The Salton Sea is on my list of weird places I’d like to go see, but probably won’t get around to. (Just being honest here.) The Guardian profiled Bombay Beach, one of the towns there. The area is basically what’s left after ecological disaster.
Birds and fish died. Toxic dust swirled. The air stank. Tourists and most residents fled, leaving a virtual ghost town of abandoned, decaying homes.
For decades the only regular visitors were film-makers who came to shoot horror flicks about zombies and Armageddon.
Now, Bombay Beach, population 295, is enjoying a rebirth of sorts with an influx of artists, intellectuals and hipsters who have turned it into a bohemian playground.
It sounds like a very tiny slice of Burning Man without any Silicon Valley types helicoptering in.
There is an opera house, a gallery, an “Hermitage” museum, a conceptual pavilion and a drive-in movie theatre. Which sounds rather grand, but the desert wind whistles through the cracks and it looks like Mad Max did the decorating.
The closest thing to a hotel – a shipping container with plywood floors and walls – is adorned with photographs of the criminally insane.
There are also giraffe sculptures, a defunct sensory deprivation tank, a four-dimensional hypercube called a tesseract and a fake particle accelerator made of gold-painted junk. Plus a festival, the Bombay Beach Biennale, with exhibitions, philosophy seminars, ballet and poetry. Sandstorms and scorching sun can make it feel closer to Mars than Venice’s biennale.
There are some detractors to all of this – long-time residents who think a bunch of weirdos are basically making everything too hip and expensive – well, “hip” might be too strong a word. But given the current cultural currency of dystopias, Bombay Beach sounds like a natural hot spot.
If that didn’t sell you on going there, here are some fun facts: it’s right on top of the southern end of the San Andreas fault. And, while there is a beach, the sand-like material there is pulverized bones of millions of fish.
Just about three hours from LA or San Diego, or you can fly to El Centro! You’d definitely have one of the most interesting “What I did on vacation” stories of your peer group.
If our current fascination with disaster continues, look for it to start popping up on the Instagram feeds of models.