I had been hearing about the Salton Sea for several years now and it has always come up as this strange but beautiful place. There were stories of forgotten towns full of dilapidated buildings, dead fish and strange people living out in the desert. The stories were reinforced when I began to plan my trip by watching documentaries and reading blogs.
If John Waters is narrating a documentary, the place has got to be a little weird, right? I had to go!
So one weekend I had some free time and planned my trip. I would ride out as soon as I finished work on Saturday, stay in a cheap motel so I could get up at sunrise and have at least two sunsets and a sunrise to take photo’s.
I took off around noon on Saturday and drove straight in, arriving at about three. I was immediately taken aback, not by the weirdness of this place but the beauty. The sea was immense and there were all sorts of sea birds everywhere. I could finally begin to understand why this was such a paradise and so many people moved to the SS.
My first stop was near the SS Museum (which was closed). I got out and began to take pictures but quickly became immersed in the view. I could see why the SS is such a bird watchers dream. There were pelican’s swooping down, flocks of seagulls gliding along the water and little birds feeding off the creatures in the sand.
Still, I knew I only had a limited amount of time as the sunset would be approaching so I drove in a little deeper and stopped off at a few camp grounds until finally settling on a spot for the sunset.
I walked down to the beach carrying my Mamiya RZ67 and pinhole camera over one shoulder, my D80 over the other shoulder and my tripod in my hand. The ground was a little “crunchy” due to salt deposits and fish bones but there was no escaping the view of the sun setting over the mountains. Luckily I brought more than enough cameras.
After shooting until it got dark I figured it was time to find a place to stay. I brought camping gear but a warm meal sounded good so I headed back to Indio.
I figured since I would be getting up early I just wanted an inexpensive motel near the SS that could get me through the night but I think I also learned another lesson…. Not to be too cheap.
After asking around a bit I found myself at the Motel 6, right off the I10. It seemed perfect in every way. It was cheap, it was close and it was cheap.
I checked in, talked with my wife, went through the photos of the day and headed to bed.
The bed was nicely ventilated by the cigarette holes in the comforter which kept it a reasonable temperature throughout the night. Then came the train which gently rocked me off to sleep. No big deal, at least it was cheap. I can sleep through this.
Two A.M. I awake to pounding and screaming….. The neighbors decided they really liked each other….
Back up at five A.M. to catch the sunrise at Bombay Beach.
I cruised all the way back, up and over the dike to the beach. Here was finally a little bit of the rot I heard so much about although most of it had disintegrated or had been cleaned up.
After staying in Bombay through the sunrise I hit a few more places on my way to the Sonny Bono wildlife refuge. While the refuge was well maintained I preferred the views along the beach so I didnt stay to walk the boardwalk and instead found my way into an area used by hunters. Here I found some nice reflections of an old pier against the water as well as some long dead trees with power plants working in the background. I lingered for a while until I started to get hungry and then thought it would be a good idea to head over to Salvation Mountain with a stop in Niland for lunch.
When I got to Salvation Mountain I have to say I was really surprised by the place. Here is another one of these areas that had been described repeatedly as this strange place to visit but the sight is actually spectacular and moving. The colors of the mountain light up the desert in color and walking through the structure is definitely an experience.
So, after a long day and a lot of driving I decided to head back stopping along the way to enjoy my final views of the Salton Sea and to pick up some dates from a local date form. This place was definitely much more than I had been lead to believe.