California, known as the land of milk and honey, has a place that’s not so sweet. From a distance, the Salton Sea looks like any beautiful body of water with gorgeous white beaches. However, once you get up close and personal, Salton Sea Beach tells a very different story of grotesque death and despair!
Trust me, DON’T GO to Salton Sea Beach!
Because once you read about my fateful experience at Salton Sea Beach, you may not even think once, let alone twice, about going to this God forsaking place.
But, if your curiosity gets the best of you luring you out to see Salton Sea for yourself, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
If you do get the courage to go visit Salton Sea Beach, head my fair warning! Wear old shoes and clothes! And take a big ole dose of sense of humor with you. Because even though Salton Sea looks beautiful from a distance, it’s all going to make sense once you get there. And then, you’re going to thank me once you get there.
Now before we share our Salton Sea Beach experience, let’s learn how the Salton Sea even came to exist. And then, you’ll learn what happened to it leading to our reason why I won’t recommend anyone to visit Salton Sea Beach!
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Why You Should Never Visit Salton Sea Beach!
How the Salton Sea was created
The Salton Sea is located in south central California in the Colorado Desert. This waterway is approximately 343 square miles; 34.8 miles long and 14.9 miles wide.
In 1905, the Salton Sink was created by the Colorado River breaching it’s levees and flooding the desert floor.
For two years, the Salton Sink became the Salton Sea, California’s largest lake, measuring 15 miles wide by 35 miles long.
And, by the 1950’s and ‘60’s, the Salton Sea became well known as “California’s French Riviera”. The Salton Sea was the ultimate vacation destination for the rich and famous.
Beachgoers flocked to the sunny inland shores for rest, relaxation and recreation. Boating, waterskiing, swimming, rafting were all part of the fun in the sun at Salton Sea Beach.
Wealthy developers grabbed onto every inch of the properties surrounding this miracle in the desert to build homes, hotels and businesses to support the vacationland.
Quickly, small towns were erected; surrounding the area with schools, public services and lots of entrepreneurial businesses. Jobs were plenty; dubbing it, not only as a popular resort destination, but a new metropolis for families to relocate there.
All good things must come to an end
The saying, “all good things must come to an end” is the real story of the Salton Sea.
By the late 1970’s, pesticides and herbicides dispersed through runoff from nearby fruit growers. Periodic flooding brought all of those unnatural toxins to the shores draining into the Salton Sea.
And, considering that the lake is located in the desert, rainfall was extremely minimal. So, this caused unsurmountable salinity levels to exceed the saltiness of the Pacific Ocean.
Sadly, it turned deadly.
The depletion of oxygen caused birds, fish and sea life to perish. They’d wash ashore; either suffocating or were already dead.
And because the birds in the region were eating the toxic fish, they literally fell dead onto the beaches and into the Salton Sea.
Of course, being situated in the southern California desert, the hot temperatures sped up the decomposition, hundreds of thousands of fish and bird carcass’ washed ashore to further decompose.
Amidst bone remnants, zillions upon zillions of barnacles also washed ashore as well (I’m not exaggerating!).
Barnacles in the Salton Sea?
We all associate barnacles to the ocean. They’re prevalent on the bottoms of ships and latched onto whales. They also congregate in tide pools and on the shore.
Barnacles are exclusively marine and tend to live in shallow and tidal waters in erosive settings. They are a type of arthropod related to crabs and lobsters.
Something worth noting that explains how the barnacles got to the Salton Sea, according to Natural History Journal,
“During World War II, seaplanes practicing their military maneuvers inadvertently introduced barnacles to the Salton Sea. Hitchhiking barnacles that became detached from the planes in the Sea found a lack of predators and a surprisingly hospitable environment in which they thrived.”
So, as you see, because of the Salton Sea’s high saline content, the barnacle population grew massively.
We’ll get more to the barnacles later.
The Salton Sea Today
From a distance, The Salton Sea still looks like the iconic and dreamy California beach. Its’ deceiving coastal white shoreline contrasts gorgeously against the brilliant blue sky.
Up close though, the Salton Sea’s apocalyptic landscape tells a completely different and even frightening story.
Through research I learned that currently, the only fish that can survive in it are the local desert pupfish and the high-salt tolerant tilapia. Which by the way, were irresponsibly introduced from a tropical fish farm. (Probably explains why I detest and will never eat tilapia!)
What I didn’t know though is due to climate change, the water that flows into the Salton Sea is actually declining. In other words, the Salton Sea is shrinking.
So, not only is the Salton Sea getting saltier, it’s exposing any previously submerged lakebed to dry and calcify. Thus, creating a volatile, toxic dust.
But, while the State of California is desperately trying to revive some of the beaches at Salton Sea, Salton Sea Beach has a long way to go to get back to its’ original state.
