The Salton Basin is bordered by the Coachella Valley in the north and the larger, flatter Imperial Valley to the south. Main roads run along both the east and west shores (see map
), with the eastern route (CA 111) generally closer to the water; the west highway (CA 86) is several miles away. The lake looks similar from all directions and there is no particular center for visitors. The majority of the shoreline is not easily accessible and most of the surrounding land is unused, though there are several small towns near the water, and various kinds of roads leading towards the shore.
Sites - East
In the north, Highway 111 first approaches the sea at the small towns of Desert Beach and Salton, near which is one of several shoreline access points for the Salton Sea Recreation Area
- a state-run park extending for 20 miles along the eastern shore. A fee of $6 per vehicle is charged, and several facilities are available (campsites, picnic areas, fishing piers, a boat ramp and a few short trails), though the place is not especially exciting nor very appealing.
South of here, the road moves away from the shore after Bombay Beach
, a small, rather forlorn settlement of a few hundred people - the edge of town was flooded during a period of high water and now lies abandoned in a field of salt and mud, on the far side of a protective dike about 15 feet tall. The rotting remains of several mobile homes and wooden dwellings are buried to depths of 6 feet or so, and the water's edge is lined with a variety of other derelict structures including an old crane, barely recognisable beneath its thick salt encrustations. Like many other parts of the sea, the far shoreline is sufficiently distant to be virtually out of sight, so the reflective waters merge with the (usually) cloudless sky to create an indistinct horizon and a completely blue landscape, all enveloped in a humid heat haze. The town has a welcome sign, a cafe and a shop, but no other facilities. South of Bombay Beach, the surroundings are mostly unbroken mudflats bearing no vegetation, becoming partly overgrown as the highway approaches the small town of Niland
(just east of which are the free-living community of Slab City
and the late Leonard Knight's Salvation Mountain
). The southern shore of the Salton Sea is formed of irrigated, agricultural land and has little of interest to see, although much of this part of the lake is within the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge
, an important resting place for migratory birds - over 400 species have been identified. This diversity is currently under threat due to the steadily increasing salinity, which is endangering the few species of fish that live here and so provide food for the birds.
Sites - West
To the west, Highway 86 is separated from the lake by several miles of salt flats and sand dunes, with the first easy access at the sprawling residential town of Salton City
, which has many roads and lots of palm trees though not that many houses, and few facilities. The land to the north is part of the Torres-Martinez Indian Reservation - the tribe traditionally owned much of the Salton Sink but lost most of their acreage after the 1905 flood. The smaller town of Salton Sea Beach
offers a quick (and free) approach to the lake, via a short side road lined by houses that become less well kempt towards the shore, ending with several that are completely derelict. The water's edge here is typical of much of the lake, in the middle of stark, photogenic, white and blue scenery somewhat spoilt by the immediate surroundings, owing to the bad smell, dead fish, flies and litter. The next town northwards is Desert Shores
, another sleepy place also with disused buildings and an abandoned shoreline (including the remains of a marina, though this is fenced off), after which the road moves away from the lake and on towards the much more upmarket surroundings of Indio.