Saltdale – Cantil, California - Atlas Obscura


Cantil, California

Salt is slowly eating away this abandoned saltworks town in the desert. 


Most miners in early-1900s California were in pursuit of gold, but it was the presence of another sort of precious resource—salt—that put this lonely town in the Mojave Desert on the map. Now that salt has eaten away almost any trace of the remote town’s short-lived existence.

The aptly named Saltdale was established in 1914 to harvest salt from the nearby Koehn Dry Lake. The dry lake was actually a rare “moist” playa, wet with groundwater that would seep up to the surface, leaving behind salt deposits as the water evaporated.

Salt workers would help this process along by pumping well water into the lake and then piping the brine onto evaporation vats from which they would harvest the salt. This process was so fruitful that by 1915 more than 700 tons of salt was being produced each week. In fact, the Southern Pacific railroad didn’t run enough cars out to Saltdale to ship it all in time.

These were the prosperous times for Saltdale, which remained a tiny and isolated community even in its good years, consisting of some houses, a mill and salt harvesting factory, a school, and a post office. The nearest hospital, police station, and jail were miles away, which made robberies extremely common and forced women to risk giving birth at home.

By the 1940s, the salt business began to falter for a number of reasons, including a stretch of years with very little rainfall. The mill was modernized in the ‘50s, requiring few workers. One by one the mining families moved out of town. The salt factory finally closed for good in 1975, and Saltdale became another forgotten ghost town of the American West.

Not much remains of the abandoned salt town, thanks in part to salt exacerbating the deterioration of the deserted structures. Most have completely collapsed, and only the rusting foundations of unidentifiable buildings are left, along with a small stretch of railroad track disintegrating into the salty earth.

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