[Photojournal] The Salton Sea: Bombay Beach

It was 108* outside.  The air was heavy, dry and smelled so much like death that I found myself bracing physically and mentally the few times that I dared to open a closet or bedroom door in an abandoned trailer.  Part of me was certain that we would find something dead.  At one point we did find a dead animal on a knitted blanket between two trailers, fur preserved and corpse flattened by the undisturbed decay. 

We were trespassers.  Adventurers carefully moving through ruins created in my lifetime.   Unlike other parts of the Salton Sea, Bombay Beach is a much more modern wasteland.  In fact, people still live there with these abandoned homes and trailers littered between functional residences.  It isn't unusual for strangers to come to Bombay Beach.  Photographers, Filmmakers, Artists and Lookie-loos are drawn there by the promise of finding things you don't get to see anywhere else. 

The Salton Sea has a long and rich history of abandonment.  Despite some vandalism and tagging, a lot of the places I walked through were in surprisingly good condition.  One of the houses we found was covered in art (yes, there is a difference between vandalism and art).  The artists even dated their works in some cases (which adds to the time capsule).  I saw so many items that I recognized from the 80s... which was so strange to me.  I had gone expecting to see some mid-century treasures (and I did) but I didn't expect to see a Michael Jackson cassette or a complete collection of Funken Wagnel Encyclopedias. 

When I was a very little girl my family lived in a trailer park.  A door-to-door salesman sold my Mom a similar set of Funken Wagnel Encylopedias two books at a time.  I was about five years old, at the time.  I would sit in front of our tube TV in its wooden case and read the encyclopedias.  I remember being so excited when she got the last two books because they were dictionaries and I could look up words that I didn't understand.  When I walked into that small room at the front of a trailer and saw those books... it felt like I was somehow in a weird allegory of my own past and felt an intense connection to those people

Outside another trailer I found a leather recliner with the foot rest popped up.  The property had pine trees with thin needles.  The fallen needles had turned brown and collected in piles around the chair and on the seat.  That recliner reminded me of one my grandmother had.  The pine needles reminded me of growing up in Lake Tahoe and spending time with her.  I had gone to Bombay Beach to hunt ghosts of people I would never know and see things that I don't get to see every day.  I didn't expect to find random things that stirred up the sediment of the ghosts of my own life.   

There is something uniquely voyeuristic about poking through someone's abandoned home. 
I found a medicine bottle that was full of something (I assumed it was blood pressure medication because no one had stolen it) with the label long since faded.
In one closet I found a housecoat and suit jacket still on their hangers with cobwebs.  I opened the fridge to find that there was still food inside, dry and preserved from the climate. There was an open oven with unopened canned food scattered on the ground.  Labels on the cans had faded and peeled with the outsides of some cans rusting from the elements.  Who were the couple that lived there?  When did they move there?  Did they leave or pass away?

I love places, like this.  Abandoned places with strange history.  The Salton Sea was once a glorious place.  As the water evaporated and the ph changed... the fish died.  The "sand" on the shores is made up entirely of tilapia fish bones.  You cannot swim in or drink the water (nor would you want to). It smells like sewage, old cat food and a shallow grave. 

The Salton Sea feels strangely like looking into California's future.  Humanity's future.  It's like taking a trip to a nearby apocalypse. 
As the water runs out and things change I wonder how many towns will end up this way.  How would all of the things you buy and cherish today look to other people in 2045 as they carefully move through the abandoned ruins of your life?  We worry about what other people think.  We worry about the planet.  The planet is fine!  The planet will survive.  What other people think doesn't ultimately matter much.  This stuff we leave behind turns into garbage which turns, in time, to dust.  This planet doesn't need us... we need it.  We need each other. 

Live This Life. 

Be Grateful. 

Live a Good Story. 


  1. I have been here and love to do photo shoots like these all over CA and NV. I love your last blurb, concerned about the planet? The planet doesnt need us we need it and one day it will shakes us off like the fleas we are :)



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