What does one really say about the Salton Sea? I mean, quite frankly it shouldn’t even be there—though it’s not the first time a lake has been in the Salton Sink. The 35 mile by 15 mile inland sea was created by accident after an engineering project on the Colorado river went south in 1905. And it wouldn’t be the first accident that the would-be vacation paradise would see in years to come.
For almost two years the entire contents of the Colorado River were sporadically dumped into the Salton Sink. Where some saw a disaster, others saw an opportunity. Developers flocked to the Salton Sea during the 1950’s and 60’s—often times calling it “Palm Springs with water” which was located about 50 miles north of the sea. Unfortunately the lack of incoming fresh water and the hot desert sun, along with runoff from the local agricultural industry meant the sea would soon have salinity levels too high for the abundant populations of corvina and tilapia to survive. Apparently people aren't attracted to the smell of dead fish and ensuing bacteria-laden water. Infrequent water levels and sporadic flooding also meant that homes built on the shores were often washed away, the lure of the "new Riviera" quickly dwindled, and most of the settlements on the Salton Sea were abandoned by the 1980's/
To people outside the American Southwest, relatively little is known about the Salton Sea, that's because in the last 30 years nothing has really happened there. Even though it's just a short drive off I-10, people rarely frequent the area—Bobby, my travel partner for the Mountain Rendezvous event we were headed to were hellbent to change that.
I'll be honest here—I've wanted to visit the Salton Sea for quite some time now. I can't even remember the amount of times I sat down and attempted to put together a trip to visit the post-apocalyptic scenery prior to moving to Prescott. It's a bigger deal than it might seem to drive across the country in an old, unreliable Land Rover on a dorm-room budget, so it never happened, and it almost didn't happen again.
At this point, we had no idea we'd even be taking a detour to the Salton Sea, and our departure time of 3AM was met with a bit of resistance. A legitimate work trip to Las Vegas ended up lasting a bit longer than I had previously expected, I ended up getting into Prescott just before 10PM the night prior, after re-packing, it meant less than 3 hours of sleep.
Luckily, they make espresso for that...all six shots of it.
Bobby still ended up driving. By the time my partially lazy and exhausted self woke up somewhere on I-10, I consulted the map on my phone to see where we were. After realizing that we were going to be driving right by the Salton Sea, I quickly referenced Wikipedia as to make my speech a little bit more compelling and convincing.
"Shit, dude, Bobby, the Salton Sea is like RIGHT off the road. We MUST go."
"Alright...dude, I'm down."
Either I was very convincing or Bobby also has a healthy appetite for exploring. (I'll go with the latter.)
...and to think I read Wikipedia for nothing.
After a few more miles on the super-slab, we were pretty bored and decided to take a little shortcut named Box Canyon Road, it's paved, but there's plenty of opportunities to get on the dirt if you so desire. We ended up taking a short trail that we were convinced would give us a sick overlook of the Salton Sea.
Luckily it paid off, and for the first time, I was burning the image of the Salton Sea (and associated smog) into my memory. We still had a bit of a drive ahead of us to reach our destination of Bombay Beach—my goal was to get an image of the Ski Inn, though I had heard it was for sale, and possibly closed.
After exploring a few roads in Mecca, we ended up cutting over to Highway 111, which more-or-less skirts the east coast of the Salton Sea. There's a variety of old, beaten down stores that likely each have a story of their own much longer than the one you're reading.
About a half-hour later, we reached Bombay Beach, and things started to get weird...just what we were looking for.
Take one-part desert, one-part hippy, one-part retiree, and one-part apocalypse and you'll get Bombay Beach.
Abandoned homes sit next to inhabited homes.
Inhabited homes sit next to random dead fish.
Which set next to random z-bar tires.
Which sit next to the travel trailers of yesteryear.
Which sit next to your grandmother's old stove.
...and your uncles travel trailer.
By this point, I'd begun to believe that I walked onto the set of a Hollywood postapocalyptic production. I'd truly never seen anything like it before.
Graffiti "Artists" have tagged a good part of the rotting area.
I could imagine that at one point this trailer had quite the view.
At least they got their money out of the tire before dumping it.
Something worth noting in this image is the power-grid that was once set up for homes and businesses that are no longer here.
Homes are literally abandoned with seemingly no interest in removing them—I'd bet the salt will deteriorate the buildings before people will.
If you're into digging your feet into the beach this is the seat for you. Just remember that the beach might not be as sandy as you hoped.
It's a bit "fishy" for my personal taste.
Random fish die-offs from the rising salinity and de-oxygenation mean massive amounts of tilapia and corvina (which used to be fished commercially here) wash up on the shore.
Oh look, they're open.
Here's the rusty old sign I was searching for.
Right, here's the Ski Inn, the secret behind it? I'm a pretty large fan of Anthony Bourdain's show, and he visited here on his "American Southwest" episode. Does that put me in the same class as people who visit "Diners, Dives, and Drives"?