Imbibing California’s History: The Salton Dog

For the inaugural “Imbibing California’s History” post, I have chosen a subject that is certainly no stranger to San Magnifico… the largest body of water in California… the Salton Sea!

The History…

You can learn about the history of the Salton Sea from either me or Ransom Riggs. The video below was created by Mr. Riggs. It’s a well made visual history of the sea that is both chilling and beautiful at the same time.

For those of you who would rather read my personal interpretation of the creation of the Salton Sea, meet me below the video for some rock solid infotainment!

First of all… you should know that the Salton Sea is a man made sea. You should also know that its creation was an accident. Here’s how it happened…

Oliver M. Wozencraft

Father of the Imperial Valley!

Around the mid 1800’s, the Salton Sink area of southern California needed water for irrigation because it’s at a very low elevation and it’s hot and dry and kinda horrible. In response to this, one man took it upon himself to fight for the construction of a canal off the Colorado River that would send some water to this very dry area.

That man?

Oliver Meredith Wozencraft.

Mr. Wozencraft was a horrible man. He was a horrible racist who believed that the only way to stop slavery in California was by not allowing black people in California. He also helped negotiate some pretty terrible treaties between some Native American tribes and the state. Real classy dude. Regardless… he was the first person to really fight for getting some irrigation water into the Salton Sink. It’s pretty much all he did for most of his life. In fact, just weeks before he died he was in Washington lobbying for his canal.

Roughly 13 years after his death (1901), the Alamo Canal (or Imperial Canal) was finally built.

It worked great!

…for a few years…

By 1904, the canal was filling up with silt and all the farmers were getting pretty upset about the lack of water. The company in charge decided to make a diversion around the blocked areas of the canal as a temporary measure. This turned out to be a bad idea as the seasonal floods between 1904 and 1906 were especially intense. Way too much water started being diverted from the Colorado River and into the sink. At times, the entire flow of the Colorado River was pouring in! Dikes were failing and all kinds of bad stuff was happening. Total disaster.

The Salton Sea was born!

It wasn’t until 1907, when the Southern Pacific Company stepped in, that the flooding finally stopped. The flow of water to the newly formed sea wasn’t completely ended, though. The sea would have dried up had it not been for a small, continuous flow of water from the the Colorado as well as approved agricultural wastewater. The Salton Sea was allowed to live!

Soon, it became a popular destination for bird-watchers as well as boat-enthusiasts and tourists. Resorts started popping up around the sea and, eventually, entire towns were built!

The Salton Sea was a hit!

…for a while…

By the 1960’s, it was becoming apparent that the sea was having some issues. The water level was wildly inconsistent and started flooding resorts and seaside communities. Also, the salinity of the water was rising fast. It soon became saltier than the ocean. This caused massive die-offs of fish which was really gross. In case you weren’t aware, dead fish smell. ‘Twas a bit difficult to convince tourists and celebrities to visit a smelly, flooded resort or buy a house in the area.

By the 1970’s, most resorts and houses were abandoned. Fishing was bad, but the bird-watching was still pretty okay, so the sea wasn’t completely deserted.

Salton Sea Beach Marina Entrance

Freeway entrance sign… enticing, huh?

Today, the Salton Sea is still a wasteland, but many people have moved back. Places like Bombay Beach and Salton City are home to a rag tag group of happy residents. It still smells, there are yearly algae blooms and fish die-offs, and its “sand” is made up of crushed fish bones, but the sea isn’t going anywhere. Visit it sometime… it’s interesting!

The Cocktail…

When considering what kind of cocktail would be appropriate for Salton Sea, the Salty Dog (gin or vodka, grapefruit juice, salted rim) immediately came to mind. By itself, it’s already a good fit. Simple. Tart. Salty. Boozy. Yep… that’s the sea in a nutshell.

That being said… the Salty Dog is a good fit but not a great fit.

I think I’ve come up with a variation of the Salty Dog that does a bit more justice to the sea.

Salton Dog Cocktail

Mmm… Swedish Fish…

The Salton Dog

2 oz Bombay (Beach) Sapphire Gin
4 oz Freshly Squeezed Grapefruit Juice (One of many fruits grown in the area…)
1 dash Absinthe (Algae Bloom)
Salt (Crushed Fish Bones)
Swedish Fish (Dead Fish)

Rim a double old fashioned glass with salt. Build drink over ice: absinthe then gin then grapefruit juice. Stir gently. Top off with some Swedish Fish or actual dead fish from the Salton Sea.

As you can see, each of the ingredients is symbolic of an element of the sea. Yes… it’s a bit weird, but I think the drink tastes fantastic. And even if you don’t like it… Swedish Fish! Yum!

Salton Dog Cocktail

Gin. Grapefruit. Absinthe. Salt. Swedish Fish.

I hope you’ve had a nice time learning about one of my favorite places in the entire world and enjoyed an ice cold Salton Dog as well. Peace, love, and salt!


This is just one post in our Imbibing California’s History series. Read the rest!

About Adam Willis

I'm just a guy who really likes California. I live in Arizona for now, but will be moving over there as soon as possible. Also. I love you. Smile!

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