Salton Sea, California

Forgotten but not Gone…Yet

Water skiers buzzed by shorelines as they waved to onlookers from rich blue waters in California’s Coachella Valley. Meanwhile, picnics by the plenty were had under palm trees as vacationers and seasonal folks enjoyed all that could be offered in this Southern California paradise.

Salton Sea, California
Camera: Canon 1V

This was what was advertised to attract tourists to the Salton Sea in the mid-to-later 1900s. The Salton Sea was formed in the early 1900s when an especially wet year resulted in the flooding of the Colorado River. The Salton Sea was about 35 miles long and 15 miles wide, covering around 343 square miles.

Salton Sea, California
Camera: Canon 1V

Was because the Salton Sea has been continually evaporating. The advertisements I’d watched on television were part of a documentary on the area. Times have changed a lot since those ads since the businesses that once catered to tourists are now shuttered and the water that people once enjoyed for recreation is not as attractive as it once was. The ads were an extreme contrast to the dusty shorelines and sparsely populated area that is the current Salton Sea area.

Salton Sea, California
Camera: Canon 1V

Due to the extreme salt levels in the water, fish have dwindled significantly and today even birds’ numbers are reducing by staggering amounts.

The thought of seeing a place that once thrived and now is not is highly intriguing, especially since this echoes what has happened in many towns in Michigan—except for the saltwater of course.

Highway 111 Will Take You There

An opportunity to see the Salton Sea area for a half day presented itself and I, of course, jumped at the chance. Driving along Highway 111 south of Palm Springs signs of civilization began to diminish with each passing mile. Finally, there it was. The Sea presented itself as a mirage of sorts as heatwaves rippled from the surrounding sands.

Stopping at the Salton Sea was surreal. There were fish in the mud cracks along old bicycles, also in the mud cracks. In the distance was a small community of people called Bombay Beach.

Salton Sea, California
Camera: Canon 1V

To live in such a seemingly-inhospitable place—off the grid almost—seems difficult to imagine. The more time I spent there though, I began to appreciate a beauty; the quiet, solitude and openness of it all began to make sense.

Salton Sea, California
Camera: Canon 1V

Being in a place of such abandoned also seemed to introduce a sense of artistic freedom and carefree spirit that would be unfounded anywhere else. This is a community of people who don’t need to impress or attract. This is a community that is here for a personal reason, and they seem to have adapted well.

Salton Sea, California
Camera: Canon 1V

Each lot in Bombay Beach served as a seemingly sandy canvas of a yard for residents to create; the streets were sand and the waterfront homes were looking at more sand every day as the shoreline of the Salton Sea recedes. I’ve read that the population of Bombay Beach was anywhere from 295 to 400; so we’ll call it an even 300.

Salton Sea, California
Camera: Canon 1V

Nearby, the abandoned automobile service garage of Felix Auto Repair showed the signs of once providing gas and service to motorists, but was no more.

The Salton Sea is shrinking all the time, and with it the people too, I imagine. It’s up there with one of the most unique places I’ve ever visited. There’s a vibe that conjures images of post-apocalyptic lawlessness but that vibe is laid to rest when one sees the creativity and art displayed in the area. It’s a hard-scrabble land that doesn’t seem forgiving but in the community that is there, it would appear there is a bond; the bond of a place once glorious for water, and now, possibly…hopefully, glorious for all that is not water.

Salton Sea, California
Camera: Canon 1V

Tech Notes: For this photo excursion, my only camera was the Canon 1V, a supremely-capable 35mm film machine; Kodak Portra 160 was my emulsion of choice. The sun was going to be high during the time I was there so there was no need for a faster film.

2 thoughts on “Salton Sea, California

  1. Every time I see photos of the Salton Sea, I am amazed by how otherworldly the abandoned 90s vacation meca . Portra 160 was a good choice. I find it shines when there is an absolute abundance of light. I really love how it’s mildly cold, desaturated look gives the normally warm feeling desert a cold and desolate feel. It’s definitely subtle. Great post and I look forward to your next!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Tobias! Salton Sea far exceeded my expectations, visually; the feeling of what once was, was palpable. Especially from a journalist’s perspective, the number of stories in a place like this truly boggles the mind. Ever you’re ever able to go, I can’t recommend it enough. Thank you very much for your message!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s