Part 2: After leaving Joshua Tree, we ventured South for 1.5 hours past Coachella, into the forgotten land of Niland, California, home of just about one thing – the famously colorful, and wildly imaginative Salvation Mountain (map).
We first learned about Salvation Mountain while watching the movie Into the Wild in college. Leonard Knight, the inspired artist and honorably discharged veteran who created this hope-filled place, passed away peacefully the week before we visited at the fulfilled age of 82. His life’s mission was to share the message, “God is love,” which he first tried to do by creating a giant, homemade, hot air balloon that he just could not get to fly. He then decided to fashion a small monument made of cement and sand, which after 4 years of work, fell down into a heap of rubble, but this did not discourage Leonard.
Over the next several years, he rebuilt his mountain using adobe clay mixed with straw to hold it all together. He would then coat the clay with paint, which prevented the wind and the rain from being able to erode it away. The more paint and the thicker the coat, the better and stronger the mountain! Here is a piece of Salvation Mountain we found that demonstrates just how thick he made the layers:
Upon arriving we saw the large painted sign on the side of the road, bringing life, color and a strong message to this thoroughly desolate town:
We made our donation, which we could hardly fit into the overflowing slot:
Dropped off some extra paint cans that we gathered from neighbors, as they are constantly re-coating and expanding the mountain:
And set off on the “yellow brick road” to explore Leonard’s mountain… from all angles!:
Not only can you actually climb this wonderland of a mountain, but it is also filled with countless nooks and crannies to be explored. Leonard used photos, trophies from his childhood, old car doors, windows and wooden pieces of all kinds to create his vision:
On one of the walls, we managed to find a photo from the newspaper of Leonard and his “house car” which he lived in up until a few years ago. Still today his “house car” remains untouched, exactly as he left it, you can even see his belongings inside:
Then, just before leaving, we were greeted by one of Salvation Mountain’s furriest and friendliest!:
Not too shabby for a cat I’d say.
After saying our farewells, we hung a right out of the parking lot and found ourselves in Slab City, aka The Slabs, aka the abandoned Camp Dunlap Marine Training Facility which was used to train US troops during World War II. All that remains today are the cement foundations of the buildings, thus providing a convenient name for the area, Slab City.
Both decommissioned and uncontrolled, there is no charge for parking or land, which is why many snowbirds come with their RVs during the winter months to escape the cold. There is also a group of about 150 “Slabbers” who live here permanently. They have moved to The Slabs to learn how to live off the grid and be left alone, while others have moved here to stretch out their retirement income. With no electricity, no running water, no sewers or toilets, and no trash pickup service… there were definitely some really interesting things to be seen.
Shoe tree anyone?:
Trash aka. supply closet:
It was clear to see that many people use the trash as a way to express their creativity:
Others choose to truly live off of the land:
While some of the scenes were straight out of an episode of Breaking Bad:
Other sites showed us that there is still a true sense of community and even entrepreneurship in these parts:
As we continued driving through we noticed The Range, an open-air nightclub complete with a stage, lights, amplifiers, speakers, tattered couches and old chairs for seating. This place opens every Saturday night at about dusk and the locals and visitors meet for a talent show that features permanent resident musicians and anyone else who wants to get up on stage and perform. The venue is run by an old time resident of 14 years, Builder Bill. Pretty sweet right!:
Another thing to note about why so few people live in this part of California is the Salton Sea:
What? I mean it’s absolutely beautiful right, stunning even! Why would anyone not want to live here??
Well, that’s exactly what we though before stepping outside of the car to take in a not-so-nice deep breath of fresh air… the SALTon Sea is infamously known for it’s ever increasing levels of salt in the water which make it nearly impossible for fish, or anything, to sustain life in or around its waters. Because of this the air smells like miles and miles of dead fish, because essentially that is exactly what their beaches and “sand” are made out of.
Needless to say, this is not a place we would recommend for a romantic picnic on the beach as tempting as it might look:
With the setting sun as our backdrop, we headed home a bit more grateful for the bed we would be sleeping in that night and (we never thought we’d say this) the fresh LA air.