San Andreas | California
The Last Resort
The Salton Sea has been many things over its life: a Native American fishing grounds, a lifeline for Southern California farmers, a resort destination and planned community to rival Palm Springs. It’s also a caustic bathtub sitting directly on top of the San Andreas fault and sinks below sea level a little further each year. Being there, where everything is brittle, baked and bleached through cloudless desert skies, you get the uneasy feeling that a hearty shake will send the whole valley crumbling into the earth.
The Salton Sea is dying because it doesn’t belong there in the first place -- at least not in its current form. It was willed into existence for profit and never made good on its promises: miles of undeveloped plots marked by a forest of street signs leading to nowhere, stubborn retirement communities holding onto their square mile of grass while drought attacks on all sides, a receding, waveless, infinite shoreline broken by abandoned piers, docks, and fishing boats, half-buried in the crushed bones of the toxic fish they can no longer harvest.
It smells and feels like old death in an oven, and there’s simply no chance that it will ever rebound; the sea is so imbalanced that it’s eating its own oxygen in an irreversible chain reaction.
But Salton Sea residents see it differently; as a whole, they have a self-awareness and sense of humor about their situation, if only because there aren’t many other choices. The towns around the shore have been Mad-Maxed together through decades of building on the hopes of politicians and developers who never came through. And finally understanding that they never will, people have taken matters into their own hands, ditching zoning laws and building their own additions, turning town squares into community party coves and building improv sculptures in abandoned trailer parks.