Three hours out of Los Angeles off Highway 111 lies an unassuming 9×5 mile grid of a town called Bombay Beach. Driving by, one might assume this is like any one of hundreds of coastal towns surrounding any number of bodies of water. What lies down that turn onto Avenue A is much more nuanced than a simple beach spot.
Were it not for an accident, Bombay Beach may have never existed at all. In 1905, a man-made canal overflowed, causing a flood that created the largest lake in the California Area–the Salton Sea. It didn’t take long for entrepreneurs to see the economic potential. Fish were introduced to the sea, resorts began to open, and by the 1950s the area had become a huge tourist attraction.
Unfortunately, the sea’s popularity began to wane almost as spontaneously as its creation. Runoff from the surrounding farmland has caused the sea to become increasingly inhospitable to wildlife. The shores became littered with dead fish. As tourists became less common, Bombay Beach fell into disrepair.
Assuming this is an ordinary beach town is understandable. The Salton Sea is still beautiful; its eerily calm surface reflects the sky like glass. Getting closer, however, it quickly becomes apparent why this place has not retained its original charms. There is a distinct scent of dead fish, and the shores of the beach are littered with bones.
The town itself–half populated and half littered with abandoned skeletons of buildings–has a post-apocalyptic movie feel to it. When a man appeared in tattered clothing carrying what appeared to be two large submachine guns, we assumed we had stumbled upon an irate property owner and prepared to flee. Only after seeing the fake blood spattered on his arm and a companion dressed in full zombie regalia did we realize they were shooting a short film. In fact, there seemed to be almost as many visitors to the areas as there were occupied homes. All of them seemingly had the same agenda of exploring the town ruins and admiring the sea.
Our final stop on our tour of the area was Ski Inn the only bar and restaurant in the area. With a handful of locals warming the bar and every surface plastered with one dollar bills, this place is the ultimate in dive bars. The locals were friendly and seemed to enjoy the additional company. It is no longer a booming resort town, but Bombay Beach has its own sort of ghostly beauty.
The Los Angeles area is no stranger to these types of unique geographies. Check out Sunken City, a graffiti haven made from an abandoned suburb that literally sunk into the sea and the abandoned town of Surfridge, located just next to LAX airport.