Why You Should Never Visit Salton Sea Beach!

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. However, once you get up close and personal, Salton Sea Beach tells a very rather disgustingly gross story of death and despair.

In fact, you may actually want to save your fuel and time by reading our experience before visiting Salton Sea Beach. Because trust me, once you read about it, either you’ll think twice about going or your curiosity will lure you to see Salton Sea for yourself.

If you do chance going, here’s a fair warning! Wear old shoes and clothes! And take a big dose of your sense of humor with you. Because even though Salton Sea looks beautiful, you’re going to thank me once you get there!

But before we share our Salton Sea Beach experience, let’s first learn how it came to exist and what happened to it which will later explain why you should never visit Salton Sea Beach.

Salton Sea Beach California - Always On Liberty-2

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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. It’s 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.

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 land surrounding this miracle in the desert to build homes, hotels and small businesses.

Small towns were born; surrounding the area with schools, public services and businesses. Jobs were plenty; dubbing it, not only as a popular resort destination, but a new metropolis for families to relocate there.

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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, the results 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 into the sea and on the beaches of 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 (I’m not exaggerating!) of barnacles also washed ashore as well.

Barnacles in the Salton Sea?

Salton Sea Beach California - Barnacles Beach

We associate barnacles to the ocean. You see them on the bottoms of ships, latched onto whales, and congregating in tide pools on 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 there, 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

Salton Sea Beach California - Dead Palm Trees

From afar, 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 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.

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.

This is exposing previously submerged lakebed to dry and calcify; creating a toxic dust.

But, while the State of California is trying to revive some of the beaches at Salton Sea, I gotta say, 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.

My first visit to the Salton Sea

In 2013, while visiting my cousin Bob and his family in San Diego, I rented a Harley Davidson motorcycle so I could check out the countryside in southeast California. Also, so I could boast saying, “I rode a motorcycle in California”.

One of those days, Bob, who had his own Harley, took a day off from work so we could ride up to Cleveland National Forest and into the town of Julian. He then showed me a great overlook view of the Salton Sea. 

From a distance, it look amazing. The water was a gorgeous blue. We could make out from an elevated distance of white sandy beaches. However, while I was looking around, Bob briefly said something about it being toxic. But of course, I was too mesmerized at the view to be really paying attention. Looking back, I really should’ve been paying more attention!

My second visit 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. I told him how beautiful it looked and thought it would be a great excuse for us to get out of the RV for the day.

However, those words my cousin told me about Salton Sea years earlier totally escaped me. So, we jumped in the truck anyways. We stopped on the way in the town of Mecca to get some fuel and a couple bottles of water. We then, continued the short distance to get to Salton Sea Beach.

Welcome to Salton Sea Beach

Welcome to Salton Sea Beach - Always On Liberty
Photo by Always On Liberty©

Once we got to the gateway of Salton Sea, it wasn’t hard to notice the newly painted billboard sign that read Welcome to Salton Sea Beach. “The towns must be on the up and up”, I said, hoping to see new growth of the beach town.

After our obligatory photo of the welcome sign to prove we were there, we continued a little further and stopped at the Salton Sea Beach welcome garden.

This sign though, was a little retro looking; probably the original sign from the 60’s or 70’s. There was some sort of trailer and a whole bunch of weird antennae and satellite dishes. I joked that they must have been communicating with outer space (or something?).

Welcome to Salton Sea Beach Sign - Always On Liberty
Photo by Always On Liberty©

Entering the town of Salton Sea Beach

Some magical powers told us to turn down the road where we stood at the welcome garden. It started coming back to me. Remembering the beautiful view atop the hill that overlooked the Salton Sea, I also was recollecting the conversation Bob and I had at the overlook.

As we drove closer to the beach, the dreamy beautiful beach town disappeared. The coastal community became more of a story of destitution. It sort of felt like we were driving through some apocalyptic movie set. 

As Dan was driving slowly, we were silently gazing out the windows. All we saw were hollowed out, abandoned cinder block and teetering brick shells for buildings. And graffiti artists made use of the now crack houses. Yard trash, piles of trash and old rusty cars on blocks seem to be the yard art decor of choice.

Salton Sea Beach California - Abandoned Building

Surprisingly, about every fifth house was actually habitable. We were in disbelief that people were still living in the Salton Sea Beach community. There were quite a few stray mangy-looking dogs who were roaming the streets. Neither of us dared to step out let alone open a window or door.

I looked at Dan with raised eyebrows and quietly coined Dorothy’s words, “I guess we’re not in Kansas anymore”.

My original intention of taking photos was to document our experience. But, I certainly didn’t feel right exploiting the people and their livelihoods. So, I put the camera down and we continued on our own little auto tour.

We drove a little further hopping to find that pretty beach I’d seen looking down from the overlook. However, when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, they did.

Stepping into the Twilight Zone

Salton Sea Beach - Roadway with Dead Palms - Always On Liberty
Photo by Always On Liberty©

It was very strange. Something kept luring us towards the beach like some magical spell. It’s as if we were stepping into our own Twilight Zone.

Driving slowly, we passed by a line of perfectly-spaced dead palm trees. That should have been our first inclination of what we were about to happen upon.

We found a nearby parking lot to park our truck so we could get out to explore the beach on foot. But, as we walked just a couple hundred yards, that dreamy white beach was none other than something totally out of this worldAnd strangely, it kept luring us closer to the water’s edge.

