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12 Hours in the Salton Sea

Updated: Aug 27, 2021

Nothing can truly prepare you for the horrible stench of the Salton Sea. The name almost suggests it. Which is why I wouldn’t recommend anyone go there in the midst of summer as it’s barely breathable in the colder months. Get past the aroma though and you’ll find it’s worthy of a good day trip.



I went in May. The time of year in the desert where it’s hot but not quite ‘the surface of hell’ hot. As a Salton Sea noob I wasn’t sure what to expect but what I found was a wonderful wasteland booming with art, bananas, and a few rotting fish carcasses. Yes, you read that right...bananas. (We’ll get to the rotting fish later)


STOP 1:

International Banana Museum: Banana Lovers Shangri-la



This yellow utopia is easy to miss if you’re not looking for it as it shares walls with Skips - Tackle and Bait shop and isn’t always open. If you’re lucky enough to see a giant stuffed banana out front, park the car and make your way in!



“This Sh*t is bananas”


And there it is...the most overplayed phrase this fruit has encountered since 2004. But TBH, it really was, and I couldn't help but blurt it out! (Thanks Gwenn) The museum boasts over 25,000 banana related items and comes fully equipped with all the puns you can handle. It’s also tiny. How they’ve managed to squeeze all that potassium into such a small space is beyond impressive.



From slot machines to milkshakes, if you imagine it, it probably exists - in banana form. My favorite? This painting of ‘American Gothic’ that someone clearly thought was lacking something.



TRAVEL TIP:

There is a small entrance fee ($1) but waived if you purchase something. And why wouldn’t you? I went for a scoop of their home-made banana ice cream, and wasn’t disappointed.


I could have gotten lost in there for another hour at least but this was only stop 1 and there was still so much more to see.


FIND ME:

98775 CA-111, Mecca, CA 92254

 

STOP 2:

Bombay Beach


What was once a thriving tourist destination is now a wasteland of urban decay and fishbones. From afar you can see how this place was once booming with life. Take a closer look and it’s hard to decipher why anyone would still choose to live there. (Yes, people still live there.) But out of the toxic dust a resurgence of artists have emerged. They flock to this area like moths to a flame, and because of this, so do I.



I’ve also been known to flock to a good dive bar and guess what Bombay Beach has? No sh*t. Among all the ruins one bar still stands, still serves. The day was heating up and I found myself practically running through its doors to escape it.


FIND ME:

California 92257

 

STOP 3:

Ski Inn

Inside, the rail was lined with regulars and the walls lined with money. The Cash Only sign gave only a slight scare as I reached into my wallet to find a crisp twenty. With domestic bottles coming in at a whopping $2.50 this truly is a dive bar. And at 223 feet below sea level it’s also the Lowest Bar in the Western Hemisphere.

TRAVEL TIP:

Hungry? The Patty Melt has been the popular item since Anthony Bourdain’s visit in 2008.


FIND ME:

9596 Avenue A, Bombay Beach, Niland, CA 92257

 

STOP 4:

Salvation Mountain


The part of the desert where art meets religion. Cue Hallelujah (the Leonard Cohen version obvs). You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the grandeur of this art installation. The 50ft mountain consists of hay barrels, local adobe clay, and donated paint and the super rad thing is you can walk on top of it! As long as you follow the rules of the yellow brick road.


TRAVEL TIP: Free Admission though paint donations are welcome.


FIND ME:

Beal Rd, Calipatria, CA 92233

 

STOP 5:

Slab City


Just when you thought things couldn’t get any weirder….there’s Slab City. An abandoned WWII Marine base now serving as a home to those who like to live “Off the grid”. That’s right, no electricity, no fresh water, no sewage treatment, no (government) rules.

This doesn't mean that they don't live by their own set of rules, so be respectful of the space as you enter and you shouldn't have any problems.

FIND ME:

7120 Beal Rd, Niland, CA 92257

 

STOP 6:

East Jesus

Located at the edge of Slab City lies East Jesus, an artist retreat. It's open to the public and accepts donations. Again, respect the space. They may live in a land without laws but this doesn't mean they don't have rules for you, and there are MANY signs depicting this.


Don't be scurred, just be a decent human being and everything will be cool. The art is fantastic, and always evolving, giving off the vibes that nothing is ever quite finished.



TRAVEL TIP:


FIND ME:

E Jesus Rd, Niland, CA 92257

 

WELP, WE DID IT YOU GUYS!

WE SURVIVED THE APOCALYPSE!



As the sun began to set on my departure, I wondered something. I wondered if the townspeople ever get used to the smell? I wondered if this landscape had a chance for revival? Did it even want to be saved? Was all this toxic dust getting to me? I didn't have answers to these questions but amidst all that wonder I did know one thing.


I couldn't wait to return.



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