The Ghost Town of Bombay Beach


Lonely tiki stand on the shore of the Salton Sea

Molly Bomar, Journalist

Tucked under the landlocked and poisonous lake of the Salton Sea lies Bombay Beach; once a popular beach town which thrived under tourism now is stiff with salty air and the eerie smells of abandonment. 


The ominous body of water in California formed through natural and manmade flooding of the Colorado River was home to sailboats, water skiers, and yacht clubs in the 1960’s, as well as many high-end celebrities like Frank Sinatra and The Beach Boys. 


However, scientists soon realized this leisurely getaway was an environmental hazard. With no outlet to flush out the runoff of fertilizers for everyday drainage, the salts and toxins in the stationary water dissolved into the ground and the salinity of the water rose to dangerous levels. Scientists warned to not go into the water, reducing the number of tourists and vacationers in the area. Masses of fish died, creating a cloud of egg-like stench above the neighboring town. As the winds would change so would the number of residents that abandoned their homes leaving cars, children’s toys, and trash. 


Following the years of warnings there was a slow decline of input from surrounding lakes and rivers. Little water was replenished into the forsaken Salton Sea, leaving the water and town in despair. 


The lake slowly began to recede in the 1990’s, leaving the fish bones and toxic remnants lodged in the ground. As winds blew across the playa, the pollutant materials turned airborne and infiltrated the air conditions in the area. 


Being one of the biggest ecological disasters in history, the California state government has created many task forces and accumulated money to help save the surrounding environments, as well as trying to revive the town back to its glory days. While impossible to recreate a safe body of water, little has been done to fix the ecological pit of misfortune. 


In the meantime, artists ignore the dense, salty smell looming around the lake and create intense and symbolic installations. The Bombay Beach Drive-Thru sits in the middle of the deserted town, exhibiting old, ditched cars from the area and takes the viewer back in time to drive-ins and brightly colored cars. Down by the water sits a couch and dead trees, enhancing the emphasis of devastation in the town and on the beach. Tiki stands with empty tip jars sit in the middle of the beach and a swing out in the water sways silently. 

Despite the cautionary signs for air pollution, tourists still come to visit the Bombay Beach, viewing the hazardous ruins and art wedged into the sands. There are many photo ops around the town and on the beach addressing the fascination behind the ghost town and the spooky polluted waters that pull in and out.