Eye Opener

This past winter I had the opportunity to take a photo workshop, actually more of a photo tour, with Sandi Wheaton http://sandiwheaton.com of the Salton Sea and area. I had met Sandi a year earlier when I took a Route 66 photo workshop from her.

Sandi is a Canadian photographer who has a passion for the Salton Sea and spends as much time as she can photographing it along with other areas in the Southern California desert.

Our day started in Bombay Beach. I had driven through Bombay Beach previously and it had left the impression of a rotting, abandoned town. While there were a few places inhabited, there were many abandoned, dilapidated homes that looked like the inhabitants had just walked away from them. Touring the town with Sandi really opened my eyes. The town is an incredible place with a lot of amazing art installations scattered throughout. It just shows that sometimes you just need someone to point out what is right in front of you.

Opera House

The Opera House occasionally hosts live performances. The unique design on the walls is actually made up of old flip flops.

Opera House walls

Perhaps appropriate to Bombay Beach is a Bomb Shelter.

And of course what would a town be without a drive-in theatre? I understand that occasionally they show movies, projected onto the side of the semi-trailer at the front.

Yes there is a beach, although it looks like a few boats have been left high and dry.

Bombay Beach is definitely a place you can return to again and again to explore. Every time you visit you will find something different – either because you missed it before or it is something new that has been added. I think the town will continue to grow and become known as a center for visual arts.

After a stop at the Ski Inn (a great stop for lunch or a brew by the way) we were off to Salvation Mountain. Constructed of adobe and straw, the mountain was created by Leonard Knight as a demonstration of his spirituality. It is covered by murals and biblical verses painted in mostly donated paint. My understanding is that for years the “price of admission” was cans of leftover paint. The Folk Art Society of America designated it a place worthy of preservation in 2000. Knight passed away in 2014. There is no admission charge but donations are accepted.

From Salvation Mountain we journeyed a short distance to East Jesus in Slab City. An old Marine base, Camp Dunlap, Slab City is a huge community of squatters who have set up camp on the concrete slabs left behind when the military buildings were removed. At first site, East Jesus seems to be a collection of junk and you wouldn’t be far off base. In reality, it is an amazing collection of Trash Art. It is truly an incredible place. The more you explore the more you discover. And the more you look at items the more you see as to what components it was created from. I don’t know how many times I stopped and just marveled at the genius and creativity that went in to a piece. While there is no admission charge, donations are gratefully accepted. And they will happily accept old junk that you want to donate – on a future visit you just might find it has been turned into a work of art.

One piece that I found quite interesting, at first glance, just looked like a giant billboard with lots of little sayings on it. Then I realized it was actually a pile of old TV’s and that most of the messages on the screens related in some way to the media or communication.

I enjoyed the three sites visited so far so much that a few weeks later I took my wife and two friends, who were visiting us, for a day of exploration. They thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Our final stop for the day was a sunset shoot on the Salton Sea. Despite the troubles faced by the sea, it is still a beautiful place to visit and explore. And if you are a photographer new to Southern California or just want to find some interesting and unique areas to photograph, I highly recommend one of Sandi’s workshops (see the link above).

Salton Sea Sunset
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