Worst Potential Spring Break Destinations: Centraila, Salton City and Shired Island

By Sean | May 22, 2013

One of the biggest joys of college life is taking off with a bunch of your friends and spending a week of unfettered fun during Spring Break. The timing couldn’t be better: the world’s just waking up again from the depths of winter and, if you go to school in the northern half of the US, you’re pretty sick of being bundled up and trudging to class with the wintry winds in your face. Besides, most of the time Spring Break happens just about mid-way through the spring semester and you’re ready for a break anyway.

Most spring breakers head for the classic locations like Ft. Lauderdale, Cancun, Key West, San Diego, or Myrtle Beach, for the traditional week of parties, tanning, and…well…you can fill in the blanks with your imagination. But we know that times are tough and not everyone can afford to hang out with the rich kids. We also know that not everyone is into the whole “sun n’ fun” stereotype and are looking for something a bit more…err…extreme. Well, look no further! Here are a few suggestions for a Spring Break that you’re sure to not forget…as long as you survive.

Centraila, Pennsylvania: If the idea of going hiking through the bucolic countryside and rolling hills of southern Pennsylvania for Spring Break might sound like a good one, especially if you’re the outdoorsy-type. Just tie on your boots, strap on a backpack, and prepare for a week of green grass, picturesque country roads, and the first buds of spring flowers gently perfuming the air as you saunter along taking it all in. Sounds like a great way to get away from the bustle and grime of the city, huh?

Maybe, but just don’t decide to pitch your tent in Centraila.

See, back in 1962 Centraila started burning…and it hasn’t stopped. Nobody knows why it started—most theories revolve around a fire starting in the town dump that ignited an exposed coal seam—but it probably won’t go out for at least 100 years or so. But don’t expect a fire-y blaze…that might actually be kind of cool to look at…instead, expect dry, baked ground, cracked rock formations, and open pits that constantly spew toxic coal smoke gasses. Before the fire, the town boasted about a thousand residents. Today, there are less than 12 hardy souls hanging on around the fringes. What’s left is just scrub brush, ashes, and desolation.

Salton City on the Salton Sea, California: Who wouldn’t want to go visit an out-of-the way seaside town in California where you’re almost guaranteed to have the beach to yourself?

Umm..well…anyone sane, that’s who.

While it might sound good on paper, Salton City is one of the most depressing, desolate, and disgusting places in the US. It’s located on the shores of the Salton Sea, an enormous inland “sea” created by accident in the early 1900’s when some irrigation plans went amok and flooded a depressed area called the Salton Basin. While this was a disaster for farming, people soon started to realize that they had a brand new vacation spot on their hands and towns like Salton City and nearby Dalton sprung up to handle the growing crowds of vacationers eager to swim in the newly created body of water.

Unfortunately, the water had nowhere to go once the irrigation canals feeding it from the Colorado River were dammed up and the hot California sun started evaporating the water. By the early 1960’s the salinity of the water had risen to toxic levels that killed most of the fish that had taken hold during the first few decades. And as evaporation continued and the sea shrank, the “shores” started getting father and farther away from the water leaving behind cracked mudflats speckled here and there with gaseous “mud volcanos” that regularly spew stinking mud high into the air. Today only a few hundred hardy souls remain in the once-bustling tourist town, keeping watch as the once-lovely resort town rusts into the desert.

Shired Island, Florida: Ahh, Florida! With it’s sandy beaches, swaying palm trees, and mild climate, it’s no wonder that the state has always been a favorite Spring Break location for millions of college students every year. And while most of the action happens on the east coast of Florida (St. Augustine, Orlando, Daytona Beach, etc.), the west coast, nestled against the shores of the warm Gulf of Mexico also has its share of favorite spots such as St. Petersburg and Panama City.

Shired Island, located on the Gulf Coast just south of the “bend” in the state that leads to the Florida Panhandle seems like it has the potential to be a perfect spring break spot for those seeking an out-of-the-way location to soak up the sun. It’s part of the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge and offers stunning ocean vistas, white, sandy beaches (many covered by millions of seashells left behind by indigenous peoples who have fished the area for thousands of years), stately palm trees, and many acres of untouched forests. You can swim, fish from the breakwater, lay in the sun, and even put in a kayak and explore the many miles of coastline if you’re feeling adventurous. It’s a rare, nearly-untouched stretch of beach that provides a glimpse of what Florida might have been before it was developed.

So why aren’t people flocking here? Probably because they don’t want to die of a horrible bacterial infection.

Yes, even though it looks inviting, you probably shouldn’t be hopping in the water unless decked out in a full Haz-Mat suit. For several years now Shired Island has topped nationwide lists of “the dirtiest beaches in the US.” Water samples, taken once a week, have shown that 90% of the time the water exceeds the state’s maximum allowable limits for bacterial contamination. It turns out that it really wasn’t such a good idea to let local industry dump 60 million gallons of toxic waste into the water every day for over 25 years. Hmmm…who wouldda thunk?