If These Walls Could Talk


I recently spent a week photographing the Salton Sea region of California’s Low Desert. If you’ve never head of this, the Salton Sea is a large stagnant body of water about 75 miles north of the Mexico border. The lake is highly polluted from illegal dumping, and poisonous run-off from the surrounding farming operations. The reason for the stagnation is due to the lack of an fresh water inlet and outlet. 

The cities around this lake are literal ghost town these days. Empty, abandoned shells of a once energetic idea of creating a recreational area complete with hotels & resorts to house the people escaping from LA to fish, boat, enjoy the waters, and relax. These days the only reason people go to the Salton Sea region of California is to get lost, be hidden, or to do die. 
While there I explored many abandoned houses and buildings. Some were empty, gutted concrete shells, like books who’s pages had been ripped out, never to share the story within. Others though, were full, rich in content, every page complete, inviting me to read more and more. I felt comfortable exploring these houses. I reminisced of photographing abandoned houses in my home town of Lancaster, CA. 
These houses were still full of belongings. It still fascinates me, as to the nature of the people who lived here, where they went. What happened to them. What made them leave so abruptly? If the walls could talk what type of stories would they share with me? All I am left with are the artifacts; unopened mail, photographs, clothing, and other items strewn about. 
For a place where one goes to get lost, or hide, what has happened to these people who’s lives lie in piles strewn about these houses, photos still on the wall, dishes in the sink? Where the property value is worth less than the trailer they live in? And the people who still live here, and still rely on the lake for a source of food(?) [this statement has yet to be proven. It is based strictly on observation], even though fish are washing up on the shores dead daily. These are some of the questions I seek to answer in my next project, Discovering the Lost: Life in the Salton Sea.
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4 thoughts on “If These Walls Could Talk

  1. I follow the blogosphere on the Salton Sea with great interest. I’m amazed at the spectrum of impressions offered by visitors, from utopia to hell. What really concerns me though is the sometimes misinformation presented as facts about the Sea. For instance, “the Salton Sea is a stagnant body of water” that’s “highly polluted from illegal dumping and poisonous run-off”. Perhaps I can help educate you. The Sea is not polluted. It has two problems (besides the obvious water swap that is leading to reduced inflow and misinformation presented as fact by occasional visitors and others who do not possess the facts).
    1. Salt. This high salinity level is at 25% saltier than the ocean, and is a product of the reported 15’ of salt beds that existed in the Salton Sink as a result of the receding Gulf of Mexico, in addition to the salt that is imported from the Colorado River water that ends up in the lake. The combination of these two factors along with evaporation and reduced inflow result in the high salinity. 2. Selenium. This is a natural occurring element in the Colorado River water that ends up in the basin. While selenium is a problem, the levels registered in the sea are at 1 microgram per liter. As a comparison, the federal standard for selenium is 5 micrograms per liter, hardly resulting in what you call “highly polluted” water. It is true that most of the towns surrounding the sea appear to be abandoned. The sudden exodus from the lake communities was a direct result of the flooding that submerged or damaged homes and businesses around the lake’s edge. With the advent of flood control, the population has been increasing. When I first moved to the seaside community of North Shore some 25 years ago, I had no intention of getting lost, being hidden or dying. At that time, the population listed on the sign said 500. I think it had said that for 20 years or more. The sign still says our population is 500, although we now have approximately 5,000 residents, most of whom are young families. One of the ‘abandoned’ buildings you probably visited is the North Shore Yacht Club built in 1958. By the end of the year the yacht club will once again serve visitors and the community. Primarily used as a community center, it will also house a visitor center, café and museum. This mid-century treasure was designed by the famous architect, Albert Frey and is being renovated using his original plans. Following completion of the historic yacht club project, the boat house will be renovated as well and provide boat rentals.
    To learn more about the facts/myths of the Salton Sea, visit http://www.saltonsea.ca.gov/myths.htm.

  2. Thank you Jennie for your response. I am in no way trying to bring a negative light to the Salton Sea region or the residents. I spent 7 days exploring the town, researching the area. I have read a number of articles explaining some of the statements that I posted here. After reading your statement, I begin to get a feeling there's a misunderstanding between the people who live in the towns of the Salton Sea, and the people who are passing through to visit. Maybe that will be an aspect of this story to be explored. As for the statement of people coming to the Salton sea to hide, get lost or die, it was actually a based on a statement that someone living in the area, who chose not to share their name, told me.

    Personally, during my visit, I wasn't sure what to expect, or what I might find. Honestly, I had the impression that whole area was one giant ghost town, completely abandoned. I was surprised to see people still living there. I was also surprised to see the area still being advertised as a recreational area. This inspired me to ask who, what, when, where why, how?

    Thank you again for your clarification. It was good to hear directly from a resident.

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