Being the first of only two people to have ever walked around the entire shore of Salton Sea, I’ve come across a lot of interesting things. Old buildings, piers, undiscovered mud-pots, military ammo bunkers, and boats – lots and lots of boats. Most of the old boats that litter the Salton Sea shoreline are small, 10-foot or less. Mostly fishing boats and the remains of only a few speed boats.
But there is one boat that is different. In fact, it’s technically not even a boat, it is a barge. A very large barge, 60 to 80 feet in length and it looks like it has been there for a long time. It’s made of steel and is rusting away, but it does not look like it could have been stranded here for much more than 50 years or so. The barge has been fully exposed due to how much the water level of Salton Sea has receded in the last few years, but only a few years ago, it would have been fully submerged.
When I stumbled across this barge in June of 2015 during my walk around the Salton Sea my first thought was “Wow! This sucker is huge!”. My second thoughts were “how did this thing get here?” and “why was it at Salton Sea?”.
The barge is located on the New River delta, in the southern-most area of Salton Sea. The only way into this area is by boat, on foot, or by ATV. The quick-mud is particularly treacherous in this area and even walking can be dangerous. Only a few years ago this area would have been under a foot or so of water. A few years before that, that water was several feet deep.
It’s not a secret that the barge is here. No doubt all the local duck hunters are well aware of it as there are several duck-blinds built within a half-mile or less. You can see in the satellite photos above and below, it’s easy to spot on Google Earth.
Where did the barge come from?
My duck-hunter friend Aaron Smith theorized that this was Captain Davis’ barge, lost in the 1920s. Captain Charles Davis was a regular at Salton Sea in the very early days after its creation. He eventually took ownership of Mullet Island, only a few miles north of the New River and built a small bar and dance hall that he called “Hells Kitchen”. Davis did some crazy things like bringing in sea-lions to live on the island, and purchasing a giant barge and transporting it, by truck, all the way to Salton Sea. His plan was to make the barge into a kind of floating dancehall and bar, but unfortunately the barge sank as soon as he dropped it into the water. We don’t know exactly where he put the barge in or where it sank, but it’s safe to say that the barge I found is not the famous lost barge of Captain Davis. This barge is in too good of condition to be almost 100 years old.
Some people theorized that the barge broke loose from the Navy Test Base, 10 miles north west of where the barge is and eventually sank or became stranded. The Navy Base at Salton Sea, actually a Naval Test Station, was in operation from the early 1940’s until the late 1980’s before the Navy abandoned it. It would seem though, that if a vessel this large broke away from its moorings during Naval operations, the Navy would spare no expense to drag it back. Additionally, in the documentation that I have regarding the Navy Base, there is no listing in the inventories or mention of a large barge. For these reasons, I have my doubts that the barge is from the Navy Base.
The final theory of where the barge came from comes from Salton Sea resident Mike Friese. Mike’s research has uncovered an old barge named “The Lucky Strike” that was quite popular during Salton Sea’s heyday.
The Lucky Strike Fishing Barge
The documented history of the Lucky Strike barge goes back to at least 1966. In a September 1966 article published in the Desert Sun, the barge was described as a fishing vessel:
A party of fishermen headed by Mike Leonte established this record one day last week while fishing aboard the Lucky Strike Barge off Desert Shores Marina. They laid their baits on the bottom. A discussion in Mike’s Tackle Shop before the fishing experiment began, brought out some little known facts about sargo and gulf croakers.
Again in a January 1967 Desert Sun article, the Lucky Strike is mentioned by name:
Lucky Strike barge off Desert Shores is a favorite spot for sargo fishermen.
Finally, another Desert Sun story from August 1968 mentions the barge:
The Lucky Strike barge has been producing exceptional creels of sargo (to two pounds each) and large numbers of croakers recently, with an occasional corvina thrown in for extra excitement. It is anchored about a mile off Desert Shorts Marina.
This old photo actually shows the Lucky Strike anchored off the shore of Desert Shores. Unfortunately it’s too small in this picture to compare it to the barge I found on the New River delta.
What happened to the Lucky Strike?
I have not been able to uncover the exact details of what happened to the Lucky Strike, but a West Shores Urban Area Plan publication dated December 2000 has this:
Burl Robinson’s “Lucky Strike Barge” was a popular fishing place during the 60’s and 70’s but after having broken loose from it(s) mooring more than once, the last time proved fatal when it broke in tow and was lost to the Sea.
So the barge had broken loose several times, and finally, at some unknown exact date, it was “lost to the sea”. Could this mean that the barge sank to the bottom of Salton Sea? If so, it is doubtful that the barge I found on the New River delta is the Lucky Strike. But, if the barge only partially sank, or for whatever reason was un-towable, could it have made it the 27 miles south, to the New River?
The apparent age of the barge stranded on the New River delta seems to match the Lucky Strike, which we knew “was lost” sometime between the late 1970’s and 2000. I think that I am in agreement with Mike Friese – This old barge, stranded on the New River delta of Salton Sea, just might be the old Lucky Strike barge from Desert Shores.
UPDATE Dec 2017:
Thanks to desert expert Sid Burks, we have this additional information. A map of Salton Sea fishing spots from 1985 (see item number 32 in the images below) lists “the sunken barge” as a favorite fishing spot. The publication gives no other information about the sunken boat but we now know that it has been there since at least 1985.
Update January 2018:
Thanks again to local resident Mike Friese who found this mention of the Lucky Strike Barge in the June 17, 1966 edition of The Desert Sun:
The caption of the Lucky Strike photo reads:
CALLING ALL FISHES— Lines baited and waiting, about 25 fishermen were aboard the Lucky Strike barge off Desert Shores Sunday by 9 a.m. Salton Sea breezes dissipated the heat and the nearly calm warm waters yielded some fish for almost every creel aboard. Most numerous were the gulf croakers In the 12 inch size—good panfish. Sargo were taking baits well also. An occasional corvina tried to snatch a bait—some got away with it.
Seeing this up-close photo of the Lucky Strike makes it more apparent that the mystery barge I came across at the southern end of Salton Sea is likey an abandoned dredging barge, and not the Lucky Strike.
Do you have any information on the Lucky Strike barge or do you have your own theory of where the barge I found came from? Please scroll down and post a comment!