The Salton Sea was once a place of dreams, dreams of fishing in one of the best lakes in California, dreams of buying an affordable vocation home next to a lake in Southern California, dreams of boating or water skiing in the biggest lake in California. Well one day, in the nineteen eighties those dreams went bust, the lake level dropped and became too salty for most fish to survive. The real estate market collapsed. People abandoned their vocation homes or those homes were foreclosed on. At the end of the nineteen eighties, only the most desperate people lived there, those with only limited incomes, or those who wanted to live in a secluded environment.
Though the Salton Sea is in disarray, it is still an awesome place to do a photo shoot, commercial, music video or a feature film. I had a client ask me to do a scout of the Salton Sea earlier this month for a possible job. Scouting locations is a service I provide for my clients. I use my Sony DSLR to take the pictures, but I also send my clients pictures taken with my iPhone 6 Plus realtime if I see something interesting and I want to get some feedback. I take notes of the locations, including directions, nearest gas stations, RV dump facilities, coffee shops, restaurants, grocery stores, hotels and other places that might be essential for a shoot. I'm always thinking about base camp, crew parking and of course the location. The Salton Sea is always metamorphosing into a state of decay. What might have been there a month ago, might be gone in a week. The meth heads are always searching to sell anything of value. Therefore my client wanted me to make at least two scouts, one the month before the shoot and send the pictures, the second a few days before the shoot, just to verify the location and make sure nothing has changed. Since the Salton Sea is forty-five miles long and twenty-five miles wide at the widest point, it was going to take me most of the day to circumvent the lake, plus take my pictures and make my notes. I started at the most northern part of the SS, Mecca. I noticed across the street from the ARCO there was a burned out row of palm trees, it was almost like Armageddon had struck this area. I illmediatley sent some pictures to my client, she was ecstatic about the location. We were going to do a fashion shoot, and this background was going to work so well for what the fashion designer was looking for, the only problem was parking. Not really I thought later. There was a dirt pull out on 66th Ave, across the street from the ARCO and on the same side as the location. Another big plus, there is a gas station with RV dump (free), a Del Taco and a Starbucks. I was lucky to find something that I was not expecting to discover, sometimes when I do a scout, even if it is a location that I have been to before, sometimes I find something new and cool.
I made a right turn at Highway 111 and drove about twenty minutes south. My destination was the North Shore, a once booming place that consisted of a motel with a pool, a grocery store, a marina, bait stop, a casino and many homes. There was a casino that the Brat Pack and other famous people used to hang out at, unfortunately all those places are gone or nearly gone. The only thing that still exist is the marina, the bait shop minus the windows, a few abandoned buildings, part of a gas station and the new visitor center. The rows of houses are gone, only the abandon lots remain and the streets. Of course there is an awesome view of the lake. I have done a number of shoots at this location throughout the years. It is relatively safe, as long as you don't leave any equipment there over-night unless you hire a security team, if you do need security Steve Nader 760.508.1440 can help you. There is plenty of parking for any size crew. There are so many awesome places to film at, including abodoned streets, the bait shop overlooking ruins of the marina. There are plenty of places to set up base camp since the area is wide open. This part of the lake is in Riverside County, for a film permit you will need to call Dan Taylor 951.232.1271.
I drove another twenty minutes south to Bombay Beach. This is Imperial County, so you will need to call Charla Teeters-Stewart at 760.337.4155 to obtain a film permit. At one time Bombay Beach was nice town, with lots of potential, today it is a series of run down mobile homes, empty lots, closed businesses, a run down marina that is too shallow to launch a boat. For filming there are lots of possibilities, plenty of parking and a view of the lake. The streets are not empty, mobile homes are abundant, old and falling apart, there are still a number of people who call this place home. There is a church and a liquor store, just one of each. In a vague way, there is still a since of community in Bombay.
In terms of lodging, if you decided to film in Bombay Beach, Brawley is the closest town with plenty of motels like the Best Western Plus 760.351.9800. The Brawley Inn Hotel & Conference Center 760.344.1199 is another option. There are several groceries stores in town, as well as eateries and a RV dump station. If you decide to film at North Shore or Mecca, Indio is the closest town for lodging, my favorite hotel is the Spotlight 29 Casino 760.775.3028, the rooms are nice, plenty of parking for trucks, RVs and cars, lots of places to eat at, from a buffet, steakhouse, and a cafe. If you have any questions about these locations or other locations, or if you need a motor home or portable restrooms, please feel free to call me Michael Green at 818.317.7099.