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Road Trippin’ to Salvation Mountain

Today, I went on a mini road trip out of impulse. It was a beautiful day, the sun was out, but I have to say it’s a little to hot but that’s better than heavy rain, right? I put on some shorts, a shirt and my one and only running shoes. I took the gym bag that always sits on top of the kitchen counter, filled up my water bottle, put Beans on a leash and checked my car insurance company’s road side assistance number just to make sure if it really was working. I wanted to pack some snacks, but figured that I’d grab some along the way instead. I checked my tire pressures and drove to a 76 nearby to pump some air in them and drove to Arco to fill up my gas tank. I know I could’ve done those two things at either one of those gas stations but I just prefer the air pump at 76 and always go to Arco just because they’re a few cents cheaper. I guess that’s all the prepping I needed to do. I’m now ready for the long drive.

2 Hours and 46 Minutes More to Go

That’s 166 miles. I don’t think I’ve ever driven that far before – through a desert and by myself. For a second I thought that I’ll probably just postpone my trip some other time, but I can’t keep doing that. A few months ago, two of my friends and I planned on doing a day trip to the mountain, but they backed out last minute. I was pretty bummed. I can no longer keep rescheduling this trip. If I don’t go now, I don’t know if I’ll ever get to go and I just needed to check it off my list so I can go ahead and move on to other things.

91 Freeway
Driving on the 91 Freeway for 25 miles or so. I always thought the 91 that leads to Riverside was a very long stretch but this is nothing compared to Main Street, which I’ll be experiencing in the next hour.
Salvation Mountain is a painted desert mountain created by Leonard Knight. It’s been an ongoing project of his since the past three decades and built this monument as his tribute to God and to spread the message to people. It’s located on Beal Road which is a couple miles from the Salton Sea and is near Slab City. I guess it wouldn’t come as a surprise how I’ve heard of the place, huh? You guessed it right – from the movie Into The Wild. I’ve been fixating on it since.

I drove through a Weinerschnitzel for some snacks and made a bathroom stop at a PetSmart in Moreno Valley. I figured it’d be the only sure place that would let Beans in.

Box Springs Mountain
As you drive out of Canyon Springs Parkway in Moreno Valley, you get a good view of Box Springs Mountain. It has a gigantic “M” on it that you really can’t miss.
Palm Springs Windmills
While on Interstate 10, I got to see the Windmill Farm in Palm Springs. There were probably hundreds or thousands of them.

Post-apocalyptic Feeling

I have to admit that as I made a turn to Main Street, I suddenly felt nervous and vulnerable. It was a very long stretch, the desert looked so barren, empty and lonely; and there were only a few cars that passed by and occasionally, border patrols since the location was close to the Mexican border. There were moments I felt as if I was the only person on this planet. I kept thinking, “What if one of my tires is going to burst?” or “What if my car breaks down and roadside assistance doesn’t pick up?”, plus, at one point, AT&T lost network and that made me feel more uncomfortable. All these crazy thoughts in my head. Further down, the street just went up and down and that kind of made me a little car sick.

Salton Sea Sign
Before I lost network, I made sure I checked in at the Salton Sea State Recreation Area on FourSquare just so everyone will know where I am.
As I was driving by the Salton Sea, I rolled down my car window to see if I smell anything, but I never did. I’ve heard people saying it smells really bad, but I guess it’s just at certain areas or certain parts of the year.

Main Street
Driving on Main Street. The barren, empty and lonely desert made me feel really vulnerable.
Flash Flood Sign
Chris McCandless’ Datsun was caught in a flash flood at Lake Mead, AZ so this isn’t where it happened. I’m glad I went here when it was scorching hot.

Finally Seeing Signs of Life

As I reached Niland, I began to see signs of life – people, trailers and those small houses with their clothesline outside. It is small town with a current population of 1,274. 1 The GPS said that I’ve finally reached my destination but alas, I don’t see the Mountain in sight! I drove about half a mile further, but I still don’t see it. I checked my phone again and luckily, I have network again! So I checked on Google Maps (thank God for smart phones!) and it says I needed to drive 3 miles more.

Slab City
On the way to the Mountain, you pass by this old guard station with a painted sign letting you know you’re almost approaching Slab City.
Salvation Mountain is located at the entrance of Slab City. Snowbirds swing by and there are squatters staying here that’s why they call it “The Last Free Place on Earth.”

A few feet from the old guard station, you can see this sign. At first I wasn’t sure what it meant. I saw three border partrols parked here as a drove by so I thought that might be the reason why they don’t want anyone parked here when another vehicle already is. Later on, I learned that there is an old cistern in this area and a waterfall where people go to to shower so that explains the sign. 2

Slab City sign

A Different World

About half a mile from the destination, you can already see the Mountain. I got really excited seeing it at a distance. It’s very easy to spot from afar with it’s really bright and bold colors and the desert sun highlighting the colors even more. There’s a huge "Salvation Mountain" sign and a welcome sign at the front and it felt very welcoming. It feels like a different world out here! I drove into the gates and parked at the foot of the Mountain. There were actually a couple of cars parked there too which I didn’t really expect. There were some people who were in a tent speaking Spanish – I wasn’t sure if they were caretakers or visitors taking a break.

The first thing you will probably see is a painting of a huge heart with the saying, “Say Jesus I am a sinner please come upon my body and into my heart.” There is a cross sitting at the very top and the sculpted letters “GOD.” I took a tour around the place and went up the Yellow Brick Road, but had to go back down as I was halfway up because Beans just got too scared of heights, froze there and just wouldn’t move. I went to explore the tiny caves which were also intricately designed and painted. There were stacks of hay, cans of paint and cement in a corner – those are the materials the Mountain is made of. The Mountain is filled with Christian messages and biblical verses. Near the foot of the Mountain, there were two trucks that were colorfully painted as well. I found out this is where Leonard lived for several years with no water and electricity. He’s gotten sick lately and I assume they had to relocate him because of that and it broke my heart. I’m pretty bummed I never got to meet him in person. He is, after all, Salvation Mountain and will never be the same without him. No one knows when he’s coming back or if he ever will. I plan on visiting it again sometime soon and I’m hoping he will be there.

An Amazing Experience

I stayed at the Mountain for about 30 minutes or so and made a donation before I left. If you ever visit the place, they say there’s a donation box at the very top, but there’s another one at the front of one of the trucks. I left the place not only in awe of how beautiful it was but also learning so much from Leonard. I’ve heard of people coming here who weren’t even Christians, but were just as inspired. He had very limited resources, but his strong faith and determination made him create this amazing masterpiece in hopes to spread God’s love and touch people’s lives. At the same time, it also saddens me how someone can create something that appears to be monumentally difficult like this, but how other people are unable to make a small change in their lives like giving up a vice, better anger management, or trying to eat healthier. It does not matter whatever religion we come from or if we’re Christians or not, but if more people in this world were all like Leonard – with at least some determination to make a change in their own lives and others, the world will no doubt be a better place.

Now I have to drive back for another 2 hours and 45 minutes. I’m a bit tired and hungry, but the long trip was all worth it. Salvation Mountain will always have a special place in my heart and hopefully, on my next visit, I get to meet Leonard.

  1. According to Wikipedia and the 2010 US Census, Niland, CA has population of 1,006. The figure 1,274 was taken from a road sign entering Niland
  2. Thanks to Nina and Paul of Wheeling It for the info!

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