Salton Sea

February 25, 2018

I took a closer look and saw 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 4 good images for my photography class. I've always been fascinated by the idea of abandoned places and the stories behind them.

As the article explains, Salton sea is the largest lake in California and was formed by accident. It was like an oasis in the middle of the desert attracting local tourists in the 50s and 60s. Eventually, 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 rotting fish. Something that reminded me of visits to fish markets back home. The article warned me about this but it still mildly 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 really still but trust me, it was not calm at all.

As you enter the houses, you hear the sounds of aging wood creaking and banging against each other. The wind entered the windows and broken doors, echoing within the structure until it finally escaped.

I stood quietly, 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 if they contributed to the decay or helped preserve it. There were signs of recent additions—untattered posters, love letters written on walls, fresh grafitti.

Some houses seemed occupied not by humans but by birds. You could hear them whispering in the nooks and crannies over your head. They did not seem bothered by our presence though anxious to see us leave.

Spread across the beach were dead fish preserved by salt. They were introduced to the lake for tourist recreation but died when the water got too salty and toxic. I almost gagged at the sight and would have turned back if not for my curiosity. Tilapias. Resilient fish but incredibly ugly. One of my least favorite fish. For some reason, I find them boring and unclean. Even if they were alive, I would've still gagged at the sight of them.

Something was odd about the sand too. It was chunky and oddly-shaped. At first, I thought they were shells but I took a closer look and saw that they were in fact thousands of fish bone fragments that were probably crushed by years of changing weather.

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

We drove around for the last time, taking in the apocalyptic scenes before we took a turn and drove back to civilization.

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