Bombay Beach and The Salton Sea
Do you ever visit places and think wow this would be a great setting for..? This place, Bombay Beach, would be a really great setting for any post apocalyptic movie imaginable. Every time I visit I think of The Walking Dead and halfway expect to see a horde of zombies coming at me. But … all I am met with is a dusty, bleached, rusted and nearly abandoned town with ‘the lowest bar in the western hemisphere’ and two small convenience stores.
Nearly 300 people call this town home. I’ve seen three of them and a wild bunny.
In 1905 the Colorado river breached a canal that flowed for two years and settled in the dry desert creating the Salton Sea. Birds and fish thrived here and by the 1950ies small resort towns popped up along it’s shores and it became a vacation paradise featuring boating, fishing and water skiing. But by the 1970ies things started going downhill. Runoff from local farms introduced large amounts of pollution to the Salton Sea and it became saltier than the Pacific Ocean. Depleted oxygen in the sea killed off the fish and as they decomposed, littering the shore, the sand became coated in a thick layer of sludge and bones. You still see them there, their rotting bodies, making the salty beach whiter.
The scent? Is hard to describe, but I’d say something close to rotten eggs. Sulfuric gasses are released from the bottom of the lake by ecological shifts creating the stench that can be so potent it can be smelled over a hundred miles away at times.
So why visit? Abandoned places fascinate me. They are a treasure for the curious to imagine what once was. Bombay Beach hasn’t been completely abandoned though. You’ll find a lot of graffiti, some of the ruins are completely blanket in layers of it, poetry, some humor and even art made out of the destruction. Like the Trash Tree below
A fancy locked and chained up gate keeps visitors out of what once appeared to be a glorious gated community right on the water… now, when you peek through the bars of the gate, you’ll see homes that have been ripped apart and splintered into ruins giving you only a faint idea of what once was and how they were cared for and lived in. Now they’re mere canvases for graffiti, mostly crude poetry and art. Even the palm trees that once majestically shaded the entrance booths have suffered.
My favorite spot in Bombay Beach is the drive in theater featuring a blank white truck trailer as the screen. (E Ave close to 4th) What a little love (okay maybe a lot) could do for some of those cars… but in the state they’re in there, they fit their surroundings.
Due to occasional flooding it seems the area closest to the shore is the worst off. One house by a levee appeared to be occupied but the rest are ruins. The sadness of it all is a bit overwhelming.
From here you can walk to the shore. On a windy day the scent from the sea can be pretty overwhelming.
Old power lines hang useless from poles…
Recently artist are starting to buy up some of the old property around town to make galleries and art exhibits like the botanical garden and the opera house below.
A few tips…
– Watch your step everywhere you go. There’s broken glass and sharp objects scattered all around.
– Be alert and bring water. It’s hot!
– The residents are often up for a quick chat. Great stories can be heard at Ski Inn especially one about a visit from Anthony Bourdain.
– Many documentaries and films are made on the Salton Sea. I recommend watching them but also take the time to go check it out for yourself. It’s definitely worth a visit
– And finally, a little warning. Circling the Salton Sea is a great day trip. We stopped at Salton City on the other side. The ‘sand’ (layer of sludge and fish bones) on the shore there, close to the water, suddenly gave away under us and we sank quickly. Getting back up and out was scary and not easy. Thankfully we had lots of water to wash it off afterwards.
– There’s an annual event called Bombay Beach Biennale festival for the arts in April every year including opera, ballet, film screenings and music bringing a bit of life back to Bombay Beach.