Why it’s worth it to kayak the Salton Sea

Finding solitude in unexpected places

If you kayak long enough, you're bound to end up in some pretty random places: paddling underground streams, breaking ice as you cross a lake — maybe you'll even find yourself in the streets during a flood.

And if you ever end up paddling Southern California's Salton Sea like we did, it'll definitely make that list of randoms in your paddling logbook.

A surprisingly large body of water on the southern end of the Coachella Valley, two hours northeast of San Diego, the Salton Sea is, quite literally, deserted. It was created by excessive water channeling in the early 1900s when farmers and engineers worked to tract irrigation channels from the Colorado River.

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Mother Nature took charge as the channelized water flowed into an ancient, empty lake bed. But high salinity in the inflow (as well as in the soil) created a salt lake, much like the one outside Utah's capital. The salinity levels are now higher than the Pacific Ocean, a fact attributed to the killing of fish populations and the general fouling of areas around the lake that were once thriving resort villages not unlike Palm Springs. So, for now, the small communities are empty. As is the sea.

Gillian Gibree, a professional paddlesports athlete and yoga instructor from San Diego, and I stroked off near the small village of Bombay Beach. The placid waters, untouched by wind or wake, part easily. This easy glide is similar to riding untouched powder or surfing a wave on a still day: effortless.

There is a beauty in the emptiness here, a place bereft of city sound that you can appreciate after driving away from the metropolis with all its traffic and tolls and congestion. There's none of that here. And kayaking is the perfect way to explore it. — JC

Gillian Gibree and C&K Senior Editor Joe Carberry at peace in an unlikely, but must-see, paddling location: Southern California’s Salton Sea. Photos by Aaron Schmidt

— Read more about kayak touring on Southern California’s Salton Sea, as part of our rundown of Unlikely Paddling Destinations.

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