Los Angeles, CA: The Salton Sea Part I

The Salton Sea State Recreation Area is an arid, highly saline lake about 2 1/2 hours east of LA. Borrowing from Wikipedia

As a result, the Salton Sink or Salton Basin has long been alternately a fresh water lake and a dry desert basin, depending on random river flows and the balance between inflow and evaporative loss. A lake would exist only when it was replenished by the river and rainfall, a cycle that repeated itself countless times over hundreds of thousands of years

The sea was created in the early 20th century when the Colorodo River overflowed and burst down into the area known as the Salton Sink. After the flood waters died down, authorities investigated damming the river to prevent such a flood from happening again, leading to the development of the Hoover Dam. Since the Salton Sea had no outlet, the ecosystem was put on a sort of contained overdrive. The salinity is much greater than seawater since the water has nowhere to go but up.

Most striking, however, are the fish die-offs. Due to an abundance of algae and hence a large fish population that feeds on the algae, deoxygenation of the water results in massive fish deaths. Various parasites and bacteria have been discovered that would also contribute to the mortality rate, on top of the salinity of the water.

All of this makes for a really interesting site to take pictures. I had heard only briefly of the area from a photography teacher and one other student, so one weekend I decided to check it out for myself. But first, I would need some gear.My collection of lenses is nearly complete, save for a solid telephoto. The closest I can get right now is 70mm. To fill the frame without getting within 5 feet of the subject, you really need something north of 150mm. I went to Samy’s Camera in Playa del Rey and rented a Canon 200mm 1.8L lens. The used ones on eBay go for about $4,000. Along with the light meter and tripod I rented, Samy’s put a hold of $5,000 on my credit card.

At first I walked my bicycle down Jefferson Blvd towards the Big Blue Bus stop. The small suitcase that housed the lens was in one hand, the 15-pound tripod loosely contained in my backpack. I had grossly underestimated the sizes of both. After about 10 minutes, realizing how long it would take me to make it back home, I decided to just go for it. I carefully climbed on my bicycle, and slowly started peddling down the sidewalk. Unfortunately, tree roots had grown so thick they were pushing up the concrete slabs of the sidewalk, often making the path impassable. Even more unfortunately, the brakes on my bike don’t work so well, so every now and then I would have to drop both feet to the ground and skid to a stop. Then shuffle myself, the bike and lens over the ruined sidewalk with one hand and two feet.

The next morning I picked up a rental car from Enterprise and set out for the desert. About two hours later I hit the wind farm just west of Palm Springs. When I first saw them on the way to Coachella two years ago, I knew I had to come back to take some pictures. This time, one eye was on the road ahead while the other scanned the rest areas and side roads near the highway. Access to get close enough for a decent picture was limited. And even though I had an enormous lens, I wanted privacy. Finally, I found a service road that ran along I-10, and it looked like I could walk across some open lots, right up to the windmills.

I parked the car near some bushes off the side of the service road, and snapped on the monster. I cautiously walked across the undeveloped land, closer to the power station and rotating turbines. Indeed, there didn’t seem to be a fence until you got within a hundred yards of the first windmill. And even though there were no trespassing or keep-out signs, I was still nervous. After all, I was a brown man walking around power infrastructure equipment with a telephoto lens the size of a small dog.

Taking pictures of those things was about as much fun as I hoped it would be. Even though I couldn’t get right up to them, the lens got me as close as I needed to be. Railway lines ran beside the power station, which provided a nice foreground. I finished off a roll of black-and-white, walked back to the car, and continued east.




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