So, now that you know the history of what happened to the Salton Sea, now it’s time for us to tell you about our adventure at Salton Sea Beach…or rather MISadventure!
My first visit to the Salton Sea
In 2013, I visited my cousin Bob and his family in San Diego. During my visit, I rented a Harley Davidson motorcycle so he and I could check out the countryside in southeast California.
Also, so I could boastfully say, “I rode a motorcycle in California”. (is that a good thing?)
One day, Bob who has his own Harley, took a day off from work so we could ride up to Cleveland National Forest and into the town of Julian.
By the way, the locals claim that Julien is considered the pie paradise of California. And yes, it’s true.
Anyway, he took me up to a great overlook to get a view of the Salton Sea. From a distance, it look amazingly gorgeous. The water was a gorgeous blue. We could see what looked like beautiful white sandy beaches.
However, while I was looking around, Bob briefly mentioned something about the Salton Sea being toxic. But of course, I was too mesmerized at the view to be really paying attention to what he said.
And looking back now, I really should’ve been paying more attention!
My second visit (and last!) to the Salton Sea
The day after Christmas in 2018, we were boondocking just outside of Joshua Tree National Park south entrance in California.
I mentioned to Dan that we should go visit the Salton Sea; telling him how beautiful it looked from that overlook Bob and I rode up to. It seemed like a great excuse for us to get out of the RV for the afternoon.
However, Bob’s words “blah blah Salton Sea blah blah toxic blah blah” totally escaped me that day. So, we jumped in the truck anyways.
On the way, we stopped in the town of Mecca to get some fuel and a couple bottles of water. We then continued the short distance to Salton Sea Beach.
Welcome to Salton Sea Beach
Once we got closer to the Salton Sea, it wasn’t hard to notice the recently-painted billboard sign with, “Welcome to Salton Sea Beach”. It thought the town must be on the up and up.
After our obligatory Instagram photo of the welcome sign and to prove we were there, we continued a little further; stopping t the Salton Sea Beach welcome garden. This sign though, was a little retro looking. Most likely the sign was the original from the 1960’s or 70’s.
We noticed there was some sort of trailer and a whole bunch of weird antennae and satellite dishes. I literally joked that they must have been communicating with outer space (or something?).
I always mock-joke with Dan about aliens. This was a good time to inject my unsolicited humor. He just gave me that ‘whatever’ eye-rolling look. So, we proceeded onto Salton Sea beach.
Entering the town of Salton Sea Beach
Some of those weird alien powers told us to turn down the road where we stood at the welcome garden with the weird building and antennae collection.
Then, it all started coming back to me. You know, that ‘blah blah Salton Sea blah blah toxic blah blah’ conversation Bob and I had on that overlook?
Anyway, as we drove closer to the beach, the dreamy beautiful beach town we were hoping for mysteriously disappeared as if we were in a time warp.
The coastal community became more of a story of destitution. It honestly felt like we were driving through some apocalyptic movie set.
As Dan was driving slowly, we were silently gazing out our truck windows. All we could see were abandoned, cinder block and teetering brick shell buildings.
It was not hard to notice that graffiti artists made great use of the now crack houses. Piles of trash and old rusty cars on blocks seem to be the yard art decor of choice.
We also noticed a peculiar white powdery dust on the ground that looked like dirty snow that we were so familiar with while living in New England decades prior.
Weirdly, about every fifth house was actually habitable. We were in disbelief that people were still living in the Salton Sea Beach community. Aliens? Maybe?
There were also quite a few stray mangy-looking dogs who were roaming the streets. Neither of us dared to stop and step out of the truck, let alone even open a window or door.
I looked at Dan with raised eyebrows and quietly muttered Dorothy’s words, “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore”.
My original intention to take photos to document our experience took a back seat. I didn’t feel right exploiting these Salton Sea people and their livelihoods for a couple hundred Instagram LIKES.
So, out of respect to the residents of Salton Sea Beach, I put the camera away. We continued on our little auto tour of the apocalyptic seashore town.
I was determined to find that pretty white sandy beach I’d seen looking down from the overlook with cousin Bob. However, just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse. Well, they did…A LOT worse!
Stepping into the Twilight Zone
It was very strange. Something kept luring us towards the beach like some magical spell. It truly felt as if we were stepping into our own Twilight Zone.
Driving very slowly, we passed a line of perfectly-spaced palm trees…dead palm trees. That should have been our first inclination of what we were about to happen upon.
We found a parking lot to park our truck so we could get out to explore the beach on foot.
Here’s where the shit show begins. Just as we walked a couple hundred yards, that dreamy white beach was none other than something indescribably out of this world. And strangely like demonic whispers, it kept luring us closer to the water’s edge.
