Bombay Beach - The Dainty Squid

Bombay Beach

Thursday, June 19, 2014

One of the big stops on this road trip was the Salton Sea. The sea was created in 1905 by a flood from the Colorado River. In the 1950's and 60's the Salton Sea was a booming tourist attraction. People flocked from all around to enjoy California's largest lake. But it didn't last. Agricultural runoff from surrounding fields increased the salinity. With no outflow it only got worse with time. Now the Salton Sea is a far cry from what it used to be. It's littered with abandoned buildings and dead fish.

The main area we spent time in was Bombay Beach, a quaint little town nestled 225 feet below sea level. Prone to flooding from the Salton Sea, there is now a large dike protecting the town. As of the 2010 census, 295 residents lived there, down from 366 in 2000. I can only imagine how small the population is now. The side closest to the sea is almost completely abandoned. Bombay beach was intense. It's like nothing I have ever seen before.
We visited on a very hot day, instead of the dead fish smell that others experience at the Salton Sea, it just smelled like hot trash to me. It was repulsive. I have such mixed emotions about the whole experience. It was so exciting to be able to explore so many abandoned homes, sheds, boats, etc. at once and in such a small area but in the same breath, it's incredibly sad that this even exists. The homes are full of belongings from the people who just up and left. Did you notice all the clothes in the fifth picture? It's not like being an abandoned factory, school or any of the other places I've explored, this was so personal. There's something unsettling about being there.

Definitely an experience I won't soon be forgetting.

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12 thoughts

  1. I've always been fascinated by the Salton Sea, I like reading about it and watching documentaries, I hope I can visit it one day although I expect it to not be a very pleasant experience. Your photos capture the overall feeling about the place beautifully, it makes me feel quite sad looking at them. I liked reading your thoughts about it too.

  2. Wow... I had no idea this place even existed. It's always weird to have such conflicting emotions - to be excited, intrigued and sad all at the same time. Amazing photos, as always!

  3. Wow, I've never heard of this place. It seems to interesting and sad! I can't imagine having to leave all of your stuff like that.

  4. I read this really cool graphic piece on the Salton Sea last year- its in this great iPad zine called Symbolia, like a journalistic magazine meets comic.

  5. My grandma actually lived there, my great aunt still does, not far from where you took photos. It's mostly a community of elderly and poor people and addicts. It's a pretty depressing place. We would visit there as kids and as we got older we'd avoid visiting as much as possible because of the smell and depressing atmosphere.

    We actually had to force my grandmother out of her home not too long ago (she wasn't able to take care of herself anymore). She left a lot behind because she had accumulated a lot over the years. It looked almost as bad as some of the homes in this pic. We paid someone to salvage anything left behind though, so that we could try to resell her home, but it could just have easily been one of these photos. It's definitely weird seeing this community through someone else's eyes because even though I didn't grow up there by any means, I think I definitely have a different view of someone who is passing through.

    Sorry if this comment is strange or TMI. Just so strange to see this community through a different context.

    1. Nooo, not strange or TMI! I'm super interested! Thank you so much for sharing.

  6. I have -some- very fond memories of going to the Salton Sea as a child. When I was growing up (back in the 90s, when there were still fish there) my dad used to take us fishing all the time! Unfortunately, my last trip there, all I remember is the ungodly amount of maggots because of all the dead fish :[

  7. Wow that is pretty sad how everyone seems to have just up and left. It's sad that something that was once a wonderful place has turned into the extreme opposite!

  8. I was just there a few months ago! You know the "sandy beach" was actually a million tiny little fish bones...pretty creepy. I wish I had walked around some of the abandoned houses, but was too freaked out to do it by myself :)

  9. I went to the Salton Sea with my my professor and some people from my photo class in college in the early 2000's. It sounds like Bombay Beach has gone down a bit even more since then, but I know at the time there were a large number of older people.... I'm not sure if it's true now, but the area used to also be home to some of the largest concentrations of ex-convicts in the whole state of California. I know some of the spots we stopped at, like the Yacht Club, have been torn down since then as well.....

    My trip there itself was super intense and awesome to say the least. We stayed for a few days and my professor had us up early every morning and made sure we went out during the golden hour to all sorts of awesome spots he had scouted out over the years.... He actually knew people that lived in the area so we camped in Bombay Beach during our trip. We at dinner at the American Legion (only one of 2 places to eat that were available in Bombay Beach at the time.) We drove around the entire Salton Sea and got stopped by boarder control while I was driving the school-owned van and we stopped at a swap meet and ate kumquats for the first time and walked on beaches that looked to be almost completely made of bones at times. We stopped at Salvation Mountain and talked with Leonard Knight, who was thrilled to have people visiting and shooting photos and he wasn't preachy at all as I had feared - he let the mountain do that sort of talking for him. Before we left at the end, we all stopped by at the home of an elderly woman my professor knew and talked with her a bit and helped her move giant cases of ensure around her home. That was truely one of the weirdest, most fun, intense experiences of my time during college. The Salton Sea's a crazy place....


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