Off The Shores of The Salton Sea: Bombay Beach

Off The Shores of The Salton Sea: Bombay Beach

We spent about 48 Hours in Bombay Beach, CA capturing content for our 2022 Festival campaign.

This living ghost town sits right off the shores of the Salton Sea, the largest lake in California. This location is known for being a graveyard of Coachella and Burning Man’s past art installations.

The history of the Salton Sea and Bombay Beach
Salton Sea and Bombay Beach weren’t always like this. The Salton Sea was created by a big oopsie-daisies. In 1905, water from the Colorado River spilled out of a poorly constructed irrigation system. The lake grew over the next two years, until workers were able to halt the massive flow. In the 1950’s Bombay Beach was a hot spot for fishing, boating, and water skiing. The rolodex of celebrities that frequented the luxury resorts would shock you (we see you Frank Sinatra).

The Salton Sea has no outlet, so it has been referred to as an endorheic lake. This means the water has nowhere to go, like into the ocean, so it either seeps into the ground or evaporates. Because of this, the salinity continues to rise. To this day, the Salton Sea has a higher salinity level than that of the Pacific Ocean, and with time, it rises more and more. The high salinity levels, fertilizer runoff from surrounding farmers, and constant flooding didn’t help the rise in bacterial levels (yum). Just to give more context, a report by the Pacific Institute in September 2019 stated that in 1999, “there were some 100 million fish in the Sea. Now, more than 97 percent of those fish are gone.”

Once the plants, fish and birds started dying, so was the once booming vacation spot. In the 1970’s the water was no longer able to sustain wildlife or safe to swim in. The odor of dying fish and birds combined with the fear of health problems drove residents to pack up and skip town. Thus, a living ghost town was born.



Salton Sea and Bombay Beach today

We thought that this Roadtripper’s article on Salton Sea and Bombay Beach said it perfectly, “Part of Bombay Beach’s allure is the irony. The thing that keeps it alive is the same thing that’s still killing it.” It’s true. The contrast surrounding everything is extreme. You’re in the middle of the desert but in the middle of chaos, have nothing to look at but so many things to look at, engulfed in a complete ghost town, but also somehow apart of a bustling community, in the driest and hottest area of the Sonoran Desert, but at the largest lake in California.

Bombay Beach and Salton Sea are truly sites to see. The “rebirth” of sort that is happening today includes artists coming from far and wide to let their imagination run wild in a town where honestly, anything goes. Just cruising up and down the streets you’ll see a life-size monopoly square, a golden egg on top of a house dubbed “the nest”, murals galore, a free store, a replica drive-in, pirate ships and even a swing structure out in the water titled “The Water Is Fine, It’s Just Salty”.

So, if for some reason you are traveling through the desert or anywhere remotely near Bombay beach, pull off and take a ride around and prepare yourself for sites you will not forget.