Into the Desert: Salvation Mountain, East Jesus, and Bombay Beach Ruins on Salton Sea

It goes without saying that summer isn’t the best time to explore the desert. I had imagined making the most out of the remainder of our summer days at the beach, relaxing under the sun or putting our novice bodyboarding skills to practice, but Roan had other plans. In August, Roan and I set out for a road trip to see the Salvation Mountain and other neighboring attractions. I’d be lying if I told you that the trip was spontaneous because Roan had been begging to go since that weekend we ended up driving to Big Bear instead.

Salvation Mountain, East Jesus, Bombay Beach Ruins, Salton Sea

Salvation Mountain, East Jesus, Bombay Beach Ruins, Salton Sea

Salvation Mountain, East Jesus, Bombay Beach Ruins, Salton Sea

Salvation Mountain

We had no idea that the Salvation Mountain existed until we saw the novel-inspired movie Into the Wild, where Christopher McCandless (Alexander Supertramp) spent some time in the desert when he adopted the nomadic lifestyle after graduating from college in 1990. The Salvation Mountain is perched on a hill in the lower desert of Southern California in Imperial Valley, east of Salton Sea, 140 miles from San Diego.

Salvation Mountain, East Jesus, Bombay Beach Ruins, Salton Sea

Salvation Mountain, East Jesus, Bombay Beach Ruins, Salton Sea
cap / shirt (sold out, similar) / jeanssunglasses / watch / tumbler / shoes

Salvation Mountain, East Jesus, Bombay Beach Ruins, Salton Sea

Salvation Mountain, East Jesus, Bombay Beach Ruins, Salton Sea

Salvation Mountain, East Jesus, Bombay Beach Ruins, Salton Sea

The Salvation Mountain is impossible to miss when you’re traveling along a vast, dry land. While it’s a little drive further from the main road, it was easy to spot from a distance because it literally sticks out. The Salvation Mountain is the masterpiece of the late Leonard Knight, who only wanted to stay in the area a few days, but days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into years. With half a bag of cement and some paint, he fashioned a small monument that will eventually turn into the Salvation Mountain that we know today. The Salvation Mountain is Knight’s tribute to God and his gift to the world with its simple, yet powerful message—“God is Love.”

Salvation Mountain, East Jesus, Bombay Beach Ruins, Salton Sea

Salvation Mountain, East Jesus, Bombay Beach Ruins, Salton Sea

Sometimes, Roan and I do crazy things like drive almost three (3) hours to get to Salvation Mountain, but won’t stay any longer than 15 minutes due to the unforgiving desert sun. I took as many photos as I could before both of us gave up from the burning heat, yet I still didn’t get enough. We failed to see The Hogan and The Museum in the eastern part of the mountain because if we had stayed longer, one of us was going to pass out from dehydration. I kid you not.

There were several recreational vehicles (RVs) in the area, but with the 3-digit weather, it makes you wonder if people actually lived there. There were no apparent indication of life—not even a dog’s or a cat’s—but then we went on a weekday, so people could be at work or somewhere else. If you ask me, I find it very strange.

Salvation Mountain, East Jesus, Bombay Beach Ruins, Salton Sea

Salvation Mountain, East Jesus, Bombay Beach Ruins, Salton Sea

East Jesus

Not too far from the Salvation Mountain is a post-apocalyptic sculpture garden called East Jesus. It’s literally just a stone’s throw away from the Salvation Mountain, still within The Slabs or Slab City. Just when we thought things couldn’t get any more weird, it did. When we stopped at the point the GPS had indicated, Roan and I were having second thoughts about stepping out of the car. There was no one around, so we didn’t know how to get into the garden or if it were okay to check the area out by ourselves.

Salvation Mountain, East Jesus, Bombay Beach Ruins, Salton Sea

Salvation Mountain, East Jesus, Bombay Beach Ruins, Salton Sea

East Jesus is a slang that literally means remote or super far away, which seems fitting as East Jesus is just that. It really is in the middle of nowhere (desert). On a more serious note, East Jesus is Salton Sea’s artistic community, a refuge for artists, musicians, survivalists, writers, scientists, laymen, and other wandering geniuses.

Salvation Mountain, East Jesus, Bombay Beach Ruins, Salton Sea, Calipatria, Imperial Valley, California

Salvation Mountain, East Jesus, Bombay Beach Ruins, Salton Sea

Bombay Beach Ruins on Salton Sea

It was getting late, and we wanted to head back to San Diego before dusk fell, so we made Bombay Beach Ruins on Salton Sea our last stop for the day. It was a mere 20-minute drive from the Salvation Mountain, and getting there called for weaving through a sleepy, little town of no more than 300 inhabitants.

