This is a story about five girls who decided to jump in a car and giggle all the way into the desert. The lovely ladies featured on the winding trek to the sea: Susan Yee, Ashley Kelemen, Teresa Heath, and Kristin Genna. This story features ample dead fish, ample film shooting (everyone but me), and ample fantastic dreams discovered throughout the adventure. This is a story about a place that was never supposed to exist.
The Salton Sea is a magical man-made mistake. Once upon a time, a hundred or so years in the past, efforts to divert some of the Colorado river as canals inland into the desert of California were dramatically impacted by floods. There, the huge, ancient sea basin (occupied by local Native American tribes, and the small town of Salton) is where they inadvertently diverted the river’s overflow. They hoped this would be brief, but the river kept flowing, kept pulsing, kept beating into California’s dry, desert landscape. Evenetually, the Hoover Dam was constructed and put an end to the flooding. But by then, this landscape had been dramatically impacted. So, a majestic sea (the largest lake in California) was created. And was doomed.
Fed primarily by agricultural runoff, in the 1950s this became a “tropical” destination much like Palm Springs, with the hollywood elite trekking out for getaways. Waterskiing, sunbathing, polo, and even fishing were popular activities. Yes, at some point early in the 20th century, someone decided it might be a great idea to introduce wildlife to this man-made sea—wildlife that would be out of place. But at the time, it enabled this hollywood heyday. No one saw trouble around the bend.
The cities surrounding the sea had been fully laid-out, streets assigned names like Ocean Breeze, and Coral Avenue, and Shore Jewel Street. But nearly all of these are vacant streets, never paved, never developed. Avenues to a dream that never took place. By the 70s, things were coming apart. The sea began to repeatedly flood, and the increasing salinity was doing no favors to the fish wildlife, who were multiplying concerningly. The stench of dead fish was only made more dramatic by the accumulating piles of fishbones along every shore.
Despite its troubled past, the Salton Sea is an astonishingly and oddly beautiful place. Majestic mountains disappear into it along one side, and the desert stretches out from the other. It has become an avian wildlife refuge, full of life, despite its shores full of death. The colors alone that seep out of this place feel otherworldly. There is magic sunk deep into the heart of this place.
It was a privilege of the last-minute variety to be invited to join these girls on their quest for adventure at the sea. It was a privilege to watch them shoot (all film!) this otherworldly place, and each other. It was a privilege to shoot with them here, at this place I hadn’t been back to for several years. We found amazing things. And we laughed our asses off, I might add.
Really, this story is a salute to adventure. It is a salute to hopping in the car without a concrete destination. It is a salute to making it all up as you go. It is a salute to realizing that wherever you are, there is magic that is awaiting you tucked into a little spot you have yet to discover.
Have you been thinking about an adventure? HIT THE ROAD.
Did you have a place not too far away from you you’ve been meaning to go explore? GO EXPLORE IT.
Spending time imagining the adventures we will go on isn’t good enough. GO ON THEM. They don’t have to be overseas, and they don’t have to cost you your entire bank account. Just a couple of hours away, just in the next town over, just down the road from your house, just in your own backyard—amazing things are waiting for you. Go find them. Go. It’s worth it.