Saturday, May 19, 2012

Salton Sea - Part 4: Salvation Mountain, Niland & Points South...

We had spent a solid two hours in Bombay Beach and, to be honest, just that one stop made the entire trip worthwhile. We did a good deal of shooting, enjoyed some lunch and a cold beer, and even had the cook educate us on everything "Salton Sea". For instance, I never knew that the Salton Sea and, more specifically Bombay Beach, lay directly on the San Andreas Fault.

So it's probably just a matter of time.

We pulled out of Bombay Beach, made a right, and made our way south. There weren't too many places left that we wanted to hit on this trip, but we wanted to make sure we hit them. I think both of us would've been just as happy listening to the bartender and the cook at The Ski Inn spinning their tales, but we probably wouldn't have gotten much shooting done.

It was only a mere ten miles or so down the road when we started looking for the entrance to Slab City and Salvation Mountain.

To say that Slab City is an unusual place would be to master the art of the understatement. Residents of Slab City refer to it as "the last free place in America". It gets its name from the concrete slabs left from WWII barracks that left a long, long time ago. A group of servicemen remained there after Camp Dunlap closed, and "Slab City" was born.

The entrance to Slab City and Salvation Mountain...

"The last free place in America"...

A portion of Slab City...

A portion of Slab City, as seen from Salvation Mountain...

Most of the residents of Slab City are here because, to be frank, they can't afford to live anywhere else. They eke out their lives on government assistance, and buy what they need in the nearby town of Niland. It doesn't cost anything to take up residence out here, as the site is uncontrolled, and there's no charge for parking; you just kinda' show up. The camp has no electricity or running water. Residents may be, at least, mildly eccentric, but the warnings I'd heard about them not liking "outsiders" were unfounded.

From Slab City, it was a quick drive down to Salvation Mountain.

The entrance to Salvation Mountain...


There's no easy way to describe Salvation Mountain. If you tried to describe it to someone without some sort of pictorial reference, you would be laughed at or committed. It's just that weird a place. Leonard Knight, a longtime Slab City resident, started the creation of Salvation Mountain some 28 years ago, and it's been a never-ending process of construction and creation. Leonard, who was committed to an assisted living facility late last year, was a devout Christian man who only desired to spread the word. His vehicle for that would be his mountain, and his medium would be acrylic paint.

A lot of acrylic paint.


Salvation Mountain...

Some of the many vehicles at Salvation Mountain...

Inside Salvation Mountain...


Another of the many vehicles on the grounds...

Inside Salvation Mountain...

Once upon a time, you could get a free tour of Salvation Mountain from Leonard Knight himself. Unfortunately, Leonard was moved to a long-term care facility in El Cajon, California late last year, as he slowly fell victim to dementia. Volunteers are attempting to maintain the mountain, but it's not been easy. As a result, Salvation Mountain could one day become, like so much else out here around the Salton Sea, a memory.

As we drove towards Niland, I had to wonder how much longer places like Slab City and Salvation Mountain could survive, and whether or not either could survive without the other.

At this point, we were on the home stretch. There were really only two other places we were hoping to stop to see. The first of these was Red Hill.

Aside from there being an old boat launch here, there's not a lot to see, really. What caught our eye, though, were the salt deposits. From only a few yards away, the salt looks like snow. Given the temperature, though, we were pretty sure it was just salt:




Despite the heat, we trekked around here and there with our gear.

One of the cool things about this area are the obsidian deposits. Black volcanic rock litters the shore, in sizes very small and very large:

A rather small chuck of obsidian...

Salt deposits along the shore in Red Hill...

A lone tree in the salt deposits in Red Hill...

After leaving Red Hill, we made the short two or three mile drive to the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge.

The entrance to Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge...

Sonny Bono was the United States Congressman who represented this area at the time of his death in 1998. He was always a champion of the Salton Sea, so it made sense that a refuge, bearing his name, be set up which would allow people to view the Sea from vantage points within the refuge:

The viewing platform at the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge...

