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In focus

Off the grid

A Salton Sea adventure

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Along the shores of the Salton Sea are many astounding photographic opportunities. The Sea is California’s largest lake that was originally created by an engineering accident in 1905. At the time there was work to divert water from the Colorado River into a new irrigation system. It took about two years to stem the flow. By then the newly named Salton Sea had grown into a 400 square-mile body of water. Over decades the once fresh water has slowly increased in salinity and today it is so high that once plentiful fish, birds and other creatures have all but disappeared. The sea has no natural outlet. Water is drawn off for for various uses and together with natural evaporation the Sea itself is dramatically shrinking in size.

During the 1950’s and 1960’s the Salton Sea was a tourist mecca attracting millions of visitors. Under the Californian sun, swimming, sailing and just lounging on the beaches created the Sea’s reputation as a beautiful oasis. Ghostly remains of that golden age can now be found in places like Salton City, Niland and Bombay Beach.

Just behind Niland, at the southern end of the lake, Camp Dunlap was created in 1941/42 as a new training facility for field and anti-aircraft artillery units. By 1949 military operations had mostly ceased and by 1956 all buildings and other installations had been dismantled. All that was left were the building slabs. Today this area is known as Slab City and is home to Salvation Mountain and East Jesus. The area is devoid of any utilities (no water, sewage, electricity, etc.) and those choosing to live there are truly living ‘off the grid’.

While the residents here want to live outside of our normally accepted civilized urban culture, many choose to express themselves through art. East Jesus is described as ‘an experimental, sustainable and habitable art installation’. The art is made from discarded material that has been reused, recycled or repurposed. In fact upon entering the area one sees old refrigerators, stoves and other domestic devices strewn about the desert floor. From a photographic perspective, East Jesus presents endless opportunities.

Just down the dirt road Salvation Mountain appears as a colorful hill covered in latex paint, concrete and adobe. Built by Leonard Knight over two decades, the installation is covered with Biblical verses promoting ‘peace’.

On the lake shore, Bombay Beach is a small town a little less off the grid as it is serviced by municipal utilities. Many of the houses look dilapidated but in fact are homes to those looking for an alternative lifestyle. In particular, the town attracts those with an artistic bent and decorated buildings and art pieces can be found throughout the town. The beach itself is a salt encrusted expanse which is growing by the day as the sea recedes.

You are now off the grid! 

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