It’s amazing how much you can learn from mapping an area – even more so after mapping an entire state. The concept of a dry lake was a previously foreign concept before my mapping project began, so I set out to investigate this type of landscape common to the Southwest, where climate, weather, and development can reshape when and where bodies of water appear/disappear. Considering the framework of drought and global warming today, perhaps we should start considering the following dry bodies of water as proto-touristic locations that in time may become famous:
The Mojave Desert and San Bernardino County host one of the most interesting dry water bodies in California. With a shore length of 43 miles, Bristol Lake has unique salt and mineral formations that give the impression there was a layer of snow in some parts of the lakebed. The formations were possibly formed out of magma chambers below the crust. The dry lake bed is best known for its salt-edged, crystal clear bright light blue water ponds and channels (present in the Salt Evaporation Plan).
Location: The site can be accessed through the National Trails Highway from Amboy Road. A trip out there from Los Angeles can take up to 4 hours (200 miles).
Located north, in San Luis Obispo County, this bright white micro-desert is actually an alkali lake formed from the remnants of a prehistoric sea. With its ephemeral condition Soda Lake supports a habitat for migratory birds, some shrimp species, and the saltbush. In order to protect this ecosystem, a boardwalk with an overlook has been built along the shore, providing raised panoramic views of the entire lake for visitors.
Location: The lake covers an area of 4.6 sq. miles and can be accessed via State Route 58 and Soda Lake Rd, about a 165 miles/3 hour drive from Los Angeles.
Famous for the Trona Pinnacles, the massive dry lake known as Searles Lake is located out in the Mojave Desert, with a shore length of 31 miles. Due its sediments, it has become a vital resource of regional industry, containing almost 30 different types of minerals. The site can be accessed via Trona Rd (State Route 178) and Pinnacle Rd.
San Bernardino County’s Trona Pinnacles, some as tall as 140 ft., are rocky spires that resemble sci-fi scenery from another planet. The Pinnacles belong to the California Desert National Conservation Area and are in an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). In the past, the site was known as Cathedral City, which is not to be confused with the actual city in Riverside County.
Location: About a 3-hour drive from Los Angeles (177 miles)
Rogers Dry Lake
With a shore length of 38 miles and an area of 43 sq. miles, this dry lake was formerly known as the Muroc Dry Lake. Rogers Lake now houses the Edwards Air Force Base. The United States Airforce and the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center use both the Rogers and Rosamond lake beds as landing pads and runways for aircraft operations.
The Rogers Lake in Kern County also houses the world’s largest compass rose, is painted onto the lakebed. This iconic place became a National Historic Landmark in 1985.
Location: About 2.5 hour drive from Los Angeles (109 miles)
El Mirage Lake
If you own a gyrocopter, light aircraft, cool car, quad, or just something you want to photograph, then you might find El Mirage an attractive destination. With a minimum entry fee, the Off-Highway Recreation Area offers OHV trails for visitors who are looking for a place to enjoy some off-roading. People who are into ultralight aircraft piloting are even permitted to land on the lakebed. This space is also a favorite location for photo shoots for cars, models, and even furniture due the artistic desert setting.
Location: Access to the place can be found through Palmdale’s Pearblossom Hwy (State Route 14 & 138) and Old El Mirage Rd, about a 2 hour drive from Los Angeles (85-95 miles). The shore length is about 16 miles long; it’s important to note the temperatures can increase drastically during summer.
Drained alive by the Los Angeles Aqueduct, Owens Lake is located in the Inyo County, to the east of Sierra Nevada. This once pristine land with an approximate area of 108 sq. miles began its decay in 1913, when the uncontainable urban sprawl of Los Angeles began channelized the lake’s water, pumping the lake’s content all the way across the Southern California landscape. By 1926 Owens Lake was no more.
Some of the flow has been restore. However, there are serious concerns regarding air pollution originated from the dry portions of the basin known as alkali dust. AHBE Landscape Architects and other landscape architecture firms had the opportunity to intervene at the site through poetic sculptural elements, interpretive educational trails to raise environmental awareness and to mitigate, and control the noxious alkali dust.
The Lake has been featured in many documentaries and short films rooted in water, drought, urbanization and global warming. Out of these efforts, Edward Burtynsky’s Watermark documentary provides a unique look of the situation from the environmental photography point of view. Many institutions and professionals, including myself, have been involved in envisioning plan work at the site.
Location: Access to the Owens Lake can be found via the 395 N Highway, about 200 miles or 3.5 hours from Los Angeles.