Postcard from... Bombay Beach


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Bombay Beach sounds like an idyllic getaway – and once, perhaps, it was. This small town is situated on the eastern shore of the Salton Sea, a Southern California lake formed in the early 20th century, when engineers temporarily diverted water from the Colorado river into the Salton Basin.

Bombay Beach was one of a string of small beach resorts that sprang up until the 1960s, when the man-made lake started to dry up and grew too saline to support fish life.

But visiting Bombay Beach today means driving into a virtual ghost town, where  dust whips across the barren plain and the deceptively glittering water beyond.  Fewer than 300 people live here now. The beach is littered with fish carcasses and the remains of structures rendered hauntingly beautiful but unusable by the build-up of salt deposits. It’s what everywhere else would look like a few years after the apocalypse.

The visitors it draws today come not to swim and sunbathe, but to take pictures of the dereliction.

The last remaining drinking establishment in town is the Ski Inn, which, at 68 metres below sea level, also purports to be the lowest bar in the western hemisphere. It boasts a passable $5 burger and a handful of friendly, elderly regulars: the men and women who stayed when the world went away.

One, a man named Bob, tells the others how he charged his car battery that morning, only to run over it accidentally. Now he’ll have to drive at least 30 miles to the nearest functioning town to buy another. In Bombay Beach, this is big news.