What Remains of the Salton Sea

Southern California doesn’t have the history required to create a lot of ghost towns.  The Salton Sea is a sort of natural equivalent though.  Formed in a strange accident that saw the Colorado River flooding the Borrego desert for several years, the Salton Sea became a huge tourism mecca before slowly dying a slow death as agricultural runoff polluted the water and the lack of any source of replenishment dried much of the lake away.

Today, not much remains.  I’m going to post a series of pictures I took 12 years ago – I can’t speak to the current state of the place but I’m willing to guess it’s no better.

This is the start of a few posts that, for the first time here, are going to be scans of actual film negatives instead of the normal digital stuff.  Because of that, the EXIF information will be missing.  I do know that most of this was taken with a Canon A-1 or a Canon Eos Elan 2E and a 50mm 1.8.  I’ll post more info when I have it.

This is the Sundowner Motel – I have a few more shots of the place as well.  It had obviously been closed a long time, but I’ve learned it burned down in 1998, a few years before these pictures were taken.


  • Credit: Ari Brown
  • Taken: 25 March, 2012

Sundowner Motel, South West side of Salton Sea, 3.6.2000


    1. If you’re ever in SD or Palm Springs (or LA), it’s a great day trip. Nobody is there, which is nice, and the desert is beautiful. Great combination with camping in Borrego. I’ll post more…


  1. Went to the Salton Sea in 2010 when Monica and I were visiting Palm Springs — it was really impressive to see. Have you watched the documentary that John Waters narrates?


    1. I don’t think I’ve seen the documentary. Google says it’s called Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea – I’ll see if I can find it.


  2. The Sea must be saved, lest barren playa breaks up and into the wind it goes! Dust storms will ruin Palm Springs. I say, Clean Mexicali’s wastewater, dump it into the adjacent New River, where it will flow downhill to the Sea. Mexicali has 800,000 population & all its water also comes from The Colorado River.


  3. I wish I did too. I’ve been looking for them online . That’s how I found you. Before it was the Sundowner, it was called the Desser House (my family name) and my time there marked a profound part of my personal history. I appreciate your pics: poetic and prophetic.


    1. I echo your statement, “a profound part of my personal history.” I search the web every month or so hoping to find more photos of the Desser House. But the years pass and no more pics appear. I stayed at the Desser House on a number of consecutive weekends while working on a student film in the mid-70s. The experience was magical. Many cherished memories. I wrote about some of my Desser House experiences in my blog eveningpilgrim.com – a post called “Earth, Air, Water.” I’m sure I must have seen you there one time or another. I may even have exchanged recollections with you or your sister a couple of years back via a website I’m no longer able to find. I hope you are well and happy. It was an extraordinary place and time.


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