Oddly, as we looked around, we noticed there also was no activity. One would think by this pristine looking lake, we’d expect to see boats, jet skis or even a small John boat. There wasn’t even one which explains why the water had no ripples or small waves. It was eerily, deathly still.
But, like two dumb teenagers on a quest of looking for trouble, we were inching closer to the shore. Again, no sign of life except for our two heartbeats and footsteps of our own.
There was also not one colorful beach umbrella, blanket or beach chair to be seen. No meandering beachcombers looking for seashells or children splashing in the water to be seen or heard.
We were the only one ones, that we could tell, for miles. Then it finally hit us; “it” being the putrid smell was nothing short of indescribable. Seriously, I can’t begin to even put into words what that horrific odor was.
But let’s just say the smell resembled DEATH!
I’ve smelled death before; recollecting my first body recovery on Lake Erie as a Coast Guardsman. That reminiscent odor took my breath away for a moment until I could regain my composure. Some things, you never forget; this being one of them.
Now at this point, we’re traipsing closer to the shoreline. It’s nothing but a toxic wasteland with green slimy sludge separating the shoreline from the water.
And upon closer observation, that white sandy beach Bob and I seen from the high observation area years prior was in fact, NOT white sand and pretty little seashells.
That white stuff was actually calcified matter bleached from decades under the California sun. It was remnants of everything that died over the decades; from bonefish skeletons, bird carcasses to barnacles and sun-bleached whatever-the-hell-that-is.
There was nothing living in or around Salton Sea (or at least we didn’t notice). There’s no birds, fish. Everything, as far as our eyes could wander, was dead.
We’d notice occasional corroded rusty pipes and metal hardware sticking up from below the beach surface. Please don’t tell me the City of Atlantis is under there!
A good reason why you should never visit at Salton Sea Beach
Now, remember at the beginning of this story, I mentioned something to the tune of “make sure you wear old shoes and clothes”? Well, hold that thought for a second.
As we were nearing the shoreline, I distinctly remember muttering obscenities about that awful odor. And, with every step in that deep, God-knows-what-the-hell-THAT-is, all we hear is ‘crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch’ under our feet. The sound resembled crunching snow.
And every few steps, I’d let out a gagging wretch like a cat about to cough out a hairball.
As I was looking down watching my every step, those barnacles and all of those boney remnants were crunching under my feet. With every step, I actually felt horrible that I was really walking on what used to be thriving wildlife.
In the meantime, Dan got down to the water’s edge before me.
Then, as I look up from the crunches, I stop to notice Dan. There he is standing like he was in some GQ magazine shoot at the shoreline. For a mind-slip moment, I was actually thinking, “this ain’t so bad, now is it?” I mean, it really did LOOK beautiful.
My deathly experience
So, after I took that monumental photo of GQ Dan, I snapped out of that surreal California dream.
As I crunched closer towards the shoreline, gagging and wretching with every step, an instant sense of inexplicable fear raced through me. My feet began to sink further into whatever-the-hell-THAT-is!
So, I decided to to retrace his footsteps like a kid following behind his dad after a deep new fallen snow. I figured if he didn’t sink, neither would I, right? Right?
Nope! I instantly sank deeper up to my bleepin’ knees!
My unladylike gags became horrendous between the pirated cuss words and intermittent screams of horror. And if you think I’m being overly dramatic here, stop! I seriously felt like I was being swallowed into quicksand hell hole.
Only seconds later in every sense of the words, I was in “deep shit” all the way up to my waist!
Wondering what on earth I screaming about, Dan turned around just in time to watch me literally be swallowed into the abyss of “whatever-the-hell-THAT-is”.
The hilarious thing of it all (not so hilarious then), I was desperately trying to save my brand new $1000 iPhone from going in with me. I holding it up in the air hoping it would survive better than I. The things I think of in times of utter peril is beyond me.
All while this was happening, the look on his face was indescribably priceless. I seriously couldn’t tell if he was horrified, angry, or going to bust out laughing.
The other horror was he made it blatantly clear that he’s NOT going to rescue me. I guess if I were in his shoes, neither would I?
This is the one moment in all of our nomadic gallivanting that I was actually glad that he wasn’t taking photos or video of me. It probably would have made one hell of an incredibly awesome YouTube video-gone-viral that would have pushed our views way above Keep Your Daydream.
But, that would not have been a good idea for our marriage. And it wouldn’t have been good for my ego as lots of people would remember me as being a dumb ass for life. But at least our video would go viral, no?
Anyways, shaking his head back and forth, Dan, reluctantly yet lovingly, did retrace his steps to where I was sunk in deep.
He led me out (more like dragged my sorry ass out) of that morbid beach-of-death. It seems like the longest walk back to the truck. And, with every step, it was getting more repulsive. The only sound was me…still gagging and wretching.
