Death knocked twice then climbed through the window. Its tongue began to wag like a snake dancing in the sea at night. A husky voice cracked into my mind and two words lodged in my ear...

The People You Meet In Abandoned Towns

The People You Meet In Abandoned Towns

Story by Peter Tarasiuk

The Salton Sea is a man made inland sea in California that was created around 1905 when the Colorado river was accidently diverted into the desert. It took them two years to stop the flow. The thought was that the sea would eventually dry up and everything would go back to normal but that didn’t happen. People started to see the Salton Sea as a holiday destination and by the fifties the shoreline was lined with towns. It was a haven in the middle of the desert where people would fish and go water skiing. Jerry Lewis and Frank Sinatra reportedly performed in the famous Salton Bay Yacht Club.

Jerry Lewis and Frank Sinatra reportedly performed in the famous Salton Bay Yacht Club.

Real estate agents would fly potential investors from Los Angeles over the area and they would buy plots of land from the sky without even setting foot on the ground. It  was the place to be seen. By the late sixties the Salton Sea had become increasingly salty because there were no tributaries and was fed only by runoff from local farms. Eventually the fish died off and algal blooms flourished and people began to leave.

There are streets of abandoned houses
still with washing hanging on clotheslines.

After a night in Palm Springs I set off for the infamous Salton Sea town of Bombay Beach. The highway is littered with abandoned liquor stores and garages and after a couple of hours I reached the bleak seaside town. There are streets of abandoned houses still with washing hanging on clotheslines. The experience was punctuated by 45 degree heat and the overpowering smell of a dead sea.

I wandered around the shells of old houses on the shores of Bombay Beach stepping around dead fish and relics of lavish lives that had been abandoned decades earlier. Eventually the heat and the putrid smell became too much and I decided it was time to head back to the car and the relief of the air conditioner. The extreme heat melted my thongs and they fell apart around my feet. I ran barefoot back to the car and jumped in, cranked the AC, turned around and got stuck in some sand. Deep. I started to get freaked out. I had not seen another person the whole time I’d been walking around.

The extreme heat melted my thongs and they fell apart around my feet.

I called everyone I could think of who could possibly help me – the car rental company, three tow truck companies, the fire department and no one would help me because I am not an American citizen. The Bombay Beach police department went through to an answering machine.

After some more freaking and a little more digging I decided to sit and collect myself. Just then a car appeared in the desert haze. A young couple from Los Angeles, Diana and Ian and their Sausage dog Bentley, stopped to help me. They said they liked to come this way because it’s one place they feel totally alone – a nice reprieve from the madness of L.A.

A young couple from Los Angeles, Diana and Ian
and their Sausage dog Bentley, stopped to help me.

They offered to use their AAA membership to call a tow truck and they sat with me in the blazing heat for two hours while we waited for the truck to come. In return, I offered to take a polaroid photo of them. They seemed quite happy with that. The truck eventually came and pulled me out and I drove around town for a while more before escaping the heat and the desolation of the Salton Sea.

See more of Peter’s work here.

SIGN UP TO RECEIVE NEWS FROM CRUMPLER