There is a place of myth and legend that lies in the deserts of Southern California, and its called the Salton Sea.
A former resort area that was victim to toxic agricultural runoff, the Salton Sea is now home to millions of migrating birds, and a hot spot for waterfowl hunters. The Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR moderates the shooting, and provides blinds from which hunters can aim at ducks, geese, coots and moorhens.
Known as both an ecological disaster area and vital inland wetlands to the several million birds that migrate to its briny waters every year, the Salton Sea is an enigma. Around since 1905, the inland “sea” was created when massive flooding of the Colorado River swept a wall of water through an irrigation canal. That water continued to flow into the Salton Basin for over 18 months as workmen scrambled to repair the breach—by the time they were done, the Salton Sea had emerged.
In 1927, entrepreneurs saw an opportunity in the strange, salty body of water just south of Joshua Tree—a desert oasis where weary and wealthy Los Angelinos could vacation. Resorts such as Bombay Beach began to pop up along the shores, and for 20 years vacationers donned water skis, manned boats, and enjoyed the strange sea that wasn’t meant to be.
When the party was over, it was over quickly and thoroughly. Agricultural runoff and variating rainfall made the waters unstable—with no outlet, the water levels and salinity are ever-changing, with the salinity ever increasing. By the 60’s, the sea was so toxic its ecosystem collapsed, killing off many of the fish and fowl that called it home. Millions of carcasses did not a nice vacation spot make, so the resorts were abandoned, and the shores became a spooky shadow of what used to be.
Over the years there have been massive preservation efforts, and the Salton Sea has become a cult hero of sorts. The complex ecosystem now acts as a habitat to more than 400 species of birds, which is more than can be found anywhere in the U.S., with the exception of the Gulf of Texas. To be allowed to hunt on the site, you must get an advance reservation issued by the California Department of Fish and Game, have a permit issued by the Wister Check Station, and you must only hunt from the assigned blind site listed on the permit.
To learn more about the Salton Sea and its surrounding attractions, visit the Salton Sea History Museum in Mecca.