Oddly, we looked around and 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. But, there wasn’t even one, which explains why the water was deathly still with no wakes or waves. 

We were making mental notes as we were inching closer to the shore. There was also not one colorful beach umbrella, blanket or beach chair to be seen. There were no meandering beachcombers looking for seashells or children splashing in the water to be seen or heard. We literally were the only one ones for miles.

Then it finally hit us. The putrid smell was nothing short of indescribable. Seriously, I can’t begin to put into words what that horrific odor was. But let’s just say the smell resembled death.

Salton Sea Beach California - Green Sludge

Getting closer to the shoreline, it’s nothing but a toxic wasteland with green slimy sludge separating the shoreline from the water.

What’s worse is upon closer observation, that white beach we’d seen from afar was not white sand and seashells. That white stuff was actually calcified matter bleached from decades under the California sun; remnants of everything that died; from bonefish skeletons, bird carcasses to barnacles and sun-bleached whatever-the-hell-that-is.  

Occasionally, we’d notice corroded rusty pipes and metal hardware sticking out up from below the beach surface.

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.

Salton Sea Beach California - Dead Fish Skeleton

Our reason for why you should never  visit at Salton Sea Beach

Now, remember at the start of this article, I mentioned something about make sure you wear old shoes and clothes? Well, here it goes!

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-THAT-is, ‘crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch’. In between, I’d be letting out a gagging wretch.

Salton Sea Beach California - Barnacles

As I was looking down, those barnacles and all of those bonefish skeleton remnants were what was crunching under my feet. With every step, I felt horrible that I was really walking on what used to be thriving wildlife.

Dan got down to the water before I did. Then, standing like he was in a GQ magazine shoot. I was thinking, “this ain’t so bad, now is it?”

Always On Liberty - Salton Sea Beach
Photo by Always On Liberty©

My brush with death

The closer I got to the shoreline, gagging and wretching with every step, my feet began to sink further into whatever-the-hell-is-that. I decided to retrace his footsteps like a kid following in a new fallen snow. I figured if he didn’t sink, neither would I, right?

Nope! I sank deeper up to my bleepin’ knees! My gags became unladylike cuss words with intermittent screams of horror. I’m not being overly dramatic here. Seriously, I felt like I was being swallowed into quicksand hell hole.

Only seconds later, there I was in every sense of the words “deep doo doo” all the way up to my waist!

Wondering what on earth was I screaming about, Dan turned around only to watch me literally fall into it. The funny thing of it all was I was trying to save my brand new $1000 smartphone by holding it up in the air hoping it would survive better than I. The things I think of in time of peril is beyond me.

All while this was happening, the look on his face was indescribably priceless. I couldn’t tell if he was angry, horrified or going to bust out laughing.

The other horror was he made it blatantly clear that he’s NOT going to rescue me. Nope! Not after seeing what I’m going through. I guess I should at least be grateful that he didn’t try to take any photos or video. That wouldn’t have been a good idea; nor good for our marriage.

Anyways, shaking his head back and forth, he finally 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 death beach to where our truck was. And, with every step, it was getting nastier and nastier.

Finally, we reached the asphalt parking lot. I looked down to notice whatever-the-hell-that-was sticking to my pants. To add insult, my expensive hiking shoes were caked like cement with dead toxic-smelling crap, ground up fish bones and green slime. 

When we got to the truck, Dan just shook his head in disgust because I literally wreaked of toxic crap. In fact, he started gagging and wrenching just the same. And then, my feet mysteriously started to burn and tingle.

So, Dan lifted me up onto the tailgate of the truck and directed me to take my shoes and socks off. He grabbed the two gallons of water we kept in the backseat to rinse the burning toxic feeling off.

Lucky for me (and him), I was wearing hiking pants that unzipped at the knee. He unzipped them at the same time almost puking. I couldn’t help but to hold back from laughing. (Sorry again, no pictures because at this point, I think he was really pissed off!)

He continued to rinse off the burning sensation off my feet and then, what was left of my hiking shoes. He tossed my pant legs and shoes in the truck bed. Luckily, I had an extra pair of shoes inside the truck. We then, jumped inside the truck to make our get away but not without rolling the windows down. Even then, the smell still permeated every inch of me. I kept thinking I’m going to need a hotel shower and a scrub brush to get this stuff off of me.

It goes without saying, the drive back to Liberty was a silent one. I didn’t know if he was pissed off at me or was going to bust out laughing.

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!).

We got back to our RV and 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 come clean. But I digress, they were utterly destroyed. The fabric was actually deteriorating and fraying.

And, sine we were boondocking on limited amounts of water, I grabbed about 10 packs of Venture Wipes to give myself a good wipe down until we could get to a water hookup.

Fast forward, you can see I’m still alive. I survived Salton Sea Beach!

Wrapping up our Salton Sea Beach experience

Salton Sea Beach - Nasty Shoes

I hope you enjoyed reading about our experience at Salton Sea at my expense. If you are contemplating visiting Salton Sea Beach, my advice to you is “don’t waste your time, money or SHOES”. Let my experience be your reason for not going.

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Still intrigued by the Salton Sea?

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6 Replies to “Why You Should Never Visit Salton Sea Beach!”

  1. 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…..

    1. 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

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

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