Salton Sea

February 25, 2018

A closer look revealed that they were, in fact, thousands of fish bone fragments.

I stumbled upon an article one day about a post-apocalyptic town somewhere in South California. The long weekend was approaching and I was looking for an atypical place to practice and come up with four good images for my class. I've always been fascinated by the idea of abandoned places and the stories behind them.

As the article describes, Salton Sea is the largest lake in California and was created by accident. It was an oasis in the middle of the desert attracting local tourists in the 50's and 60's. Ultimately, the lake became too toxic for people to be around in so they left, abandoning homes and unwanted possessions.

The first thing I noticed as we stepped out of the car was the smell of rotten fish. It reminded me of visits to fish markets back in the Philippines. The article warned me about this but it still surprised me. I covered my nose and tried to breathe through my mouth which was a bad idea because then I could taste it—salty and dead.

The weather didn't help either. It was pleasantly warm but the wind was blowing so strong that dust and other debris kept getting into my eyes. My pictures look still but trust me, it was not calm at all.

Aging wood creaked and banged against each other as I entered the houses. The wind rushed through the broken windows and doors, echoing within the walls until eventually escaping.

I stood silently, taking in the details. I tried to imagine the people who used to live there and the people who came after it was empty: drifters, drug addicts, artists, curious humans. I wondered whether they contributed to the decay or helped preserve it. There were signs of interference: recently-added posters, love letters written on walls, fresh graffiti.

Some of them turned into birdhouses. You know because of the distinct smell and the sight of feathers scattered all over the room. I felt them watching over my head. In this world, they are the keepers and I'm just a visitor.

Dead fish preserved by salt spread across the beach. They were introduced to the lake so tourists could fish but died when the water got too salty. It's telling that even one of the most resilient fish couldn't survive the toxicity.

Something was unusual about the sand too. It was chunky and oddly-shaped. At first, I thought they were shells but a closer look revealed that they were, in fact, thousands of fish bone fragments pulverized by years of exposure to weather.

As the sun and the temperature went down, we decided it was time to go. We had stayed for almost two hours and still had not explored the whole town.

We circled the town for the last time, taking in the apocalyptic scenes before driving back to civilization.

Read more stories