Escape LA – Salvation Mountain / Slab City

Escape LA is a feature that will routinely discuss day trips outside of Los Angeles to encourage discovery of Southern California’s outdoor opportunities.  All features will not require overnight accommodations and can be accomplished within an 8 hour window of time.

The deserts in Southern California are often overlooked as a recreation hot spot, but the area is full of beauty (Joshua Tree), relaxation (Palm Springs), and freedom (Anza Borrego).

About an hour south of Palm Springs along the 111 highway, lies the Salton Sea, a desolate wasteland full of abandoned yacht clubs, dead fish, flooded neighborhoods, and nudist colonies.

Among this lies Salvation Mountain, a 70 foot tall mountain made of adobe mud, hay bales, sticks and an unlimited supply of paint.  The project is the life’s work of creator Leonard Knight.

The mountain serves as a pilgrimage for Christians, hippies, and adventurers.  While the mountain has a certain amount of lore, it remains relatively unnoticed.  The biggest stage Knight’s mountain has been featured on, was ‘Into The Wild’ when Emile Hirsch tour’s the landmark while staying in nearby Slab City.

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As you follow the 111 highway as it wraps around the east side of Salton Sea, you’ll come to Niland, CA.  Once you reach Main st, head east away from the lake.  After about 5 minutes, the mountain will come into view.

Leonard’s work is breath taking.  There are few words that can describe the mountain’s power, and the mutli-colored giant has so many intricate details, it’s worthy of several repeat visits.  What makes this trip even better, is the mountain features a ‘yellow brick road’ that climbs to the top of the mountain.

salvation mountain

Behind the mountain, you’ll find a series of huts constructed of hay bales and paint with the roof constructed on scattered driftwood from the sea.  Leonard is the epitome of conservation, reusing literally every piece of plastic, wood or metal that comes to his property.  The man’s creativity is unending, which he credits to God’s everlasting love.  As soon as you walk into these huts, you’ll notice the temperature drop about 50 degrees.

About 1/4 mile down the road is Slab City.  A former Air Force base, Slab city is a drifter’s town named after the concrete slabs left over from the Military.  The shanty town can feel a little rough, but revolves around the local’s impromptu flea markets and yard sales for passing travelers.

slab city

Saturdays bring out the best in Slab City, a weekly stage show called “The Range at Slab City”.  Patrons toting six-packs, whiskey and cigarettes spend this weekly celebration dancing and proclaiming their freedom from the rest of the world.

Given the timing of this post, Leonard Knight has been staying in an assisted living home for the past couple years, so maintenance of the mountain relies heavily on volunteers.  Given that the mountain no longer has a passionate groundskeeper, the location’s future is fairly undetermined, making this day trip a must for Southern California travelers, photographers and adventurers.

Why we spend so much, to live so simply

Last weekend as I was driving up the Kern River late at night, I began to wonder, why do we put ourselves through so much, all in the name of camping.  I remember my girlfriend asking me what drew me to camping and it got me thinking late into the night.

Comparing motives for camping is like comparing tastes in music.  We don’t really know why we do it, we just go with it because it feels good.  For most of us, it’s an escape from the daily To-Do list or routine, but for others it’s a necessity for our personal emotional well being.

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I’ve been camping since I was a kid, and whether I was with my family or scouts, the outdoors is a irrevocable element in my life.

As human beings, we are naturally drawn to fire, to water, and to the earth.  Camping is to homemaking, as BBQing is to cooking.  It’s not that a rack of ribs can’t be made indoors, but it tastes so much better outside.

This same principle applies to camping, hiking and backpacking.  Jogging through our home neighborhood would give us the same cardiovascular benefits as hike, but that added element of curiosity into the unknown, wanderlust, or thrill of leaving one’s sense of security is what keeps us human.

But whether we’re backpacking or luxury camping (aka ‘Glamping’), there comes a point after the first meal has been consumed, or after somebody finally figured out how to start the fire, that we realize there’s nothing left to do but sit and do nothing.

I’d like to argue with you, that this moment is the most important part of camping.  The tent stakes that you left behind, those have already left your mind.  Your cell phone has already died. The fact that you didn’t buy the -30 degrees mummy bag, and opted to go with a cheaper bag, this no longer matters.

But when all the travelling has ceased, we’re forced to live in the moment, and this is why you should be adventuring in the outdoors.