#11 Salvation at the Salton Sea

The Salton Sea has been calling to me since the day I moved to California… I had heard about it as a kid and even more so when I moved to CA from photographers and fellow explorers. Well it was my lucky day because I was finally making my way there! The drive from San Diego was about four hours long due to a few detours here and there. Just outside Ocotillo I found a cool little spot. I’m unsure of what the property used to be but it was pretty boring aside from an old rickety tower which caught my eye. As much as I wanted to climb up it I decided otherwise… sometimes you have to decide whats worth risking getting a shot for and this certainly wasn’t. I don’t wanna be the guy that dies tipping over on a 60 foot tall tower.


I got back on the road and continued my journey towards the Sea. On my way I passed through numerous small towns and defunct communities. As I passed through one of these towns I noticed what appeared to be an abandoned automotive shop. If there is one thing I am particularly good at and or blessed with good luck…. it is finding abandoned places while driving! People always ask how I find spots and for the most part its Google maps and research but at the end of the day some of the coolest places I have ever discovered was merely due to accidentally stumbling upon them while driving. This place was extra special as it had more then a few treasures inside. The town that it was in was the definition of a desert slum. As I was poking around the building I couldn’t help but notice more then one zombie like person walking around the town in a drug infused state. After circling the shop and laying my eyes on an abandoned car on the inside I knew that I had to find a way in. The shop was surprisingly very secure but it also made sense, otherwise how would an old vehicle still be relatively in tact in a scrapper infested area like this? After about five more minutes of brainstorming and observing all angles of the building I finally discovered a point of entry that was only suited for the skinniest of people (luckily I’m a muskrat). I shimmied inside and then began snapping away with fervor. As I was shooting the first car, a crackhead road by on a BMX bike… Immediately my senses perked up… my biggest fear wasn’t getting kicked out or in trouble with the cops but more so getting robbed. In fact that has always been my biggest fear exploring! I don’t fear the cops or the security, nor do I fear homeless I just fear dirtbag thieves with nothing to lose. He cruised by and then turned around and came back and had to make sure “he wasn’t seeing things” as he had seen a figure (me) moving inside the abandoned shop. I just told him I was poking around checking out the old cars and he continued on his way… phew….!


I didn’t spend to much time shooting the shop as I had to meet my buddy Romain up at Salvation Mountain. Romain is an amazing photographer and fellow explorer who I’ve had the opportunity to explore with a few times in the past. In a hobby such as this its hard to find good company and people you really trust to explore with. I was beyond excited to have company for the whole weekend and be with somebody who I felt was equally capable and competent to explore with. Theres nothing worse then getting to a location, shooting for less then an hour and then your friend saying he’s “ready to go”. Some people are in a rush or can’t appreciate the fact that when you leave an abandoned place it may or may not be the last time you ever get to see or shoot it…. With that being said I had plans to meet up with Romain. at Salvation Mountain outside Niland, California so I left the autoshop and continued driving towards the lake and “Salvation” with the excitement of the rest of the weekend building!

When I arrived at Salvation Mountain I was a bit surprised…. After driving through the town of Niland which is basically the California equivalent of Detroit or St. Louis I wasn’t expecting to see swarms of tourists wielding selfie sticks trying to get the perfect shot at Salvation Mountain. Much to my chagrin that was all there was and it made it even more difficult for me to get a shot of the vividly colored mountain with nobody in the foreground. It might sound entitled but fuck your selfie stick… this group of girls stood directly in front of the monument for more then 30 minutes getting selfie…  How many fucking selfies do you need? Once again… all the more reason for me to stay off the beaten path and find places that aren’t listed on “Roadtrippers.com” (shots fired). Here are some shots I got, I was really disappointed with the weather, I definitely will be making a return trip to shoot Salvation Mountain on a bluebird day with big blue puffy clouds and not on a holiday weekend!



Romain met me at Salvation and got his shots and then I told him about the autoshop I had just found which of course he expressed interest in visiting so we drove directly back to it for my second visit of the day. I had no problem going back because the first time around I was in a rush and didn’t have my tripod so this time I took my time and got everything I wanted. We must have spent more then an hour just geeking out over all the cool old stuff and shooting long exposures. It had me feeling like a kid again! Once we finished up at the autoshop we made our way north around the lake and up into the desert to setup camp. Along the way we hit one more spot which consisted of a few buildings along a rail line and offered some cool shots before the sun finally set.


Stay tuned for the next adventure!


  • J.J

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