This was Bombay Beach and the Salton Sea, just two years ago.
To look at the pics, you’d never know the sea had had its heydey once.
That there was fishing and boating.
That there were communities.
That there was even a yacht club.
It does require the use of a bit of imagination, but it can be done.
The sea was made by a bit of an accident in 1905 (“DOH!” to quote Homer Simpson.) from the Colorado River overflowing and filling up the basin of what was a dried-up ancient Lake Cahuilla, or the Salton Sink. It’s a little more complicated than that, but it’s the best I can do right now. (There are links at the bottom of the page for more reading…)
And well, people being people, the opportunity was seized. A veritable sea in the desert? We can do this.
Fish were released into the water. Motels were built. The wildlife began to arrive – human and otherwise.
Sniff sniff. That’s the smell of prosperity, men.
But decades later, sniff sniff, and that’s the smell of a plan gone awry. That’s the smell like rotten eggs- sulphuric and potent – and rotting fish – because there are sad little tilapia bodies lying withered and pecked and decomposing on the shoreline.
A tideline of sorts.
Suddenly the Salton Sea resort is not all that appealing?
And tourists being tourists -fickle, flighty, noncommittal – they left.
It feels like a wasteland now, like you should expect to see a billboard with the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg watching grimly out over the dust and dirt and death.
“But above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg…” (F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby)
Bombay Beach is southern California’s poorest community. When I was there two years ago, I asked a local working in his garage, if he felt it would be rude if I took pictures of the place (their homes, abandoned buildings, the trailers washed up and corroding on the beach, etc.) and hey said, “No, that’s what makes us famous. What keeps people coming to the place.”
So I drove around and took some pics. There were bare skeletons of the trailers on the beach, abandoned after one of the numerous floods there, and the ubiquitous sense of sadness.
But I don’t live there.
Maybe it’s not that bad?
There’s security in community. There’s happiness in belonging.
But I do wonder what will happen when the trailers on the beach have completely eroded, splintered off into the hard sand, and when the photographers and ghost-town hunters and post-apocalyptic decay freaks don’t come around anymore?
We went back there over Christmas, and I was lucky enough to go on an overcast day – you know, just to REALLY get that sense of despondency -and the return visit was a reminder to me of my tendency to root for the underdog.
I’m not sure why I do it.
Oh, please don’t dry up, Salton Sea.
Maybe it’s about being able to tap into that place again of what it feels like to be lonely.
Maybe it’s being hopeful that the underdog will rise above it all.
Maybe it’s because one of the things that thrills me the most is when you see the smallest of smalls rise above the thing that is breaking him.
The Salton Sea is needing revitalization somehow – and I’m sure the drought hasn’t helped the cause -and so, if you’re interested in visiting and learning more about this strange and wonderful place, here are some great links for additional reading and fabulous pictures.
I love places like this. Love them because they say, “There is beauty here, you just have to look at it from a different angle. There is beauty to be found in the hardness here. There is beauty to be found in a character forged from abandonment. And there is beauty in the desire to fight and to graffiti, and to rebel and love, and to destroy and rage and to neglect. It may not be the beauty you expect, but it is a beauty nonetheless.”