Spring Break: The Salton Sea

WORDS & PHOTOS BY: ARIANA SAWYER

Like most of you, it's been a while since I've been able to relax and even longer since I've taken anything remotely like a vacation. That's probably why my wife and I had all our bags packed and lined up by the door a full four days before our camping trip to the Salton Sea. 

The night before we left, I bragged about our camping reservation on the North Shore to a friend who'd just gone off-roading nearby. 

"Salton sea, huh?" my friend responded. "Bring some masks -you're gonna smell a lot of dead fish and sulphur because the lake is drying out."

In the middle of the Mojave Desert, the Salton Sea was created by accident when the Colorado River overflowed back in the early 1900s. The fish that flowed in from the freshwater rivers and the tilapia people brought in flourished in the water. It used to be a real hot tourist spot in the 50s and 60s, but nowadays it has a bad reputation for smelling like "fish and farts," as my friend so aptly put it. 

That's because the water has been evaporating, especially during the drought, increasing the concentration of salt in the lake. Since most of the fish can't live in saltwater, they die, washing up on the shores where their bodies rot in the sun or get picked apart by the other surrounding wildlife.

My wife and I almost drove to Joshua Tree instead. 

But we couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit Slab City and Salvation Mountain, a part of California known as the last free place to live in the U.S.

It's the end of my first day on the shore of the Salton Sea, and I have to say: It doesn't smell so bad. 

And the view is a divine spectacle. I mean, it's really something. 

You just have to overlook the fact that the sand is made up of about a billion pieces of fish bone, and that the dog is pawing the latest salty victim. 

It's also a little cold in the desert at night, and since the tourist industry here is as dead as the fish, every store selling firewood within a 15-mile radius is closed. At least I was able to scavenge enough wood to have a belly full of s'mores. The weather isn't supposed to get much warmer until after we leave.

So maybe I won't be pulling out my bikini this spring break, but this sure beats studying for midterms.