Elevation: -141 feet
Land Area: 0.4 square mile
Once known as the “Tomato Capital of the World,” as well as a hub for thousands of visiting fisherman and hunters coming to the Salton Sea, Niland now barely survives. Although it still hosts the annual Tomato Festival, its legacy as an agricultural powerhouse is over. The once popular Gaston’s Cafe, which was a favorite way station for sportsmen, has now closed.
Niland still gets a trickle of business from snowbirds who come for the winter to live at nearby Slab City, as well as from inmates’ wives who come to live close to nearby Calipatria Prison, while their husbands serve out their sentences in one of California’s most notorious maximum security prisons. In recent years, there has also been an influx of people coming to visit Salvation Mountain, a 3-story religious folk art monument, which sits just outside of town. Another local attraction for the occasional tourist are the bubbling mudpots fed by geothermal activity in the area.
An unexpected source of income is extracted from the nearby Chocolate Mountain Bombing Range. Risk taking individuals known as “scrappers” roam the bombing range to collect exploded ordinance and military hardware to sell for scrap metal in town. Recently, a house of scrappers was raided, and it was revealed that the residence was packed floor to ceiling with unexploded bombs and rockets.
Niland proudly offers a small market, post office, a rather good Chinese restaurant, a bar, a limited gas station, and the only school in the area. The name Niland refers to the Nile River in far away Egypt.