What happens to a seaside paradise when the seaside gets toxic
The story of Bombay Beach, California is an unusual one. In the early 1900’s an attempt to control the Colorado River for irrigation backfired when flood waters filled the Salton Basin creating the Salton Sea.
This new sea in the desert may have been an environmental disaster, but was and still is the largest lake in California and it started attracting people. Communities and resorts popped up to provide water-starved Southern Californians with a place to fish, swim and boat. One of those communities was Bombay Beach whose tagline in the 1940’s and 50’s was “Living In Paradise.”
Unfortunately, unnatural occurrences in nature have consequences. The Salton Sea has no place to drain and is fed by polluted agricultural runoff and rain that can cause the sea level to change drastically. Bombay Beach fell victim to rising water in the 1970’s that flooded and destroyed beach front properties and piers which are now in ruins. In recent years, more water has been removed for irrigation, lowering the water level causing the salt, and pollution levels to go up. This started killing off the fish whose bones litter the sand. Bombay Beach is now far from being considered a paradise.
The air on the beach smells like dead fish and it is littered with old fish carcasses, debris and the ruins of the piers that no longer reach the receding water.
Many of the trailers and simple houses near the beach are abandoned and falling apart. Yet a few people still live in Bombay Beach. Next to abandoned homes are other homes that have cars in the driveway and kids playing in the yard.
Below is an example of what I call a “trailer house” which seemed to have been popular in Bombay Beach. Residents most likely parked their trailer on a lot and eventually built a house around it.
There are not a lot of interior photographs in this post because there is not much left to them. The small, simple houses have mostly been picked clean by urban explorers and scrappers. On a future trip I hope to talk to some of the residents and photograph them in order to tell the complete story of the rise and fall of Bombay Beach.
Technical Note: I photographed Bombay Beach twice under very challenging conditions. the first shoot (dated 2015) was on a bright sunny day with a wind storm blowing 60 mile an hour winds. The second time (dated 2016) was still very windy with scattered rain. Shooting under tough conditions requires forethought to protect your gear. Before leaving the car, I set up my equipment up so I would be ready for whatever conditions outside the car delivered. Because my view of choice when photographing abandoned places is wide angled, I put my trusty 17-40mm lens on the camera. I also stuffed a rain cover, towel and anything else that might be useful in my pockets so they would be quickly accessible without having to take the backpack off.
Emotional Note: One thing I’ve realized by kicking around abandoned places like Bombay Beach and learning how they become abandoned is that there is great need in our world. In the spirit of this season let’s all decide to help others in the coming year.
I really enjoyed your commentary on the Salton Sea and Bombay beach. Your photographs are excellent and I will be looking forward to your future forays of that area. Great work!
Thank you John. I’m glad you enjoyed the story and the photographs and appreciate the compliment. I hope to get back there sometime in 2017.
Great background, Rich. Thanks!
You are very welcome Michael.
Fascinating story and photographs, Rich. When I see such decay, I think of what a waste of resources. It is too bad things are either not repaired and renovated or knocked down and recycled. In this case, there would be no point in renovating the buildings.
Thanks Ken. I appreciate you comments. Many of the abandoned places I photograph become abandoned because of a change in economics or the environment making that which was once useful a waste. It’s a shame and unfortunately our country seems littered with this architectural waste. Sometimes there is hope. The second time I visited Bombay Beach it looked a little neater. One house had been demolished, but the lumber was stacked up neatly so one can assumed it was gong to be reused.
Wonderful post, Rich. In addition to the striking images of a fascinating place, your words are great and your closing message a very important one in these trying times.
Thanks Laura. I’m glad you enjoyed this post. It was a compelling place to visit. We were in California visiting our son and daughter-in-law for Thanksgiving so spending time in Bombay Beach made me realize that as a family, we are in great shape, yet we can’t ignore those families that are not. I hope you and your family have a great Christmas.
As always your photographs are amazing. Maybe in 2017 you can focus a little on happy subjects? I would love to see some happier times in photographs. Thanks for all you send out.
