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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.