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Salt Dreams: Land and Water in Low-Down California Paperback – March 1, 2001
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William Smythe, a Southern California booster, was not alone when in 1900 he expressed his hope that "the great brown waste which lies on the borders of two republics... will some time be as densely populated as the lands of the Nile, as rich in industry as the Kingdom of Holland."
A century later, the coastal desert of Southern California has indeed become a rich and populous place. The interior desert, however, along the U.S.-Mexico border, is as empty and poor as ever. Historian William deBuys and photographer Joan Myers explore that country, its virtual capital the salt-choked Salton Sea, in the pages of this fine book, which offers a deeply learned but readable study of the politics of water and land use in the arid Southwest. DeBuys remarks that for Europeans and Americans the land has always seemed a geographic tabula rasa, subject to making and remaking, a landscape in which dreams can come true--one of them being to remake an unforgiving desert into an agricultural treasure house. Those dreams, however, can turn into nightmares, as speculations fail and dunes reclaim what is rightfully theirs--for, as deBuys notes, "in low places consequences collect." Desert rats and students of California history will find many rewards in these pages. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Historian and author deBuys (Enchantment and Exploitation; River of Traps) offers an absorbing record of the ideas and people that tamed the Colorado River and transformed southeastern California from a desert into one of the continent's great agricultural regions. Expertly interweaving extensive historical research, interviews and personal observation, deBuys creates a biography of sorts of California's Imperial Valley, one that begins with the valley's first inhabitants, the Yuman-speaking natives, and extends to the present. Recognizing that an "infinity of human lives and relations" make up "the main cargo of history," deBuys wisely opts to make people the focus of his narrative, introducing readers to a gallery of rogues, dreamers and unsung heroes. Well-chosen quotations and document excerpts bring to life figures such as Penn Phillips, "Mr. Big" of California in the '50s, who deBuys contends made millions by selling worthless land along the polluted Salton Sink; William Smythe, who, half a century earlier, brought evangelical zeal to the cause of "reclaiming" the Colorado Desert for agriculture; and Godfrey Sykes, a 19th-century drifter, "delta rat" and "sympathetic witness to [the region's] troubles and transformation." DeBuys describes the devastating flood of 1905-06, which was caused partially by inept tinkering with the Colorado River and which led to the creation of the Salton Sea, the deepest point on the continent. Years of agricultural runoff and pollution have left the sea highly contaminated, and deBuys devotes the last section of his book to a concise examination of its ecology and current condition, and to possible solutions for saving it. Through his study of the Imperial Valley, deBuys offers a notable exploration of how the American dream has played out in one representative locale. 3 maps, 30 halftones; 100 duotone photos by Joan Myers not seen by PW. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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If you enjoy this book, you will also enjoy meeting some of the people currently here in Portraits and Voices of the Salton Sea. Norm Niver, as expected, gets to be in both books!