Just in case you can't see the wildlife with the naked eye...

We didn't see much in the way of wildlife, even with the mounted binoculars. We saw some rabbits and a couple quail so, if we got stranded, I guess we could've eaten well.

We finally decided that we had enough of the little flying bugs and the salt and the heat, and decided it was time start making our way back to San Diego. We drove south, found our way through El Centro, and jumped onto I-8 West. 

Thinking back on what the day, I wonder why it took me so long to get out to Salton Sea. I wonder if places like Niland and Desert Shores and Bombay Beach are going to survive another 30 years.

And I wonder what will be left to photograph... 

Salton Sea - Part 3: Bombay Beach

Without question, the most populated part of Salton Sea is the area known as Bombay Beach. Bombay Beach sits on the eastern shore, just about halfway between the northern and southern most extremes of the Sea. It has a population of only 295 people.

Civilization. Well, sort of...

The one thing that you're constantly reminded of here is that, well, it just doesn't get any cooler, and it can always get hotter. By the time we got to Bombay Beach, it had climbed above 100 degrees, and the mercury continued to climb:



Bombay Beach is a photographer's paradise. Unfettered access to the shoreline affords some great opportunities to get some striking images. These images aren't always pretty, mind you, but they're images that you're just not going to get anywhere else in the world:

Dead fish can be found along the entire shoreline of the Salton Sea.
The high salinity levels make survival, at best, difficult...

Salt-encrusted dock pilings in Bombay Beach...
Algae creates the reddish/rust hue in the water. Submerged is a plastic chair that's covered in salt...

Salt-encrusted dock pilings in Bombay Beach...

A long-neglected staircase to the beach...
Bombay Beach is not immune to having an abundance of abandoned, neglected buildings...

At some point, someone was, obviously, living here...

It's good to have dreams...

An outhouse in Bombay Beach...

By the time we'd gotten about an hour's worth of shooting in, we were pretty much famished. We hadn't had anything since the culinary delight that masqueraded as breakfast, so we decided to head over to The Ski Inn.

My dear friend Holt Webb first told me about The Ski Inn, and strongly recommended it. I figured his recommendation was based on the fact that the food was hot, the beer was cold and the prices were good. Fifteen minutes in Bombay Beach, though, taught me that his recommendation was made based solely on the fact that you simply can't buy hot food and cold beer anywhere else in town, at any price.
The Ski Inn in Bombay Beach...
And this is how you know you're here...

One of the customs at The Ski Inn is the hanging of a dollar somewhere in the bar. You can't just tape a dollar to the wall, though. No, that just won't do. You have to create something; some "art" before you're permitted to play with the scotch tape. The bartender, Steve, brings over a glass full of neon colored markers for you to create your masterpiece with. Well, I don't know anything about any "masterpiece", but I do think I adequately commemorated our trek around the Salton Sea:

My dollar bill on the door of The Ski Inn...
My mug, with dollar bills on the ceiling of The Ski Inn...
Ed and I both got a beer and a bacon cheeseburger with rings on the side. Something just told me that we didn't want to venture too far outside the box on our dining choices. While the burger left something to be desired with regards to its appearance, it tasted great, and the cold beer topped it off nicely.

Before we left, Ed decided he had to go souvenir shopping. Considering that Bombay Beach doesn't have a wealth of souvenir stores, he did what anyone would've done, that being to do his shopping at the bar:
They have them, you know...
Fully rested and fed, it was time for us to leave Bombay Beach behind and head, once again, south on Highway 111. We still had a few hours of daylight left, and we wanted to exploit them by seeing as much as we could.

And there was still a lot to see...

Salton Sea - Part 2: North Shore, Mecca & Corvina...

