Apocalypse Now: The Ruins of Bombay Beach

It seems that the growing trend now days is the doom of our civilization. TV shows and movies show us the sparse landscape of post apocalyptic earth, whether it be run over by zombies, natural or man made disaster, or even apes taking over.


While I’m a big fan of these TV shows and movies, there is nothing like experiencing it in person. Ok, we haven’t had a massive, earth shattering war or natural disaster, but nestled in one of the most southern parts of California is a town that never was. Once hailed as the American Riviera, Bombay Beach is now what post apocalyptic dreams are made of…..

If you were just driving past, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s still a nice place. The weather is pleasant, the beaches are white, and flocks of birds glide along the blue surface of the water. Unfortunately, the Salton Sea is cruel trick on the senses. As you get out if your car and take a closer look, it becomes a big mess. The water is a murky brown, it only appears blue because it reflects the desert sky. The white beaches, it turns out, are white because they’re made up of the pulverized bones of millions of dead fish.

To understand how this place turned from paradise to purgatory, you need to know the story of Salton Sea. Bombay Beach lies not on the west coast, but in the Colorado Desert. In 1905, the Colorado River swelled, breached its levees, and flooded the desert valley known as the Salton Sink. The water flowed for two years, creating a 15- by 35-mile lake dubbed the Salton Sea.

Though the creation of this inland sea, the largest lake in California, was an accident, it initially appeared to deliver substantial benefits. Birds flocked to the area, and fish thrived in the Salton Sea. Developers seized upon the rare setting and branded it the “Salton Riviera,” a “miracle in the desert.” Hotels, yacht clubs, homes, and schools sprang up along the shores as the Salton Sea became a resort destination. It even attracted stars like the Beach Boys, The Rat Pack, and Sonny Bono.
Then came the downfall, a cycle of events that would doom this “miracle in the desert.” During WWII, the Imperial Valley became a bustling agricultural center, and farms in the area used the Salton Sea as a drainage run off. Unfortunately, salt and fertilizer don’t evaporate, so as the chemical-laden water from the farms poured into the basin, they combined with the already saline mixture of the Sea. Since the Salton Sea has no outlet, the salt and chemical levels increased every year while the water level remained the same. 

The spiral continued into the late seventies with tropical storms hitting the Imperial Valley back to back, which poured into the Saltin Sink and flooded the shoreline, consuming marinas and yacht clubs. Whole neighborhoods were flooded and destroyed. Most were later abandoned, left to rot in the desert sun. 


By the late eighties, wildlife began to die off in biblical proportions. Feeding off the chemical run off, algae began depleting the oxygen supply, killing off massive amounts of fish. Feeding on the rotten fish, the migratory birds contracted botulism. Every year through nineties, tens of thousands of birds and fish washed up on the shore. In 1999, 7.6 million died from oxygen starvation caused by to over abundant algae. Combined with the decaying algae, the smell is overwhelming and will practically knock you off your feet on a hot day.

 The Beach Boys left. The Rat Pack left. Sonny Bono left. Everyone else left, abandoning their homes and possessions, creating this rotting, apocalyptic landscape that must be seen to be believed. 


While this little piece of heaven may not be for everyone, I urge you to go and check this weirdly awesome place out. It’s an experience you will never forget!

Here are a few tips if you plan on going on this little adventure.
1. There are no gas stations in the near vicinity. Make sure you’re completely fueled up before making this trip. 

2. There are a few “attractions” in the area. Make sure you double check their websites for hours of operation, etc.

  • There is a Visitor Center/Museum that has a lot of facts and artifacts from the Salton Sea’s Hey-Day. The State park is nearby and has adventure all in itself. 
  • The International Banana Museum is a small, but awesome museum, that is banana everything. It’s something you don’t want to miss. It’s usually open Friday through Monday, but I would double check the hours to be safe. 
  • The boiling mud pots are another interesting thing to see. You have to drive down a in maintained road, but it’s worth the drive. They’re located in a field on the corner of Davis Rd. and Schrimpf Rd. or for directions you can click here. Disclaimer: Be careful, the ground is soft and I’m not positive if it’s private property. Either way, exercise caution and obey any posted signs. 

3. Bombay beach is easy to get to, it’s right off highway 111. You can also find directions here.

Above all, have fun, stay safe and never stop exploring! Please let me know what you think and leave any questions or comments below. 


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