One has to wonder what criteria is used to determine if a place sucks. It’s entirely subjective, but there are things we can all probably agree on. For instance, if the place inspires a deep fear of accidentally stumbling upon a methamphetamine laboratory and meeting an untimely demise at the hands of illegal drug manufacturing, it’s probably agreeably bad.
Dorris, the place I’m so adoringly designating as 0 on the Scale of Loveliness (a scale that goes from negative 10 at let’s say Trona, CA to positive 10 at perhaps Solvang or Vienna) might not have a large-scale meth lab, but it makes up for it with a chilling sense of alienation one experiences while passing through.
However, perhaps you’re a hermit, and alienation is sweeter to you than the cherry on your birthday cake (curse those frightful surprise parties!). Maybe then Dorris is a paradise! You would sit in blissful solitude all year long with no friends and even fewer neighbors, and when you get bored, you can always go out to the railroad crossing and count the cars on the 11:42 freight train headed for Sacramento. The life!
But I imagine most of us who aren’t reclusive misanthropes have a common set of standards we use to judge the quality of a place: safety, culture, scenery, economy, etc. One quality we don’t often consider, however, is how a place smells.
The Salton Sea in Southern California is stunningly beautiful. However, no amount of beauty can ever make up for how bad the entire region reeks. It is awful. If you’ve never been, take my word for it: being near the Salton Sea is like wearing a gas mask connected to a tank of decaying fish slowly being heated at 120 degrees – just hot enough for the microbes to flourish and bubble, but not quite hot enough to kill anything.
And literally – that’s what you’re smelling. As beautiful as the Salton Sea is from the road, once you get out of your car (upon which you’re assaulted full-force by the smell of widespread death) to approach the shore, you start to notice something a little… fishy, perhaps. The beach at first seems a little rocky, that is, until you notice you’re not standing on rocks at all, but finely ground fish bones. The water that seemed blue from a distance begins to look a little green and foamy, and suddenly you notice in shock that where the foamy green water meets the fish bones, there lie thousands upon thousands of rotting fish carcasses as far as the eye can see along the shore.
The first time I went to the shore of the Salton Sea is the only time I’ve ever come close to vomiting from an external sensory stimulus.
The reason for this is because the Salton Sea (manmade by accident in 1905) is such an unstable ecosystem, every time there’s a fluctuation in salinity or pH, half of the fish in the lake die and all float to shore. This happens frequently, and their lifeless bodies are left to decay for months.
The smell, while overwhelmingly bad, is not the only reason the Salton Sea dips below zero on my Scale of Loveliness. It’s also home to some of the most eerie settlements in California. You see, way back in the middle of the 20th century, people expected the sea would take off as a hit tourist destination where people from Southern California could go to escape their stressful lives in the city and go fishing and boating all day in a desert lake. Realtors, anticipating the surge in property values due to the inevitable surge of demand to own vacation property by the Salton Sea, built up huge tracts of infrastructure and homes.
Unfortunately, owning a boat on the most repulsive shore imaginable didn’t garner widespread appeal, and these homes and roads have been decaying, forlorn and forgotten ever since. The towns are nearly ghost towns, although there are a select few who are brave enough to weather the horrible stench of the Salton Sea.
Don’t get me wrong; the Salton Sea, while awful, is an unbelievably intriguing place. Stunning beauty lies not only with its scenery, but also in its eerie ghost towns and quietly brooding sadist spirit. I will never live there, but I do hope to visit there many more times, and I suggest you do to. Stopping by once isn’t enough to fully appreciate the chilling aura of one of the hottest places on Earth.