By Greg Balkin
Welcome to the Salton Sea. The largest body of water in California, 30% saltier than the Pacific Ocean, over 200 feet below sea level, and home to some weird, weird stuff.
If you’ve heard of the Salton Sea, it’s most likely associated with Salvation Mountain or Slab City or even the odd shore that’s pretty much made up of dead fish. If you haven’t heard of this place, fire up the ‘ol Google and give it a look. Or better yet, drive three hours east of Los Angeles and check it out for yourself.
For all its weirdness and bad smells, the Salton Sea is somewhere I’ve found oddly comforting and relaxing over the years of visiting. I first came to this area in 2010 when two other friends and myself set out to make a documentary about a 93 year old woman who was born and raised in the area. We heard stories and saw photos of this place in it’s prime - it was a desert oasis. Fast forward 50 or so years and it's nearly a ghost town.
Through the floods and droughts, pristine vacationing and unexpected abandoning, the one thing that hasn’t changed much is the beauty of the land. Calm water lapping up against the muddy shores, painted mountains surrounding the horizon, birds soaring in perfect patterns over the surface, and the pastel sunsets that always seem to show up.
Yes, the area surrounding the Salton Sea isn’t the prettiest and sure, you have to walk on weird mud and the occasional dead fish to get to the water. But once you make it off the shore and sit in the stillness, you realize it’s worth it. It's like there's an invisible “Do not enter” that people seem to formulate around the water. But as soon as you cross that threshold and embrace the weird, you've entered a whole new perspective. It felt like we played with the sunset along the water’s surface, paddling after colors that faded in and out.
From all the times I’ve visited this area, I have yet to see a kayaker or boat on the water (go figure since you’d float easier too). I'm glad we went through the efforts of bringing boats down from Seattle and heading south from Joshua Tree rather than back towards the city. Because to sit in that sea of color as the sun went behind the mountains, to be back in this special place with someone important to me, and to share the stillness of it all made it oh so worth it.