Post Cards From Hell

Greetings From the Salton Seaturns a keen eye to a sad situation

The state's largest inland body of water, the Salton Sea is situated in its poorest area: a decayed, diseased topsy-turvy land of swamped yacht clubs; dry-docked, dry-rotted Chris-Crafts; and vast, boarded-up motels, where hydroplanes are permanently moored outside the shells of houses and where cars and hardware stores lie salt-encrusted and partially submerged.

Kim Stringfellow's Greetings From the Salton Sea: Folly and Intervention in the Southern California Landscape, 1905-2005 captures everything but the stink of dead fish and dying birds, poisoned by its rising salinity and effervescent toxins. This is the most complete, illustrative and artistic summation of the Salton Sea's plight to date—a work that demands to be read while there still is time.

Arriving just months after the sea marked its centenary with broke-ass public officials renewing their vows to clean it up, her book should move mountains. Yet after reading just 29 pages of printed heartache and foraging through her moving, beautifully composed photographs, it becomes clear that the sea may be permanently adrift. Born of a break in the Colorado River levees, distance and desolation have always been the true owners of its heart. A place of great plans and grand schemes—it has been mining operation, agricultural heartland, homestead, missile test range and recreational paradise—this seems forever a play without a final act.

ABANDONED TRAILER,
Bombay Beach
, 2000
Photo by Kim Stringfellow


"The area is also a testament to the determination of living beings, human and animal, to survive and adapt to the most challenging of circumstances," writes Stringfellow, an assistant professor at San Diego State University. "But now, at the end of the Salton Sea's first century, it seems the sea's history as a vital natural and human habitat will come to a close unless we intervene to preserve its ecological balance."

Her words echo in the deathly desert silence.

GREETINGS FROM THE SALTON SEA: FOLLY AND INTERVENTION IN THE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA LANDSCAPE, 1905-2005 by KIM STRINGFELLOW; THE CENTER FOR AMERICAN PLACES. HARDCOVER, 136 PAGES, $25; WWW.GREETINGSFROMSALTONSEA.COM.

 
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