road trip: the salton sea
We left Santa Barbara late at night, stopping long enough in LA to pick up some necessities at my house, and hightailed it to Palm Springs in order to avoid my highly contagious housemate who'd just gotten back from China with some sort of evil Chinese flu. We ended up staying in Indian Wells, actually, but what's the difference -- it's all the same contiguous expanse of perfectly manicured golf course lawn anyway.
Salton Sea Shoreline, Bombay Beach.
The next morning, we got up at dawn and started down Highway 111 South toward the Salton Sea
. I wanted to show M the northeastern shore, which is a barren, scrubby landscape dotted with abandoned 1950s-era speculative real estate and dilapidated trailer communities. M had never been there, and I haven't been in almost 3 years
If you haven't been to the Salton Sea before, or you didn't know it existed, you're not alone. At 376 square miles, it's the largest (and most polluted) body of water in California, a major bird refuge, and the lowest populated area in the world (it's over 220 feet below sea level), but it's rarely visited or discussed, despite being a strange magnet for photographers. The sea was created in 1905 when an accidental diversion of the Colorado River near Yuma, Arizona flooded the Salton Basin in the desert of southeastern California. Like the Great Salt Lake, it has no outlet, and is slightly saltier than the Pacific Ocean.
The 'sand' - fish bones.
Because the artificial inland sea had no natural stock of fish, tilapia, mullet, and several other varieties were introduced and thrived, making the sea a draw for fishermen. In the 1950s, much of the land around the Salton Sea was purchased by speculative real estate investors, who developed motels, marinas and RV parks along the beach and then advertised plots of land for sale along California's sunny inland "Riviera". People bought in, and you can find postcards of people sailing, fishing and playing in the water in booming resort towns like Mecca, Salton City and Bombay Beach. Over time, agricultural pollutants, evaporation and highly toxic ectoparasites
caused huge fish and bird die-offs -- as many as 640 dead birds a day -- and made the water and the fish something to avoid. In the summer, the Sea stinks of rotting fish and fertilizer, and when you walk along the shore at Bombay Beach, it only takes a moment to realize that the sand isn't sand at all, but millions of vertebrae, ribs and the occasional whole, dried, very very dead fish.
The most photographed abandoned trailer
in the world, Bombay Beach.
Predictably, the investors went bankrupt, the motels and marinas were abandoned, and all that's left of Bombay Beach is a scattered community of trailer homes with for sale signs on them, shacks with broken windows that nevertheless look like they might be occupied, and an abandoned block of houses and trailers that flooded many years ago. That one flooded block next to the abandoned marina is the second-most photographed location at the Salton Sea. I'll get to the most popular one in a bit.
Pearl Stewart's filthy lies,
Despite its near-invisibility even to Californians, there is a great deal of information about the Salton Sea on the web. Kim Stringfellow
has an excellent photo essay
on the Salton Sea, and it has its own website
courtesy of the state of California's Salton Sea Authority if you'd like to know more about its history or delicate, threatened ecosystem.
Posted by kia at January 24, 2004 07:22 PM