Thank you Ina. I’m glad you enjoy my work. I do post photograph happy things too. Take a look at the previous post from Joshua Tree. Unfortunately, some places aren’t so nice, but there is a story there that needs to be told.
what an excellent post Rich! loved all this info and history; your photos were awesome… matching the post so well. it is amazing that it is STILL like that, though, isn’t it?
And, your final words of “lets help each other” in the new year – Yes. How appropriate, how caring. Thank you for sharing this post!
Thanks Debi. Yes, it is amazing that Bombay Beach is still like it is. Although I have to say that in the year that passed between visits, the place did look a little cleaner. Still the environmental situation with the Salton Sea isn’t getting better. In fact it is only going to get worse.
its kind of foreboding, in the sense that we know this is probably the tip of the iceberg with how the land – the earth, is changing. on the positive side though, with posts like yours it makes us all much more aware. And hopefully, more liberal with our ‘green’ actions, more Mindful. 🙂
Thanks Debi. I appreciate this comment a lot and agree that the more mindful we are the better our world will become. It’s the only home we have.
yes, it is! wishing you happy and peace full Holidays, Rich 🙂 cheers, Debi
Same to you Debi. Enjoy the season and may it be a joyous and peaceful one for you.
🙂 thanks Rich !
Haunting images and has your characteristic touch and words to create a story. The Broken Home image immediately makes me think of Papa Roach’s anthem. Fascinating commentary Rich.
Thanks Rudi. I really appreciate it. Doing this kind of work is very hard because it isn’t pretty but it is a story that needs to be told through art.
Rudi hit the nail on the head – haunting. Hopefully this serves as a cautionary tale to us all that we need to be careful when toying with nature, we don’t always understand things as well as we think that we do.
Thanks and I totally agree with you about the cautionary tale here. The Salton Sea was born by mistake. The forces of both nature correcting that mistake, and government policy making that mistake even worse are just too much for the people of Bombay Beach and the sea life in the Salton Sea. Plus this being in California, the state with some of the strictest environmental controls, makes this story even odder.
Yes. Let us all help when we can. It comes back double. My friend from Uruguay is staying with me on a six month tourist visa. It’s a culturslow framework so different from the USA. Being with her has helped my personal growth and expanded my world. Her large family has embraced me with opened arms….so wonderful. Dispite radical differences in income, government, terrain and activities, we both agree that it is the open heart that connects us all.
Jo Ann, you are talking like a true Rotarian. When we are exposed to other people that are different from us face to face, we end up realizing that we are all human and are really not that different. By the way, I can go on about this for hours so am stopping now to spare you from that. Have a very happy Holiday Season.
On my wish list of places to visit…Nice shots
You would find it very interesting. A very unusual place with an even more unusual story.
Well done Rich. A very interesting place indeed. One has to think about its history and the people that once lived in these abandoned places. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas.
Thanks Craig. I think sometimes the history is actually more fascinating than the place. You have a very Merry Christmas as well.
Fine work, Rich. I was particularly struck because I watched the Bombay Beach documentary within the past month on PBS, and it was profoundly disturbing. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombay_Beach_(film) If you have an opportunity to see this please do so, particularly as you have been there in depth.
Thank you Ralph. I know about the documentary and will be watching it soon. After the experience of seeing it for real, this movie is important to see. Thanks for reminding me about it.
Interesting post and important reminder that we shouldn’t mess with Mother Nature. That abandoned sailboat is pretty cool and might be worth some more shots if you ever go back there.
It’s a shame that the more they try to fix the problem the worse it gets for the people left in Bombay Beach. I did do some more photos of the the sail boat and this was the best one. I’ll revisit the other and if there is anything good, I’ll post them on Facebook.
Your photos of Bombay beach and jtnp are the best I have seen and I have seen lots
Are you living in jtree or Nj
Thank you Sarah for that nice compliment. I really appreciate it. I’m still in NJ, but try to visit Joshua Tree as much as I can when we visit our son in LA.
Great piece of photojournalism.
Thanks Lou. I appreciate the compliment.
Wonderful photojournalism piece. Extraordinary!
Thank you Peta!
I would love to visit this place. You can feel the photos! thank you for sharing.
I appreciate the compliment. It is an interesting place with a very tragic story to tell.