Unfortunately, we weren't able to find too many places along the western shore of Salton Sea to shoot. We tried finding our way through some rather sketchy dirt roads, but thought better of it. As it turned out, at least along the western side of Salton Sea, this was our view:

The northbound lanes of Highway 86, north of Desert Shores, California...

We found our way across the northern tip of Salton Sea, and made our way south on Highway 11 towards North Shore. By this time, the temperature was already creeping towards the triple digit range, and we knew we were going to be in for a long, hot day.

Unlike the western shore, which seemed to be primarily small, almost abandoned towns, the eastern shore had far more in the way of what would be considered "parks". Granted, they were all hot, and they were all sandy, and they were all salty, but at least you could get right up to the water.

Our first stop was at a place called, literally enough, North Shore. It was here where I really felt the present butting heads with the past. One the one hand, you had the North Shore Yacht Club. This was a nice, modern facility which was quite obviously well maintained:

The North Shore Yacht Club...

Just about 200 yards further south, though, was a shell of a building. It was, at some point, a bait shot and cafe. It's been completely gutted, though, and the only inhabitants these days appear to be pigeons trying to stay out of the heat:



An abandoned bait shop in North Shore...

We hopped back in the car and drove south a little ways to the Visitor Center for the Salton Sea State Recreation Area. It was mildly depressing, though, to see the sign that had been affixed to the entrance sign:

Another one bites the dust...

Sadly, the Salton Sea State Recreation Area is falling victim to budget cuts. According to some park personnel we spoke with, it'll happen on June 30th of this year. I immediately felt fortunate that Ed and I decided to head out on this trip when we did. We were completely unaware of the closing when we decided to do this. It was at that point where I felt myself getting a bit angry because, well, what if we hadn't decided to do the trip now? Had we waited until late summer, we wouldn't have been able to get access to the shoreline, as the plan is to, for whatever reason, fence off these areas to keep the public at bay. Now, as I said earlier, this is the first time in over 30 years that I've been out here but, even still, the thought that it's going to be fenced off pissed me off a little bit.

We paid our five dollars and went into the park. We found the Visitor Center (which was closed despite being business hours) and walked around for a little while, just exploring.




I did my level best to try to get some "artsy" stuff, but I think Ed may have bested me in that regard. He was shooting a lot of fish-eye stuff and working on some high-dynamic-range stuff that, frankly, I haven't fully wrapped my head around yet.

From North Shore, we drove down to Mecca. Mecca can best be described as an inhospitable, barren wasteland. There's just nothing there and, if there is, they hide it pretty well. The salt crunches under your feet as you walk, which negates any possibility of slowly approaching the shore birds which populate the area. It was as barren as the day is long but, apparently, someone believed it should be furnished:

A chaise lounge that, apparently, someone felt needed to be here...

To go along with the profound lack of shade in Mecca is heat. A lot of it. As we were leaving Mecca, we saw that the temperature had officially climbed into the triple digits:

It wasn't going to cool off anytime soon...

Our next stop after Mecca was a real brief one. It's funny how quickly two guys with photo equipment will jump off the main road for the chance to take photos of old, abandoned, dilapidated buildings. Yet, that's exactly what happened as we entered the town (or village or hamlet) of Corvina.

Like many of the towns dotting the shoreline, Corvina's main residential area included "hook ups". It was an area for, primarily, motor homes, and it was largely uninhabited. But right by the main entrance to the trailer park in Corvina was something which had, by now, become quite commonplace: a closed business:

A closed cafe along Highway 111 in Corvina...

Graffiti on the side of the long-ago abandoned cafe...

The road to Corvina Estates...

The overwhelming theme of the day was one of, well, depression. Not in the "Golly, I sure am depressed" way, but more of the "Wow, this whole portion of California is economically depressed to the nth degree". It was amazing to me, to be completely honest. As expensive and desirable as southern California real estate is, this whole area seems to be completely ignored. At first I thought it might be the oppressive heat, but Borrego Springs, which isn't that far away and has no lake, saltwater or otherwise, seems to be in good shape.