Salvation Mountain, East Jesus, Bombay Beach Ruins, Salton Sea

Salvation Mountain, East Jesus, Bombay Beach Ruins, Salton Sea

Here are a few things to know about the Salton Sea:

  • In 1905, the Salton Sea was born out of accident when the Colorado River water broke through irrigation canals in the Imperial Valley, thus creating a basin that destroyed a railroad line and submerged salt mines in the process.
  • In the 1950s and 60s, the Salton Sea became a tourism mecca where people from neighboring cities flocked for swimming, fishing, boating, and waterskiing. The lake was more popular than the Yosemite National Park during its prime time.
  • In the 1970s, the lakefront towns deteriorated after a flooding occurred. Boating and fishing diminished as the lake grew saltier and water quality worsened, hence the Salton Sea that we see today.

Salvation Mountain, East Jesus, Bombay Beach Ruins, Salton Sea

Salvation Mountain, East Jesus, Bombay Beach Ruins, Salton Sea

Salvation Mountain, East Jesus, Bombay Beach Ruins, Salton Sea

If you’re wondering what the world would look like when it ends, then look no further. The Bombay Beach Ruins is a visual representation of a post-apocalyptic scene. Picture this: dilapidated structures, abandoned buildings, deserted boats, lost items at sea, remnants of dead fish. It’s not a very pretty sight nor is the air inviting. The area smells of intense rotten-egg stench due to hydrogen sulfide, a gas created by the decaying organic matter trapped beneath the water. You would think why people still live there.

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  • Your pictures are so gorgeous! I’ve known about this place for a while now but nothing has made want to go visit as much as your post! I read Into the Wild a long time ago and really loved it.

    • Hi, ziwei, thank you! When you do get a chance to go, I definitely recommend visiting during this time of the year (fall/winter) because it gets too hot in the summertime! I haven’t read “Into the Wild,” but I plan to!

  • Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of this place. I recognize Salvation Mountain from Kesha’s “Praying” video, though. It looks awesome, I love the colors. I’d love to go see it someday. 🙂 Pretty photos, by the way!

    • Ohh, I didn’t know she shot a music video at the Salvation Mountain! I’m gonna watch that shortly (thanks for sharing)! Thank you for stopping by, Tami!☺️

  • Wow, I had no idea that those places existed. It looks like it was super interesting, but I think I would have been spooked by the lack of human activity. I can’t even imagine going out there in three digit weather!

    • I totally understand where you’re coming from; we were a little bit spooked, too! Although we weren’t the only ones exploring that day, it definitely felt strange not seeing a single soul around us. I can’t imagine going out there during nighttime! Oh, I wouldn’t recommend going during summertime; the heat is relentless!

  • Oh my gosh, what a crazy trip!! The desert is full of weird, weird things… Super cool that you guys were able to go explore, even if it was crazy hot!!

    • Crazy is an understatement, my friend! Hahaha! Definitely something you don’t see on a daily basis… I wouldn’t recommend going during the summertime!

    • Thank you, Jenna! I say do it, and just like I said to everyone else here, please just don’t go during the summertime when it’s 100+ degrees out there!

  • Whoa Salvation Mountain looks so freakin’ cool! We don’t have ANY deserts where I live, so I loved seeing your photos. The colors are so pretty and vibrant there. Can’t believe a place like this exists! Definitely need to add this to my bucket list.

    • Thanks, Kim! Definitely make a trip out here, especially when you’re in SoCal! I had to sort of soften these photos up because the original ones look so intense with the harsh sunlight! P.S. Just don’t go in the summertime (unless you like to get severe sunburn)!

  • This is such an interesting art display! I’ve never heard of any of these except for Salton Sea. Salvation Mountain looks pretty cool though; glad Roan finally got to see it in person after wanting to for some time.

    cabin twenty-four

    • It really is! You and Chris should go this season or in the winter; I highly advise not to go during summertime! It’s relentless! Oh, yeah. He’s fascinated by them all!

  • I have some friends that have gone to Salvation Mountain and they LOVED IT. I was so excited to see this because I’ve always wanted to see more pictures!

    • Hi, Kay! Thank you! It’s quite an interesting road trip, but I don’t recommend going in June/July/August because it’s incredibly hot!

    • I’d say so! I haven’t seen Stranger Things, I’m sorry! Have you seen the movie Into the Wild? That’s how we discovered this eccentric beauty. I highly recommend going during fall/wintertime, though!

  • Oh my goodness, a very interesting place indeed. Seems to be from a far distant place and time. Great place to experience and take photos of. I love your shots:-)

  • Great photos Jae! We never made it out to this area while we lived in OC but I read a lot about the man who created Salvation Mountain and remember when he died. I think someone was doing a documentary on him? Or some photographer I follow maybe interviewed him shortly before his death. I can’t completely remember, but I know I was fascinated with it all and sad we never made the trek. Slab City and the Sea and everything in that area, including how people live out there disconnected from the grid and everything, is absolutely wild. I don’t know how they do it. They only time I ever saw the SS was from the air as I flew over.

    • Thank you, Em! We were trying to hold out until the temperature drops, but Roan really wanted to go at the height of summer, no less! Having first learned it from the movie Into the Wild, we read a lot about its history and how it came about. It truly is wild and strange (and borderline creepy) as well as admirable for those who choose to live in such fashion.