Doug Boutwell the occasional odd thought or image

Salton Sea Photographs | Abandoned Naval Base | Bombay Beach

I took my third trip to the Salton Sea in as many weeks yesterday, as part of my ongoing photographic exploration of the peculiar kind of desolation one can find there.  Mark Becklund, friend and neighbor, was kind enough to join me on the journey this time, and didn’t even bitch about the 3:30AM knock at his door.  We loaded up my Honda Element with the usual Speedotron Explorers, Pocket Wizards, a 1Ds MkIII, and an array of Canon L lenses.  This time Mark also brought his Alien Bees, and Vagabond Battery Pack, which came in handy, as some of these shots took all 6 studio strobes to overpower the daylight.  We drove out highway 10, past Palm Springs, and arrived at our first location before dawn… then photographed all day around the perimeter of the Salton Sea, and headed back to Orange County after the sun had set over Bombay Beach.  In return, I bought him a can of Bombay Beach Fish Assholes.  Seems like a fair trade ;)  I hope he made some amazing photos as well, and he was a big help rigging up my lighting so I could make my pictures happen.  Thanks Mark!

In the process of getting here and there, we managed to get both a flat tire, AND get stuck in the mud at Bombay Beach.  I had the bright idea to drive out onto the shores of the Salton Sea to get closer to an old crane that had been partially submerged on previous visits.  I figured that my Honda Element had AWD, and we had gotten lucky a couple times previously… but it had been one time too many, it seems, as we ended up spinning our tires in the mud near the flooded shores of Bombay Beach.  Thankfully, we were able to get it unstuck with a combination of digging the tires out, letting out some air, putting some boards under the wheels, and having me push from the back.  I love my Honda Element!

On this trip, we managed to find a way into the abandoned Salton Sea Naval Auxiliary Air Station and Test Base.  Took some doing, even after some extensive research on Google Earth, but it was worth the hassle, I think.  A couple buildings were still standing from the WWII-era naval base, plus the remains of the old seaplane launch ramp, the faint outline of the old runway, and a couple of concrete-reinforced bunkers.

Salton Sea | Mysterious machine hiding in an abandoned bunker

Inside The Bunker

Salton Sea | Abandoned Naval Auxiliary Air Station Building

Salton Sea Naval Auxiliary Air Station

Salton Sea | Beachfront Property | view from inside abandoned naval building

Beachfront Property

Salton Sea | Lit Street Remains at abandoned Naval Air Station

Lit Street

After exploring the remains of the old Navy base for several hours, it was onward to the far South side of the Salton Sea, where we encountered this fallen tree on the way to a ruined dock.

Salton Sea | Stranded tree recoiling from the water


Salton Sea | Ruins of a changing hut near Bombay Beach

Changing Hut

Salton Sea | Remains of a school bus

School's Out

Salton Sea | Bombay Beach | Salt covered crane near the water's edge

Unfinished Construction

I still feel like there so much more to see and photograph at the Salton Sea.  It will take several more full days of shooting for me to feel like I’m finished shooting all the weird and wonderful things out there.  I love the way shooting these twisted forms with daylight flash casts a strange, artificial light, and the weird things I find out in the high desert make a perfect subject.



5 Responses to Salton Sea Photographs | Abandoned Naval Base | Bombay Beach

  1. Chenin says:

    awesome stuff! I like Changing Hut best…


  2. stikman says:

    unfinished construction is sick!

    So you guys headed out for sunrise shots? seems like there is none in here? They are all lit so evenly and rad, are these HDR or strobed or both?
    The lighting/processing is reminiscent of those wicked rad fashion images you did in the desert last year.

    Love your work and love your commentary!


  3. admin says:

    Thanks Stikman! I like to get out there around sunrise, because it takes a while to figure out where I’m going, what to shoot, etc… for instance, we went to the air base first, but it took a good hour to figure out how to navigate the washed out, unmarked, and in places treacherously sandy road to get there.

    Also, part of the aesthetic I’m trying to create revolves around harsh, unrelenting sun and bleached, barren wastes baking in the desert – the noon sun is a good starting place for that… early morning and late afternoon light are pretty and romantic in a traditional landscape way, and I’m trying to avoid that. I’m certainly romanticizing the subject simply by the time and effort expended to shoot it, but hopefully the approach avoids falling into the traps of shooting landscapes in the usual way.

  4. Chris Gerard says:

    First off I wanna say that I love your blog! It’s one of my favorites on my feed.

    Secondly, these Salton Sea shots are AMAZING! I love the surreal quality of them. They have inspired me to really get out there and experiment more.

    Thanks for the constant inspiration!


  5. Those bunker shots rock! Looks like a kick ass time!

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