The First Salton Sea

Prehistorically, the Gulf of California extended north through the Imperial and Coachella Valleys; over time geologic shifts and water borne silt changed the topography of the land near the Mexican Border, cutting it off from the Gulf to create the Salton Sink. Subsequently, the Colorado River would change course, on and off creating a vast inland sea, now called Ancient Lake Cahuilla. Around 1580, the last vast lake evaporated.

Tufa deposits mark the shoreline of Ancient Lake Cahuilla, Coachella Valley

Before construction of Laguna Dam in the early twentieth century, the Colorado was still an active river, draining much of the Western US. Springing from watershed high in the snowy Rockies, the “Red River” raced southward and downward, carving the Grand Canyon and other marvelous canyons as it dashed on to the Sea of Cortez. As it approached the Gulf of California, the landscape changed, leaving behind the rock canyons and allowing the river to meander, creating an alluvial delta with the material carried downstream. Captain J. H. Mellon, who operated steamboats on the Lower Colorado, estimated the silt extended the delta fan into the Gulf by more than 6 miles over the course of the 40 years prior to 1905. (H.T. Cory, The Imperial Valley and The Salton Sink, Part IV, (John J. Newbegin, 1915), a reprint of Irrigation and River Control in the Colorado River Delta, from Vol. LXXVI, Transactions American Society of Engineers, p. 1214.)

Smaller overflows of the Colorado River banks continued into the nineteenth century, down the New and Alamo River channels, flowing into the Salton Basin and duly evaporating.

The winter of 1890/91 was the wettest since readings began being kept in 1850. In February, 1891, a number of breaks in the west bank of the Colorado allowed water to spill over into the delta and the New River channel. In June, when Spring runoff brought high water again, more water spilled into the streams running north into the Salton Trough reaching Salton, site of the New Liverpool Salt Works.

From The Californian: Illustrated Magazine, Vol. I, No. 1 October 1891.

The sea was approximately 40 miles long and 10 miles wide, but only 4 feet deep. (B. A. Cecil-Stephens, “The Colorado Desert and its Recent Flooding,” Journal of the American Geographical Society of New York, Vol. 23 (1891), pp. 367-377)

In July 1891, the New York Times printed remarks by John Wesley Powell, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey, that even if the lake were filled to the level of the river, it would evaporate at the rate of approximately 6 feet per year.

In 1892, a wood engraving (based on the Cecil-Stephens map) was published in La Nouvelle Géographie universelle, la terre et les hommes, 19 vol. (1875-94), text by Elisee Reclus. The Cartographer was Charles Perron (vol 16, pg 575). A hand-colored copy of the engraving is shown here.

The first Salton Sea did indeed evaporate due to the extreme heat and lack of sufficient incoming water sources. The situation was totally different following the 1905/07 flooding, as the entire river was diverted into the trough creating the lake, and runoff from agriculture in the Imperial Valley provided a new source of water to replenish that lost to evaporation.

For information on the 1905/07 flooding that created the current Salton Sea, my blog page Creation of the Salton Sea has a preview of a book I’ve written. historytrove.com/creation-of-the-salton-sea/

Needles, CA

Snoopy’s brother Spike lives near Needles with his Cactus companion. As he said in Peanuts on October 12, 1993: “Life in the desert is exciting. Last night the sun went down and this morning the sun came up. There’s always something happening.”*

The Needles rock formation that lent its name to the city.

Needles was, and is, a railroad town

The Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad founded the town in 1883.

After the first station burned in 1906, ATSF built a new station, El Garces Hotel, and a Harvey House restaurant that was considered the jewel of the system.
Vehicle approach to El Graces today.
The hotel & restaurant were closed in 1949 and the building was totally abandoned in 1988. In 1999, the City purchased the building; in 2007, renovation was begun with the goal of reopening a hotel, shops, restaurant and train station. However, due to problems with loans on a municipal building and restrictions on use of federal funds, the private part of the project was abandoned.
The World War I memorial sits before a largely unused, beautiful building. In 2016, a waiting room for Amtrak passengers was created, open 11pm to 2am when the Southwest Chief passes through. There is also The El Garces Intermodal Transportation Facility which occupies a small part of the building. The park in front is often occupied by transients.

Needles is also on Historic Route 66

Traveling East to West on Route 66. the first city in California is Needles.
The Old Trails Inn used to greet travelers heading West on Route 66.
Today the remaining cabins are The Palms Apartments
The trains still roll through; tourists still travel Route 66; and the sun still goes down and comes up on Needles

*As a boy, Charles Schultz lived in Needles 1928-1930.

Bygone New Years Eve Tradition: Coachella Valley

Artist John Hilton burned paintings in bonfire in Box Canyon

According to Katherine Ainsworth’s 1978 biography of John Hilton, Maynard Dixon and Nicolai Fechin, both, advised Hilton to discard “unworthy” paintings. As noted in the biography as well as numerous newspaper and magazine articles, Hilton invited friends to a dramatic annual party in Box Canyon (east of Mecca, CA) when he would throw his rejects onto a bonfire at the stoke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. As the years passed, the party grew and others added to the bonfire, but Hilton reserved his painting burning for last.

One particularly memorable New Year’s was 1940/41 when the Los Angeles Times printed a photo of him tossing a painting into the fire.

L.A. Times, Jan. 3, 1941

Immediately to the right on the page was an article by Ed Ainsworth:

After several years the parties were discontinued; this may have even been the last, as a year later the US would be at war. Of course today, one would need a permit for such a fire, which the County Fire Department would never issue!

Box Canyon Road winds up from the Coachella Valley floor through the Canyon to Shaver’s Valley and on to Interstate 10. The Canyon is protected under the 1964 Wilderness Act and has not changed except for some modern road improvements and erosion by Mother Nature.
Fragrant Morning by John Hilton (one that wasn’t burned!)

Happy New Year!

La Quinta, California

Someone decided to add some holiday cheer to the agaves in the median on Calle Sinaloa!
Originally the La Quinta Hotel, which opened Dec. 29, 1926.
The Resort is very proud that Frank Capra stayed there & every year turns it into “BedfordFalls” for the holidays. However, the citrus tree in the background makes it clear this is the California desert.
The Resort tree 2019.

Have Happy & Healthy Holidays!

More Coachella

City Hall

Coachella City Hall, circa 1949. You can see the edge of the Fire Station on the right
City Hall at the Holidays 2019

The City was incorporated in December 1946 and the City Hall was dedicated in October 1949. Over the years, it not only housed the City government, but also the post office, police department, justice court, and the public library. Today, City Council Chambers and administration occupy the entire building.

Fire Station

City of Coachella

Photo from an early 1940s Chamber of Commerce pamphlet (no copyright notice)
Renovated fire station, now used by the City, December 2019

The Fire Station was built on land donated by the Coachella Land & Water Co. to Riverside County, circa 1905, when the town was being platted. When the City was incorporated in 1946, one of its first actions was to ask the County to donate the land to the new City. Next door to the site of the Fire Station, the new City Hall was built; to the north of City Hall and the Fire Station, approximately half of the parcel continued to be used as a park and is today Veterans’ Memorial Park.