In Search of Eldorado

The Salton Sea
June 30, 2001 to December 31, 2001
Red Hill Marina, 1994.

Photographs by Christopher Landis

An irrigation project designed to bring water to the Imperial Valley in 1905 backfired, allowing the Colorado River to flow uninhibited for two years into the Salton Basin, a dry, ancient lakebed, which resulted in the Salton Sea.

Developers dubbed this unexpected body of water in the middle of the desert "California's New Mediterranean." They envisioned a tourist haven in a land of eternal summer. Indeed, in May 1958, opening weekend sales at M. Penn Phillip's Salton City development topped $4.25 million.

The 1960s became a recreational heyday, and due to the sea's salinity levels and elevation (280 feet below sea level) the basin was considered a premier location for boat racing. This inspired the establishment of the Salton Bay Yacht Club.

This exhibit includes 40 photographs, taken over a span of 10 years, that document the desolate beauty discovered in the midst of the Imperial Valley, despite environmental damage caused by decades of rising salinity, heavy nutrient loading and recurring floods.

Mr. Landis, who has M.A. degrees in Roman history and photography from California State University of Fullerton, has long been fascinated with man's successes and failures. Ghost towns and abandoned properties drew him even as a child.

"When I was a kid I was just interested in exploring," Mr. Landis said. " (Now) when I see ruins I immediately see the history of the people involved." Each ruin has a story and carries with it a human account, he explained.

Nash Editions created the high quality photographic prints on display.