from around the lake. and peregrine falcons.
The Southern Pacific had re-routed The vegetation includes drought-
forty miles of track, but another flood tolerant desert scrub, creosote bush,
season could jeopardize the new several varieties of desert saltbush,
route. In 1907, the railroad built a fan palms, and tamarisk. Cottonwoods
trestle and gathered tons of fill matter and willows grow alongside freshwater
and boulders that they dumped into streams, springs and salt marshes.
the streambed. When the last loads
were dumped, cars and all, the water Sunset over fan palms and scrub
The Salton Sea lacks any outlet, RECREATION Boating—The Salton
with inflow from only a few sources— At least 100,000 visitors Sea is called the fastest
the Whitewater River to the north, annually enjoy such ac- lake in the U.S. because
the Alamo and New rivers to the tivities as camping, pic- its high salt content
south, runoff from surrounding nicking, fishing, boating, allows boats to be more
agricultural fields, and some municipal water sports, kayaking, buoyant, while its below-
effluent and storm water. Growing bird watching and hiking sea-level elevation gives
concentrations of salt may cause all but the trails. engines greater operating
the hardy tilapia to stop reproducing. Bird Watching— efficiency. Obey all posted
As salinity increases, dissolved oxygen Annually, as many as 1.5 speed limits.
in the water decreases, making the sea million eared grebes and Camping—Six
unsustainable for most species of fish. nearly half of California’s campgrounds offer a
Less food for migrating birds could population of white- total of 1,500 campsites,
eventually mean fewer birds overall. faced ibis have been including some with full
counted at the sea. hookups. Reserve a site
CAN IT BE SAVED?
Cormorants and cattle at (800) 444-7275 or www.
The sea presently supports 80 to Fishing is popular at Salton Sea.
egrets maintain year- parks.ca.gov.
90 percent of the North American
round nesting colonies.
endangered bird populations. With • Headquarters—This area has two
From November through February, ranger
more than 90 percent of California’s campgrounds. Headquarters, near the
staff offers guided boat tours; visitors may
wetlands converted to other uses, visitor center, has 15 sites with hookups.
see tens of thousands of snow geese, Ross’s
at least 50 species of birds listed as New Camp has access to hiking trails,
and Canada geese, and scores of thousands
threatened, endangered, or of concern a fishing jetty, the main boat ramp,
of ducks. Marsh birds, shore birds, and
rely upon the Salton Sea for survival sanitation stations and a boat washing
waterfowl of nearly every description stop
during migration. area. Flush toilets, showers, and some
over to replenish themselves.
Federal, state, tribal, and local hookups, plus a group camp without
Fishing—Although rising salinity limits
entities, as well as concerned interest hookups, are on site.
the diversity of fish that thrive here,
groups and individuals, are now • Bombay Beach—a popular primitive
fishing is still excellent. Tilapia (similar to
working together to try to save Salton campground with beach camping,
perch) abound and have no legal limits.
Sea. In 2003 the California legislature chemical toilets and piped water. This
Occasional mullet and bass are also
passed the Salton Sea Restoration Act, campground is at the southern end of the
caught. As a solution to the sea’s salinity park near the town of Bombay Beach.
directing the State to “undertake the
is developed, there may be hope for • Salt Creek Beach—Salt Creek flows
restoration of the Salton Sea ecosystem
the return of the locally famous corvina through a primitive campground with
and the permanent protection of the
and sargo. Both shore and boat fishing chemical toilets, beach camping and bird
wildlife dependent on that ecosystem.”
are equally successful. A fishing jetty is watching.
Finding effective methods to save this
available at Varner Harbor.
extraordinary resource is urgent.
• Corvina Beach—a primitive Camping—Varner Harbor Campground PLEASE REMEMBER
campground, popular for fishing, has one site near the harbor that In desert country, carry extra water and
with chemical toilets and water. is generally accessible. The harbor other essential supplies, and stay on
Access to the beach is not as restroom is usable and has accessible authorized roads. In case of trouble,
convenient as at others; it has a parking nearby. Showers are generally remain near vehicles and in shade until
drop-off that can be difficult. accessible. help arrives.
• Mecca Beach—a large, developed Picnic Area—Varner Harbor has one • No pets are allowed on beaches. Pets
campground for swimmers, boaters, accessibly-designed picnic site on a must be kept on a six-foot leash, and
and anglers, with easy beach access, concrete pad at the jetty. No water is in a vehicle or tent at night. Please
flush toilets, showers and some full available. Accessible parking and a clean up after pets.
hookups. portable toilet are nearby. • All park features are protected by law
Hiking—Nature trails loop around Fishing—No designated fishing facilities and may not be disturbed or collected.
each campground. The best hiking can exist in the park, but many visitors fish • Do not gather firewood—dead wood
be found along the lake’s shoreline. from the Varner Harbor picnic area. A must be allowed to decompose
ACCESSIBLE FEATURES concrete pad at the accessible picnic naturally. Firewood is sold at most
Accessibility is continually improving. site reaches nearly to the water’s edge, campgrounds.
For details, call the park or see permitting persons with mobility • Each angler over the age of 16 must
http://access.parks.ca.gov. A small impairments to fish, but without railings possess a valid California fishing
Visitor Center at the park is generally or edge protection. license.
accessible.
NEARBY STATE PARKS
• Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, east of
San Diego via Highways 78 and 79 from
the east and west, and via I-8 from the
south (760) 767-5311
• Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular
Recreation Area, in east San Diego
County via Highway 78 (760) 767-5391
• Mount San Jacinto State Park, 25905
Highway 243, Idyllwild, CA 92549
(951) 659-2607