There's something about this whole area which I just can't seem to put my finger on...







Friday, May 18, 2012

Salton Sea - Part 1: Desert Shores...

I first came to southern California in 1981. I was six months out of high school when I joined the Navy, and the rating that I chose, Sonar Technician, had its school in San Diego. That’s the short version of how I ended up here. I don’t know, however, that there’s a short version to explain how it is that it’s taken me, in some cases, more than 30 years to find some of the cooler things to see in southern California.

About 90 miles east northeast from downtown San Diego is a body of water known as the Salton Sea. Just east of the Anza-Borrego Desert, it’s located in an area which tends to warm up rather significantly as you move closer to summer. This was exactly the case when my buddy Ed Talorda and I decided to pack up our photo gear into Ed’s Toyota RAV4 and head out to the desert. 

We found our way over the Cuyamaca Mountains and down into Anza-Borrego State Park. Anza-Borrego is some 600,000 square acres, and completely surrounds the town of Borrego Springs. We made a quick stop for some coffee and gas, and then continued our way east through the park and out to the western shore of Salton Sea.

One of the more difficult things to find at 8:30am on a Wednesday morning in Desert Shores, California is a decent breakfast. I decided to use Siri on my iPhone 4s, and she quickly let us know that we weren’t far from Holly May’s Bar & Grill. Unfortunately, nobody bothered to tell Siri that Holly May’s was, like most other businesses in town, no longer in existence. Instead, we backtracked to the Red Earth Casino and CafĂ© 86 (conveniently located on Highway 86), and settled in for a quick, uneventful breakfast:

The dining extravaganza that is Cafe 86 in Desert Shores, California...

After breakfast, we decided to drive back into Desert Shores. As I mentioned before, most of anything in the way of even a once-identifiable business in Desert Shores is now gone. In fact, the only business I saw that looked like it was still in operation was the Sea Sun Motel on the south side of Desert Shores Drive. I can’t help but think that the one car in the parking lot was an omen of what lay in store for them.

We continued to the end of Desert Shores Drive and ended up in front of the Desert Shores Fire Department. If you ever needed proof that a town was on the ass-end of a long downhill slide, consider whether or not the local Fire Department is still in operation. Sadly, this one was not:

The Desert Shores Fire Department. Or, more accurately,
what USED to be the Desert Shores Fire Department...
Desert Shores is surreal. There are no houses, only mobile homes. I did see some nice, newer vehicles, but the only other person I saw the whole time we were there was Ed. I have to imagine that, at one time, Desert Shores was a pretty happening place. Such is not the case these days. This has got to be about as close as you can get to being a ghost town without actually being designated a ghost town. Even businesses that you might think could survive in a hotter climate; those with swimming pools, had long ago locked their doors, boarded up their windows and simply went away:


Abandoned swimming pools in Desert Shores...

Now, if I lived in a place like Desert Shores, I think I might want a place where I could stop off for a cold one from time to time. Someplace that’s not too far away, with an inviting vibe. Well, once upon a time, such a place might’ve been the “Our Place Saloon”. It was, at one time, probably the place where  some of the locals would drag up a barstool after a day at work and trade war stories from the day. Whatever it used to be, though, is undeniably far different from what it actually is:

Our Place Saloon...

On the way out of Desert Shores, we passed the once-welcoming stone entranceways and Li’s Chinese Restaurant. Something about the fact that the sign for the Chinese restaurant had the word “Abierto” on it struck me as funny. What wasn’t funny, though, was that Li’s Chinese Kitchen is just another example of a business which, for whatever reason, just ceased being a business:

Li's Chinese Kitchen...

As we drove north on Highway 86, I couldn’t help but wonder what Desert Shores was like 25 years ago, and what it might be like 25 year from now…






Let's Talk Apps...

From time to time, I'll be talking about cell phone apps as I find good ones. Let's face it, it's almost impossible to get thro...