I want to go to that sea at the end of the world
To press my cheek against that fishbone beach
To feel the heat on my back like a lead vest
To breathe in the smells of salt and slime and death
Amid the ruins at the Salton Sea.
We moved on from Bombay Beach and visited North Shore, California. Here we visited a gutted bait shop left from the days when the Salton Sea was still a sports fishing destination. We saw birds on the shore; the sea remains an active stopover for migratory birds, and despite the environmental ruin that has occurred, graceful waterfowl still frequent it in tremendous numbers. This is sometimes to their detriment, as some of the kinds of bacteria that thrive in the polluted sea are deadly to them. Phil had found the skeletonized carcass of a pelican back at Bombay Beach, its bones still lined up so cleanly that you could see how it lay with its wings flopped open, and its head reared back on its neck… the remains not thrown into disarray by scavengers.
We hopped down on to the beach. I can tell you that the first thing I thought was that the ground felt weird. When you look at the beach closely, you can see that it’s made of bones; fish bones, dry scales, and even the bones of birds. When you’re walking on earth made from bones, the ground feel softer, but dry… like you’re walking on tiny styrofoam pellets. We saw a few dead fish in advanced states of decay on the beach, with whatever skin was left on them shrunk tight over the bones by the sun.
We also visited Desert Shores, California… this was when the sun was already sinking below the horizon. The flooded portions of Desert Shores were behind locked chain link fences. The fence had a gate in it, with a sign that said that the gate was provided for our convenience. The gate was chained and padlocked shut.
Desert Shores was an amazing place. It was a bustling little town when we got there. With the sun now below the horizon and the temperature now around a hundred, people came out of their homes and jogged and walked in the relative cool. The shore birds made soft whoop whoop noises as they settled in for the night. The town was mostly latino, and there was the noise of people conversing in Spanish and english all around us.
We saw a row of small houses, sheds, and trailers that looked for all the world like a photo from National Geographic of the slums of Brazil. On the other side of the street were a few large houses with walled yards. News of the events in Syria had just begun to filter through to us. We stood there, on the edge of a dying sea, in the shadow of crushing poverty, in a world on the brink of war. It truly felt as though the Salton Sea was a place where the end of the world had already begun… as though we were looking at a reflection of the real world in a broken mirror. Everything seemed recognizable, but somehow strangely wrong, out of step.
Phil scampered down the five foot incline to the shore of the sea to photograph some old pier pilings. When he climbed back up, he said that fresh fish were washing up on the shore that night. In the distance, on the southern shore, orange and white flashes of lightning brightened the clouds.
This place was beautiful. It was deceptively peaceful. It could’ve been a paradise.
We started the drive back to Salton City and the hotel. On the way, we stopped for some fast food sandwiches, purchased at a casino. Here it seems that roadside casinos provide dozens of services to travelers; they are here what truck stops are for the rest of the country.
We drove back to the hotel and parked the Chrysler next to a ruined RV with a sticker on the back that read “The Salton Sea, The Place To Be!” In the walled parking lot, near the narrow entrance, a barrel flickered with flames. Once inside, we reviewed the day’s work, and drank some nice cold beers. The stench of the sea was lodged in my head, and it spoiled the taste of the sandwich… it felt like sand in my mouth, but it was food and without it, I would go to bed hungry. The beer tasted off, too, but I was grateful for the cold drink, and for the alcohol that it provided.
I went back to my room, and locked all of the locks that I could. Outside, below the hotel room window, stood a laughing buddha, his grin that of a demented and mentally challenged man. The statue was stained with a stripe of black mildew that ran over his crazed mouth like slobber. I took another sickly warm shower, and washed my bra in the hotel sink with the tiny bar of soap. I left the curtains closed; the only view was a chain link fence and a huge billboard. As I crawled into bed, I turned on the tiny television. A news channel was on, and with the television remote also missing from the room, I couldn’t change it. I left it on for the sound of voices.
We had originally planned to camp up at the campground at Mecca, and we would be if it hadn’t been for the equipment trouble. I will say that I was glad to be in the hotel for that night; more than the bed, more than even the air conditioning, I was glad to have a set of walls between myself and this place… this sea at the end of the world.