5 Unusual Lakes in the U.S.

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Many lakes are special in some way. You might think that little lake down the street is the best fishing spot in the world. Or maybe that reservoir where you bought waterfront property years ago has become a hot real-estate location, and your investment is now worth millions of dollars. Then there are those lakes with unusual features that fascinate scientists. Here are several lakes around the U.S. that are extraordinary in some way.


5. Crater Lake

Crater Lake in Oregon is one of the deepest lakes in the world.

Crater Lake, one of the deepest lakes in the world, is famous for its striking water color and clarity.

The Western U.S. and Alaska are home to more than two-dozen crater lakes, which form in the caldera of volcanoes. Only one is actually named “Crater Lake.” Located in southwest Oregon, Crater Lake has a maximum depth of almost 2,000 feet, making it the deepest lake in the U.S; it is the third-deepest lake in the world, as measured by average depth. But the trait that really makes Crater Lake stand out is the striking blue, crystal-clear water. Because Crater Lake has no tributaries, the water is replenished only by rain and snowfall, leading to the surreal clarity.

Crater Lake National Park is one of the overlooked gems of the national park system, and a must-see destination if you’re visiting the Pacific Northwest.


4. Great Salt Lake

The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Great Salt Lake is one of many vital bird habitats around the lake. © Robb Hannawacker

Great Salt Lake’s Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is one of many bird habitats around the lake. © Robb Hannawacker

A remnant of the enormous prehistoric Lake Bonneville, Great Salt Lake is the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere. The name is quite apt — the water in this Utah lake is almost nine times saltier than seawater in places. Although that salinity makes parts of Great Salt Lake uninhabitable for most species, the lake’s wetlands are a critical wildlife habitat for many migratory birds and waterfowl.


3. Lake Pontchartrain

The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway is the longest bridge over water in the world.

The 24-mile-long Lake Pontchartrain Causeway is the longest bridge over water in the world.

This body of water that infamously flooded New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is actually an estuary, not a lake. That’s a distinction made only by scientists, however, as “Lake” Pontchartrain has been immortalized in numerous songs, books, TV shows and movies. Pontchartrain has faced numerous environmental challenges in recent years, but diligent efforts by government agencies and private groups have improved the water quality. By the way, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, two parallel bridges spanning almost 24 miles, is the longest bridge over water in the world.


2. Mono Lake

The many tufa towers in Mono Lake are a surreal sight. © Pedro Szekely

The many tufa towers in Mono Lake are an otherworldly sight. © Pedro Szekely

Located just east of Yosemite National Park, Mono Lake boasts many strange properties. The feature visitors immediately notice is the tufa towers, limestone formations that are most prominent at the lake’s south end. Some of these towers reach heights of 30 feet. No fish are native to Mono Lake, because of the extreme salinity and alkalinity, but a small brine shrimp forms the cornerstone of an ecosystem that feeds migratory birds.

More than 700,000 years old, Mono Lake is one of the oldest lakes in North America. It’s also in an active volcanic region; Paoha Island, one of the lake’s largest islands, formed from a volcanic eruption about 350 years ago. If you’re visiting Yosemite, find time to check out the nearby Mono Lake visitor center.


1. Salton Sea

An abandoned boat left behind by the receding waters of the Salton Sea. © Gentle

An abandoned boat left behind by the receding waters of the Salton Sea. © Gentle

Despite the name, the Salton Sea is technically a lake, covering some 350 square miles in Southern California. Although it occupies an ancient lakebed, the Salton Sea is not a natural body of water, but instead resulted from a man-made disaster. Around the turn of the last century, thousands of farm workers migrated to the area, and used water from the Colorado River to irrigate the rich soil. But in 1905, heavy rains caused an irrigation canal to fail and the river flooded into the Salton Sink, creating a huge lake. Southern Californians eventually embraced the lake — by the 1950s, it had turned into a popular resort destination, with boating and other activities. But by the late 1970s, heavy rains caused the lake to overflow, damaging the resort areas along the shore. Many never recovered, and the tourists headed elsewhere.

Today, the Salton Sea has turned into an ecological disaster. The water level has been receding since the 1990s. As drought conditions and evaporation leave behind dry lakebed, strong desert winds in the region kick up the dust — which contains pesticides and other toxins — and blow it all over Southern California. The lake also emits hydrogen sulfide, a product of the decaying organic matter in the water. The strong rotten-egg odor can be smelled even in Los Angeles, more than 125 miles away. Local politicians and scientists have been searching for more than two decades for solutions to the Salton Sea’s unique situation. The state even proposed a $9 billion fix for the situation, but the plan never came to fruition.


One More: Isa Lake

Isa Lake in Yellowstone National Park drains into both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. © Paul Thompson

Isa Lake in Yellowstone National Park drains into both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. © Paul Thompson

Unless you’ve been to Yellowstone National Park, you’ve probably never heard of this lake. Even if you’ve visited the park, it’s possible you saw the lake and thought nothing of it. Here’s what makes Isla Lake very unusual: scientists believe it is the only natural lake in the world that drains to two different oceans. Located along the continental divide, Isla Lake drains to both the Atlantic and the Pacific. To make the situation even more peculiar, the west side of the lake drains to the Atlantic, while the east side drains to the Pacific.

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