Bombay beach sits on the edge of the Salton Sea in Imperial Valley, California. It’s a brutal environment; when we were there in late March the temperature hovered near 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The lake — which was created by an accidental diversion of the Colorado River — smelled like both sulfur and sewage.
And yet, the region has a kind of sublime quality — in the classical sense of the word — because, rather than in spite, of the brutality.
Bombay Beach was once a thriving resort town that relied on the Salton Sea, California’s largest lake. The lake has no outlet, however, so over time it became increasingly polluted from agricultural runoff. And it got very salty. Today, the population reportedly hovers between 200 and 300. During our visit, we saw a few people walking around, but for the most part it felt abandoned.
And of course that has led to the town becoming famous for its decay and ruins. During our visit we saw a lot of graffiti, which covers many abandoned buildings in the inhabited part of town.
We also saw the ruins of old buildings, motor homes, trailers, and other structures that are slowly being eaten by the salt and the mud. The most ruined ruins all lie on the lake side of a large dike that protects the inhabited part of town. These ruins are well documented, but nothing is quite like experiencing in person the pounding heat, overwhelming odors, and skeletons of human civilization.
There are also more subtle, striking reminders of Bombay Beach’s past. In one long-abandoned home I found a newspaper from 1982, cigarettes with red lipstick marks, a row of rotting books, and even very old cans of food.
There’s plenty more that could be said about this bizarre and complicated place. But the bottom line is that if you’re interested in seeing a town that is perhaps as close to apocalyptic as anything, Bombay Beach is worth the drive.
— Jim Dalrymple II