After an hour or two, Chris and Beth were on their way out of Slab City, so I asked if I could hitch a ride to Salvation Mountain, with the intention of walking back through the slabs and seeing the sights. I filled my gatorade bottle with as much ice water as it would hold, and set out on my quest.
Water cistern. Precious resource in the desert...
Salvation Mountain looked like something out of Dr. Seuss. The bright candy colors were a sharp contrast to the drab, desaturated hues of the desert. The creator, Leonard Knight, was in the hospital, so I didn’t get the guided tour and instead randomly wandered around the huge structure.
Much of the mountain was created out of hay bales, adobe, tires, sticks, and thousands of gallons of paint. I had seen photos of the mountain before, but somehow I wasn’t aware that you could actually walk inside part of it, the area called the “museum”.
The sticks did not inspire confidence for the structural integrity, especially after I read the part about how the previous version collapsed.
You could also walk on top of it:
Follow the yellow brick road...
It was more than a little bit creepy.
I never did figure out what the trophies were for.
From a placard inside:
“As a boy growing up in Vermont, Leonard Knight dreamed of visiting the California he knew from watching movies. After serving the army in Korea, he spent a number of years criscrossing the country, eventually stopping in Nebraska for five years. During this period Knight developed a fascination with hot air balloons and began constructing one from colorful remnant material discarded by a balloon manufacturer. Although the balloon never flew, it now has a permanent home in the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.
Leonard Knight visited his sister in San Diego a number of times. During a visit in 1967 he discovered God in a life-altering experience. Years later, in 1984, he settled permanently near Niland California, 190 miles southeast of Los Angeles, and began creating Salvation Mountain. The Mountain is about as tall as a three-story building and as wide as a football field. Colorful decorations and religious texts cover Salvation Mountain. Most prominent is the statement, “God is Love.”
Salvation Mountain is molded with adobe clay. Most of the clay and paint Knight uses are donated to him. When he first started working on the Mountain, Knight used concrete and stretched it with sand, but the entire artwork collapsed, so he set to remaking it with solid clay. Knight uses window putty to shape decorative elements such as flowers. The mountain is constantly changing, due both to Knight’s ongoing work, and to the elements, including the desert sun. Knight has decorated numerous other objects surrounding Salvation Mountain, including the truck in which he lives. Next to the Mountain, Knight is currently building a museum out of hay bales, used utility poles, and found objects such as tires.
Leonard Knight describes his work as a love story: “I painted the mountain because I love God and I love people.”
This is Leonard's trailer.
This experience felt a bit like wandering around inside somebody else’s head. It was such an amazing expression of his faith, fanatical and obsessive. Every available surface was covered with Jesus, and he even had a few art cars (and an art scooter).
After wandering over, around and through Salvation Mountain, I started my hike back to East Jesus, which was a couple of miles away. Or felt like a couple of miles away. I am not sure which.
Slab City viewed from the top of Salvation Mountain.
The sun was burning hot as I walked across Slab City. I repeatedly dumped some water over my head in an attempt to cool myself, and it dried into a sticky film on my skin less than 5 minutes later. I’d dealt with this kind of heat before – my parents live in Phoenix – but having lived in cooler climes for quite some time, it was pretty harsh. It would reach a high of 110F this day.
I felt a lot like this guy. By the time I thought to take a photo of the temperature, it'd cooled down a few degrees.
There were lots of other things to see and do at Slab City, but it was too hot for me to feel much like exploring, and many things were closed as it was Sunday. I didn’t get to see the library, the hot springs (I love hot springs, but I was hot enough…), the art on the water towers near Salvation Mountain, and some of the small businesses which have sprung up.
I did enjoy the Shoe Tree:
Seeing The Range by the light of day:
Somehow the seating looks even less comfortable during the day...
Memorial near The Range:
RIP Insane Wayne, whoever you are.
The slab city sign, rules, and calendar:
Church, church, church... I wonder if the schedule changes when hundreds of traveler kids descend on this place to party all winter?
I also enjoyed seeing some of the other inhabitants of the Slabs:
The guy in the second trailer was a neighbor of East Jesus, he hung out a bit and was pretty awesome. Hopefully he survives the summer!
I returned to East Jesus, rehydrated myself, and attempted to take a nap, which provided fitful, sweaty sleep. Most of the “tourists” who were visiting East Jesus left, as they had jobs and other activities to return to on Monday, leaving Frank, Phil and myself a quiet evening. Frank made some pasta with salmon and a cream sauce for dinner (I picked around the fish), and I had a nice cool shower before settling down to another night’s sleep.