Missile test / L.A. “UFO” – what we saw from the Salton Sea on Bombay Beach

Standing on Bombay Beach (a wasteland in its own right) taking long exposures and timelapses, we saw a flaming….something that looked like it was coming toward us.


When it exploded and kept expanding, I realized it wasn’t a plane on fire but thought there was a good chance that a chemical or nuclear weapon had detonated over Los Angeles/Southern California. All I could do was stand there and realize life as I knew it could be over in a few minutes. So I did what anyone else would do. I took pictures of it.

The first few frames of the initial “white” explosion/blast/whatever are missing because for the life of me as I watched what I thought was maybe the end of the world, I forgot entirely how to use my camera.

I haven’t seen images like this on the news or in social media pics, what we saw was very different from what folks in L.A. saw.


This is only three frames, but you can see where it originated from before gaining elevation. Nuts.

Update: 2 GIFs below, 1 showing the full thing, and a GIF I created when I saw that I had captured the actual area of take off in the timelapse I was shooting. full gallery below that.

P.S. – Fun fact: the foreground in these pics is covered in dead fish because Bombay Beach is an ecological disaster. Bombay Beach in the daytime photos here: https://lessthanamateur.wordpress.com/2014/08/14/joshua-tree-and-the-salton-sea/ and here: https://lessthanamateur.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/salvaging-the-salton-sea/ An actual wasteland. Check it out.


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42 Responses to Missile test / L.A. “UFO” – what we saw from the Salton Sea on Bombay Beach

  1. Gisele says:

    I’m curious about this. Did you previously know about the missile or was it an incredible coincidence being there at that time? These images are amazing and so perfect!

  2. James Oberg says:

    Thanks for sharing both images and experience. For your interest, other people encountering missile launches [including astronauts on the space station] have reacted very much the same way:

    Click to access KYSS-9.pdf

    Click to access Topol_Test_with_images.pdf

    Click to access ISS_crew_spots_second_russian_rocket_rev_c.pdf

  3. Anonymous says:

    You’d obviously lose some size from it, but it’d be awesome to see a version cropped and re-positioned to be static across the whole gif.

  4. Chad Brundy says:

    Where exactly at Bombay Beach were you when you took the pictures? The little town of Bombay Beach or the campground just before the town perhaps? I would like to head out there and check things out. Were you facing west towards Los Angeles hence the reference to thinking L.A. might have just been hit with a nuke? And lastly, do you think you could figure out from your photos where the explosion or bright lights actually occurred in proximity to your location?

    • No idea. We were on the beach entrance from Ave F and 5th, near the abandoned piano and the exposed dock pillars. Facing west. No idea of proximity other than “oh fuck something huge over there”….

  5. pac says:

    Reblogged this on As The World Churns and commented:
    This capture of the missile test is incredible!!!

  6. Nati Natalie says:

    Unreal. Sorry you were scared but how unbelievably cool that you were in the right place at the right time!!!

  7. Fantastic images! Best I’ve seen of the event.

  8. Pingback: ‘UFO’ Trident Missile Test Over Los Angeles, Alleged Massive Explosion In Salton Sea Area Of California Desert, Spark Rumors U.S. Prepraing For World War III

    • Hey! Can you link my actual GIF link instead of that guy’s youtube video? he stole my GIF and uploaded it on his YT site. I’ve contacted YT to issue a takedown. Halp! Those are my images! 🙂

  9. noskerdycatUSA says:

    Will you be posting a high resolution video (from your camera) of this?

  10. leanne reis says:

    Awesome! Thank you for sharing!

  11. JECLunar12 says:

    Classic! In the photography world, you are now validated! Sell to the highest bidder 🙂

  12. Chad Brundy says:

    Thanks for your earlier response portertinsley much appreciated. I just have one more question did you hear any explosion around the area you took the photos?

    I must confess I would have never ever been able to visit your site for never knowing it existed!! Now that I have, I can say you are an amazing photographer. Love the current photos and the ones listed in your portfolio!! YOU DO AWESOME WORK and should be proud!!! Thanks again!

  13. Anonymous says:

    Look at frames 15 through 18. There are two parallel lines on each side of the blast. I wonder if this is some type of lens flair or something else. Interesting. Great work. Thanks for posting these.

    • There was a meteor shower and also planes over that area. It’s closer than the blue balloon haze; way closer. Planes were traveling over us right there for hours – it’s the approach path to LAX 🙂

  14. tony says:

    Porter you are brave I’m happy that you were not harmed you seem like a very nice person and ill say a prayer for you my question is did you feel any effect from the incident or side effect other that the moment of fear . I guess what I’m asking did you feel any change in air pressure either a wind towards you that wasn’t there or a wind behind you [back draft as all explosions have a initial push then the air retreats . Have you ran radiation test on your equipment too see what the back ground level is [ too find a variance you would run the test on a piece of equipment that wasn’t there and then on all the metallic parts of your equipment that you used ] did you feel different in any way as you would normally feel skin eyes hair ect all these are clues . Did you notice a change of temperature could you feel heat on your face or skin . I’m sorry to ask these question of such a brave person and I humbly ask them . Your photograph should be the picture of the year in every magazine it is a beautiful piece of work . You are a photographer and a dam good one at that . My analysis of the incident blue is plasma nasa used plasma engines on deep space probes round 2005 the technology has gone way beyond that from the looks of this test plasma engines are nuclear rocket engines I feel this is Russian . Russia moved a boreal class sub too the pacific a month ago . The high burst is the emp grid take down burst the 3 too 4 object you see falling at the end are the war head penetrators . This would be a 4 bus set up since the bus on the missiles can hold up too 12 penetrators’ decoys and low kt weapon’s [ about 5 kilo ton ] since this had only 3 too 4 they would be at minimum 1mt to 20 mega ton [ the heaver the war head the less the missile can carry of them . This is the classic configuration of city killer or a priority military target payload [ in other words the target is so important that they send one missile too hit it remember one missile can hit up too 10 different target s at different locations hundreds of miles apart ] In closing if this is what’s too become of us is this what we have become this is insane for what money power love is the only answer we must love each other and respect each other why would they want too blow it all up will they blow up the world will they really do it sadly I think the decision has already been made . Russia has been begging us too respect there sovereignty . This explosion is a dialog from them there saying stop that’s all just stop please lets talk just sit down and talk before its too late . In closing you are the best of us Porter and brave. Tony

