Tuesday, July 24, 2007


on sunday i went to the Salton Sea with the LA polanerd crew (rebecca, lou, drew, kim and bryan). i've wanted to visit the notoriously salty sea ever since i stumbled upon it during a late-night online tangent. the idea of exploring the surrounding desolate area chock full of abandoned buildings really appealed to me.

the Salton Sea is a result of what humans do best... neglect the environment by using shortcuts and insufficiently funding major projects so we are ill-prepared for environmental challenges. you would think environmental disasters due to poor upkeep, like the levies post-hurricane katrina would not still occur, but unfortunately we never learn. pertaining to the Salton Sea, man's biggest mistake occurred between 1905 - 1907 during which the colorado river flooded into the "Salton Sink," a major salt mining site, for TWO years. the result - the Salton Sea: the largest lake in california. today, the maximum depth of the Salton Sea measures 51 feet!!

once described as an "investor's dream," the Salton Sea was a hot spot for water skiers, fishermen and boaters in the 1920s. now high levels bacteria, pesticide runoff, raw sewage, excessively high salinity and algae blooms make the water inhabitable. (the water is more salty than the ocean!!) thousands of dead talapia, the only fish that survive long enough to die, wash up on the shores. the sea grows larger and larger, an average of 1.36 million acre-feet per year, thanks to agricultural run-off and the nasty, dirty New River.

what's the New River? why, it's the "single most polluted river in America."

"The New River is composed of waste from agricultural and chemical runoff from the farm industry irrigation in the U.S. (18.4%) and Mexico (51.2%), sewage from Mexicali (29%), and manufacturing plants operating in Mexico (1.4%). By the time the New River crosses the U.S./Mexico border near Calexico, California, the channel contains a stew of about 100 contaminants: volatile organic compounds, heavy metals (including selenium, uranium, arsenic and mercury), and pesticides (including DDT) and PCBs. The waterway also holds the pathogens that cause tuberculosis, encephalitis, polio, cholera, hepatitis and typhoid; levels for many of these contaminants are in violation of U.S. EPA and Cal/EPA standards by several hundredfold.[2] Fecal coliform bacteria are at levels of 100,000 to 16 million colonies per milliliter at the border checkpoint (possibly more, as this is the measuring capacity threshold), far above the U.S.-Mexico treaty limit of 240 colonies." ~wikipedia

soooo before we embarked on this little road trip, i researched the Salton Sea on wikipedia and flickr. all of the photos i saw were of the infamous abandoned North Shore Motel. i promised myself i wasn't going to over-shoot the motel since so many people have already covered that one spot... but during my Salton Sea adventure, i realized why so many people only have photos of that hotel - it's the first stop. and after stopping there, few want to continue to explore the Salton Sea coastline. to my surprise, there were fewer buildings in the area than i expected. i felt like i was walking around a desolate, post-apocalyptic scene from T.C. Boyle's "After the Plague." judging by the trash and graffiti left behind by past visitors, the majority of intrigued visitors fall into four categories: 1. drunk kids en route to or from coachella. 2. curious photographers (we found empty film boxes and polaroid cartridges). 3. skateboarders. 4. whatever animals eat the plethora of pigeons that roost in the abandoned buildings.

the temperature fluctuated between 95-102 degrees at the peak of the afternoon. that mixed with the smell of thousands of dead fish (and some dead birds too) was not-so-pleasant, but add hundreds of relentless flies and you have borderline-unbearable. it was so filthy that the shoes i wore that day are still being quarantined outside until i disinfect them. this may seem a bit like an overreaction, but after you sink ankle-deep into bacterial-laden barnacles and fish bones that have washed up from a sea of dead fish, you too would not want to track the Salton Sea into your home.

we hung around the motel for a long time, each going our seperate ways to find our shots and then meeting back in a small corner of shade and then going back for more, often using each other as "models." lou is an avid pola-portrait photographer so he was busy trying to get us to crouch down in a nasty corner or stand in a shady blue-tiled shower. my favorite part of the motel and yacht club were the abandoned swimming pools. there's just an unnatural appeal about being able to walk on the floor of an empty swimming pool.

after attempting to de-fly drew's vehicle, we headed to Bombay Beach, an interesting off-beat trailor community located near the "marina" of the Salton Sea. for me, this was the most interesting part of the trip. i loved the idea of this little sustainable community out in the middle of the desert. there was a tiny general store, a liquor store and a small garage of a fire station. i headed toward the homes while everyone else was shooting the marina area and i found some interesting things... including a solitary goat living in (under?) an abandoned-looking trailer with fenced-in yard. i would have loved to explore more, but i felt a bit uneasy walking around by myself. my friend hal has been itching to go to the Salton Sea so if and when he does (hopefully when it's a bit cooler outside), i would glady accompany him just to further explore Bombay Beach. i am really interested in the types of characters who live there and you could imagine my delight when i discovered THIS. a documentary about the people who live in Bombay Beach!!!! check out the trailer. the film is only playing in (small) select theatres on certain days and unfortunately i already missed the LA showings and i was all disappointed because i thought i was going to miss one of the upcoming screenings, but as luck would have it, i won't be missing it after all!! THANKGOODNESS. otherwise, i would have had to wait until its dvd release in late september. woo woo, i smell another polanerd get-together!!!! :D

after Bombay Beach, we kept on truckin until we passed an abandoned warehouse conveniently located on the side of the freeway. after over-exploring the motel/hotel/restaurant buildings on the North Shore, i was more interested in the LARGE hay stacks located OUTSIDE in front of the building, away from any disgusting debris. there were two wrecked cars and an old truck behind the warehouse - one car was severly pinned in a ditch. and of course, there were loads of graffiti and fluffy pink insulation littering the warehouse.

undoubtedly, the Salton Sea is an interesting place and i'm glad i got to experience it with the polacrew, because rick and my mother would have really hated it there (and i wouldn't blame them). after driving past Palm Springs, i am reconsidering my strong desire to visit there. i just really want to see all of the kewl 50s architecture. the large dinosaurs (you pass along the way) were a bit of a disappointment. i imagined them being out in the middle of nowhere, not behind a burger king and a gas station. inside the brontosaurus is a small junk shop (that doesn't believe in evolution). you can go inside the t-rex for $2-3... but we didn't. it would have be kewl... but really maybe not, since there isn't much of a view to look at once you are up there.

overall, it's really disappointing and alarming that man has single-handedly caused the environmental disaster known as the Salton Sea. the aftermath is eye-opening. after walking across dead fish carcasses and seeing a body of water THAT LARGE that is completely useless and contaminated, it really makes you fear how badly mankind is destroying our earth and our water supply. if the earth's water were proportioned down to fit in a gallon jug, the available fresh water would be equal to just over a tablespoon. that's a scary statistic. people need to stop being so apathetic to our WORLD'S environmental problems and realize that mother nature can't always magically repair herself. we need to repair our environment before it's too late and the damage we've done becomes irreversible. we need to demand that congress passes environmental laws that will deal with a situation NOW, not in the year 2010 or 2020. we need to conserve water and natural resources and raise children with that same mentality so that it becomes second nature. (i can go on and on, but i will step off of my soap box for now...)

check my flickr for photos.

facts and figures:
during the 1960s: the Salton Sea becomes increasingly salty.
1992 - 1996: a LARGE number of grebes (150,000) and pelicans (unknown how many) die as a result of the bacteria in the water.

article 1
article 2

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