This park receives support in part through a nonprofit


organization. For more information, contact
Sea and Desert Interpretive Association
100-225 State Park Road, North Shore, CA 92254
(760) 393-3810
A day at the beach at Salton Sea SRA
Maintenance Parkside Dr
Shop
111
to Park HQ
Indio Salton Sea Sector HEADQUARTERS
Office

S
State Recreation Area & NEW CAMP

ou
the
10 CAMPGROUND

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Park
Entrance DETAIL

Pa
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Day Use
Sneaker St
10 Beach a

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Blythe

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a

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Indio Rd

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Can
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Campground

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Sea P Hookups 1-15

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O 111
PI
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M Cleaning
66th Ave Boat Wash
Coachella

O
Park Headquarters and Area

Br
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an
Visitor Center

W
ch
N
T

h ite
Varner Harbor

A
5 mph (no wake) Playground

IN

w at e r
S
Ri 111 P
ve
195 r NORTH
SHORE P
Whitewater Fishing Area
Cove North Shore Parking
New
Parkside Dr Camp
0 500 Feet
see detail New Camp Dos Palmas
0 200 Meters to Mecca Beach Campground
map Preserve
1 mile
above right see detail
map
Mecca Beach at right
to New Camp, 0 200 Feet

Salt Creek
Headquarters Pay
So

Trail

Here
ut

1.5 mile 0 50 Meters


he

SALTON
rth

P
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No

Fish
P

Corvina Beach
ac

Cleaning
86
ific

P Full Hookup Sites


Ra

SEA Salt Creek Beach


ilro

Day Use
Volunteers Sites
ad

Bat Cave
Buttes Salton 111
Sea
Rd

STATE
Reserve Sites
DESERT Upper
Hot Mineral Spa

SHORES MECCA BEACH Loop


Lower
CAMPGROUND Loop
Salton Sea Beach RECREATION to Corvina Beach
Brawley DETAIL 1.3 miles

S Ave 111
A
N SALTON SEA C
T H
A
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A BEACH AREA BOMBAY M O


O C
Am

Bombay Beach BEACH U O

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Campground ca
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SALTON Johnson’s Landing


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Anza Borrego
Desert SP Salton IMPERIAL

WILDLIFE
S22 AREA
Sea WISTER 111
UNIT
Freeway NILAND

Highway
86 SALTON SEA
Paved Road Red Hill

Hiking Trail MILITARY

Railroad RESERVATION
Sinclair Rd
Garst Rd

Accessible Feature SONNY BONO


Obsidian Butte SALTON SEA
Boat Launch
REGION
NWR
Boating
Alamo Riv
er

Campfire Center
to
Ocotillo Wells SVRA CALIPATRIA
Campground
78
Fishing 0 1 2 3 4 5 Miles
Benson New
0 2 4 6 8 Kilometers Landing
Information IMPERIAL
Ri
ve
r WILDLIFE
Marina Joshua Tree
SAN BERNARDINO SONNY BONO AREA
0 10 20 Mi
Nature Trail San Bernardino SALTON SEA FINNEY-RAMER
NF 0 10 20 30 Km REGION UNIT
Riverside Mt. San Jacinto
Park Headquarters SP Joshua NWR
Lake Tree Bannister Rd
P Parking Perris Palm NP
111
Rd

215 SRA Springs


Vendel

Indio 10 WESTMORLAND
Picnic Area San Bernardino
NF 195 86 111
Primitive Campground Murrieta
Salton Sea SRA
Restrooms Borrego Springs Salton Salton 111
City Sea
RV Camping 76 S22 86
Cleveland
NF 78 GUNNERY
RV Sanitation Station 5 Ocotillo
15 78
Anza- Wells SVRA
Del Cuyamaca Borrego 78
Showers 86
Mar Rancho SP Desert SP El Centro
Swimming 86
RANGE
SAN DIEGO 8 CA
Wind Warning Light
MEX
to 8 ,
© 2008 California State Parks
Map by Eureka Cartography, Berkeley, CA El Centro