Silent Witnesses Of The Ongoing Decay
What is it like to be at the Salton Sea nowadays? Coming from Palm Springs, we drive South on Highway 10. Short before Mecca, you can decide whether to continue on the West or East Shore of the lake. We choose the East Shore and drive along the 111. Although we are still miles away from the lake, we can already smell the hydrogen sulfide, a gas that smells like some toxic mixture of rotten eggs, manure and rancid water. We approach an abandoned gas station and get out of the car.
The temperature display shows 116 degrees. It feels as if you cannot even breath in the heat of the desert because of the stench. It is silent, almost deadly silent. The little convenience store is blocked up.
An old billboard indicates that this once was a flourishing business for groceries and liquor. There even was a butcher's shop. The gas station including garage was open 24/7. Customers probably came from the nearby campground but with tourists staying away, the business was no longer profitable.
We continue driving along the Marina Drive to the North Shore Beach and Yacht Club. Once, celebrieties passed this road on their way to a weekend sail on the lake. Nowadays, it is an alley of dead palm trees. The flag at the Yacht Club waves at half-mast, somehow characteristical.
Welcome to Bombay Beach
20 minutes later we arrive at Bombay Beach. A welcome sign suggests that indeed we approach a little holiday resort. The hugh billboard along the road invites us to a jet ski ride. The Ski Inn, a cute little bar, is open.
The closer we get to the lakefront, the more obivous it becomes that nothing is left from the former glory of Bombay Beach. It is a ghost town, sometimes a scrapyard, sometimes a waste dump. Nevertheless, the atmosphere is somehow fascinating because time and again, you find an art installation or a great setting for photography.
During the recent years, many artists, designers and photographers were coming to this lost place. Since 2016, an art festival has been attracting hundreds of visitors: the Bombay Beach Biennale. As I did the research for this report, I learned that the jet ski billboard at the entrance of the town was installed as part of the Biennale, too.
We stay for almost two hours at Bombay Beach absorbing this very special atmosphere. We only leave when our 5l can of fresh water is almost empty. We are tired and sweaty, desperately in need of a shower. The climate around the Salton Sea is hostile, especially during summer time. It is hard to imagine that still 250 residents call Bombay Beach their home, that they defy the odds surrounded by loneliness and silence.