We finally reached the parking lot. I look down to notice whatever-the-hell-THAT-was sticking to everything from the waist down. It was on my pants, my socks and legs. It was sticking to my arms and my hands…and yes, even my new iPhone.
Adding to insult, my brand spanking new designer hiking shoes were caked like cement with dead toxic-smelling crap, ground up fish bones, green slime and probably remnants of Jimmy Hoffa.
When we got to the truck, Dan just shook his head in gross disgust because I literally wreaked of toxic crap. In fact, he started gagging and wretching. (now it’s not so funny, honey, is it?!)
All of a sudden, my feet started to feel like they were on fire. My hands and arms started tingle.
So, Dan quickly lifted me up onto the tailgate of our truck and directed me to take my shoes and socks off immediately. He then grabbed the two gallons of water we kept in the backseat to rinse off what we could.
Lucky for me (and him), I was wearing hiking pants that unzipped at the knee. He quickly unzipped them, at the same time gagging to the point of almost puking.
I couldn’t help but to seriously hold back from laughing. Because laughing is how I deal with immediate trauma or high stress.
Anyway, my loving husband of 35 years continued to rinse “whatever-the-hell-THAT-was” off of burning feet. And then onto whatever that shit was left of my hiking shoes.
He disgustingly threw my pant legs, socks and shoes into the truck bed.
Luckily, I had an extra pair of socks and shoes in the back seat of the truck. We then, jumped inside the truck to make our get away. But, not without rolling the windows down; all four of them!
And yet still, the smell still permeated every inch of me and all around me like Pig Pen in the Peanuts cartoon.
I kept thinking to myself, “there’s no way even a whole bag of Venture Wipes and bottle of Bath and Body voodoo spray are going to mask this”. Seriously, I was going to need an hour-long hotel shower and a scrub brush to get this toxic crap off of me. And here we were, boondocking in desert with limited water.
Anyway, it goes without saying that the drive back to our RV was a silent one. I still couldn’t tell if he was pissed off at me or was going to bust out laughing. Believe me, I could usually read him pretty well. But this time, not so much.
All I know is I never want to do that again! And, we will never go to Salton Sea ever again. (Still, no pictures because, I was now pissed off at myself!).
Back to the RV
As we got back to our boondocking site, the first thing I did was fill our 5 gallon bucket up with water to rinse my shoes and pant legs off. I left them in to soak overnight thinking they’d eventually (or hopefully?) come clean.
But I digress, everything “whatever-the-hell-THAT-was” touched was destroyed; including my pride.
And yes, since we were boondocking with limited amounts of water, I grabbed my 25 pack of Venture Wipes. Standing in the middle of the desert, I gave everyone a show like I was some contestant on Survivor.
Wrapping up our Salton Sea Beach experience
If you are contemplating visiting Salton Sea Beach, stop! My advice to you is “don’t waste your time, money or SHOES”. Let your shoes do the walking before you ruin them!
I hope you enjoyed reading about our experience at Salton Sea at my expense. You can see I’m still alive to write about it and share it. I can honestly say I survived Salton Sea Beach!
Still intrigued by the Salton Sea?
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8 Replies to “Why You Should Never Visit Salton Sea Beach!”
Always an adventure when you are on Liberty!
Wow! That's insane! Thanks for sharing and I think we'll take your advice – maybe take a picture from the road if we're driving by. Glad you're alright!
A timeless tale…we did a day trip around the lake..didn’t have the courage to venture out near the shoreline..Bombay Beach and skeletons of boats and houses were nightmarish enough for us…hope you guys visited the “drive-in”…Could have been an Alfred Hitchcock movie back drop…..
Chuck, we have to admit, after our ‘crazy adventure’, we called it a day and vowed never to go back. Do ya blame us? But we’ll trust your description. Its simply like no other place on earth…we hope. -Dan & Lisa
Today, I went to the beachfront with my kids. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is totally off topic but I had to tell someone!
Wow wish I would have read this before I ventured ouf there by my self. The place looked beautiful as I held my nose. I was wearing sandles and as certain parts my feet sank in I began to freak out. The silence that surrounded the beach , other than a few birds that resembled seagulls and a few barking dogs , told me I better turn around and go back to the car. I’ve got some cool pics and video. And would like to go back to look at things more closely, but next time suited up in a full body protected suit and knee high rubber boots.
Sure do wish we had seen this before going there yesterday! Had the same horrible experience. Still cleaning the green slime off of our shoes! Why do they not have this posted to keep away from the shore?
Hi Sharon, OH NO!! Yeah, that is definitely a place to take off of the bucket list. Sorry your experience wasn’t great. We totally understand!