  15. Patti says:

    Amazing photos! Do you recall the approx time you took the photos. Friends of mine in Southern New Mexico saw something similar to your photos, not what has been shown in media.

  16. LTDScott says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I was camping out in the Anza Borrego desert not far from you and saw this same view, which as you said is different than most of the ones seen in the media. The lack of a “tail” showing that it was something that had launched from the ground or cross sky movement definitely made us wonder “Is this the end?” for a while.

    • YEAH! I saw those borrego pics, or some of them. I wanted to get down there but we were staying in Palm desert and it’s just soooo far. Next time i go shoot desert areas I’m going to try to hit anza. Any areas you’d recommend?

    • We were camping with a group of friends in Indian Valley off of S2 in Anza-Borrego that night as well, and we were dumbfounded, mesmerized, and not a little scared of what we were witnessing. Those apocalyptic thoughts ran through our heads as the “explosion” occurred, then the huge white halo with the blue center expanded and expanded, seemingly coming our way. Out of cell phone range, we could only speculate until the next afternoon when we returned to civilization. The fact that we were out in the middle of nowhere actually enhanced the mystery and emotional impact of the experience. What a once-in-a-lifetime sight!

      • Agree. The *best* part about what we saw out there though? All the truthers calling me a liar and saying I photoshopped the whole thing 🙂

      • ltdscott says:

        I was at Butterfield Ranch, just a bit north of you, but we had cell signal and my friend was actually one of the first to post videos of it on Facebook. Even so, there were a lot more questions than answers and we were still waiting for a shockwave or some other reaction for a while. The aura in the sky lasted for a good 10 minutes. Also didn’t help that we had a few drinks in it already 🙂

  17. Pingback: Photos: The Trident Missile launch as seen from The Salton Sea is stunning - Cactus Hugs

  18. Wen Stephan says:

    there is only one problem with it being just one missile test cuz i really think u got two different missiles one is traveling more south to north went on up the coast much farther than would be visible from yr location and the 2nd is east southeast to west and was destroyed cuz u can see the remnants of the tail sputtering to the ground in your frames at the end jmho . even so it was awesome pictures non the less, BEAUTIFUL, isn’t it funny and sad at the same time that something intended for destruction can produce such beauty.

    • Yes, it does appear something was intercepted and was destroyed and the remnants fell to the ground/ocean. I’m not one to accept the cover story at face value considering the sources lie the vast majority of the time, so I’m left wondering what was intercepted and who sent it.

  19. We are interested in talking to you here at the Borrego Sun Newspaper. Please call us at 760-767-5338 as soon as you can. We are doing a story and it looks like you have the best pictures. Were you looking WEST? Did the occurrence happen OFF the Pacific Coast and then end in an explosion at the Sea????? OORRR did you witness the same occurrence we saw from Borrego facing West?

  20. tony says:

    hello tony again I feel that in your 3 frame capture is and post boost stage or glide stage of the missile . at this stage it has finished using its targeting thrusters and is reentering upper atmosphere . that’s why you could kind of say its is ‘thrusting or producing power . and it kind of will look like its under power but its actually in a glide but it is white hot from friction and throwing off a tail like and asteroid . I personally feel that’s what u captured in theses frames is the ” glide phase’ but I wasn’t there so I also take your observation on it too under consideration and respect it trust me I respect your eyewitness account . I’ve seen videos on u tube about nuclear explosions in space and they produce the same blueish hue at the end and it looks like a human eye very freaky . I been busy running things down over this on the past few days . I still stand by my and mine alone theory that it was a Russian missile too many things don’t add up about the whole closing lax pacific approach and departure airspace for a ‘war games’ with less than 1 week notice . not to mention this is the first time in history that it has ever been done . another video on u tube surfaced of an topol [variant unknown but experimental ] missile is shown producing the same cat eye like exhaust plume ion gas / plasma . in my explanation of the 3 too 4 warhead penetrator’s seen dropping away too the right at the end of the event here’s a link too one of the rare gems on u tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5ov5Uz5bpk ‘ Russian ICBM warheads hit targets on test range ‘ is the header . this may give or may not give more perspective on those last seconds . in closing these are all my opinions and mines alone and thank you for your beautiful pictures [ I have been losing alot sleep over them thanks a lot jk ] tony

  21. tony says:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90L-VPu63tA seen from Nevada inbound heading east . tony

  22. tony says:

    dam I’m an idiot your taking pictures of the sunset your cameras pointing due west your right I’m wrong ill admit it I just figured it out ok ill sleep a little better tonight sorry ;[

  23. Anonymous says:

    Maybe “cosmic rays” interaction with our atmosphere….

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