Welcome to Bombay Beach

Bombay Beach – Urban Decay along the Salton Sea

In the desert

Bombay Beach lies along the Eastern shore of the Salton Sea, a large lake in the South East corner of California, was supposed to be a paradise in the desert, a place for fun, enjoyment, fishing, water sports and family getaways. Then the salt levels started to rise, killing fish and birdlife, causing algae to take over large portions of the lake, turning the water into a toxic cesspool incapable of supporting any form of life. Carcasses of dead fish and birds washed up on the beautiful beaches – millions of them – and the whole region started to stink of decay, rotting fish and sulfur, a side product of the algae and the chemical reactions it causes. The stink is awful. Even today (2017), the stink is overpowering.

The effect on the surrounding areas and lake-side communities, has been devastating as the tourists simply went elsewhere and many of the locals, once hopeful of living in a bustling location, ended up abandoning their homes and businesses, unable to sell them. Yet there were those who “hung on”, perhaps wishful that things would would turn around someday, or perhaps not having anywhere to go. Regardless, they stayed put, watching their surroundings deteriorate further and further. One such community is Bombay Beach.

Bombay Beach has fallen upon hard times.

Today, the place is like a ghost town, although not entirely deserted. There are still people living there . . . but not many. Bombay Beach history is quite fascinating, if not sad. Once a hopping lake-side community of around 500 homes, RVs and trailers, now has, perhaps, no more than 50 occupied dwellings. The rest is . .  a mess. Rusted-out trailers, houses in ruins and plastered with graffiti, trash and garbage everywhere and old, rusted, cars without engines or tires on every corner. This is “Urban Decay” at its worse, yet it represents a goldmine for photographers. As Linda and I drove through town, we saw numerous people doing the same, cameras out, shooting the sights of this once bustling and thriving community of vacation homes and fishing cabins. The visit left us sad and disturbed, yet happy with the shots we got.

A lonely sandal sitting on a counter in an abandoned building in Bombay Beach
A lonely sandal sitting on a counter in an abandoned building in Bombay Beach

The place also presented some surprises… a few well-kept homes, that were clearly well looked after, with flowering plants and landscaped gardens. What motivates the owners to stay there and have pride of ownership in the midst of such rubble and decay is beyond us. There is still a functioning church, a corner store (albeit small), even a community center. How well they are attended, or thrive, is somewhat a mystery, but they are signs the place is not entirely dead.

A beautifuly graffitied building in Bombay Beach. Quite artistically done.
A beautifuly graffitied building in Bombay Beach. Quite artistically done.

The residents

Linda met and spoke with a local, who had some fascinating tales to tell. He used to live in L.A. and acquired the house he now lives in as a vacation place for fishing. This was back in 1957! . .  when Bombay Beach was still a happening place. He claimed the fishing was “the best” with generous allowances due to the plentiful fish population and he loved coming here. He did not elaborate on “when” (or why) he left LA and settled in his fishing cabin, but he clearly made very fond memories here. Today, he holds some bitterness about the slow demise of the place, believing that local authorities were “sitting” on funds that were earmarked for restoration. The sad truth is that restoring this environment is pretty much impossible, representing a battle with nature that, in reality, can only ever have one winner.

Once a great looking trailer, now a rusty remnant of better times. Seen in Bombay Beach.
Once a great looking trailer, now a rusty remnant of better times. Seen in Bombay Beach.

The story of Bombay Beach is not unique, similar fates have fallen upon most of the small towns and communities around the lake with perhaps the only business that still thrives being the Date farms. Large groves of Date Palms are sprinkled throughout the area and it is clear they are doing well. The rows and rows of palm trees, each with the dates neatly bagged with a protective cover, all looked well kept, neat and very healthy.

Make sure you click any of the images below to see a larger version, then use the arrows to scroll through them. While inherently sad about the misfortunes of these communities, there is still beauty and wonder to behold if you can look past the decay and ruins. We hope we captured that.


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