Today we decided to explore some of the weird and wonderful spots in Southern California. It was a perfect weather day with the completely blue sky, no humidity (obviously…we’re in the desert) and the temperature was in the low 80’s. We grabbed our travel companions and hit the road for a day trip.
I’ve read the desert was kind of a weird place and we certainly weren’t disappointed today. It seems like you can drive for miles and miles and not see one person, a gas station, or any other kind of civilization. It gets a little creepy getting low on gas and knowing that if you run out, there is nothing for miles and even road side assistance would take awhile to get to you. I tried to imagine what it must have been like for the settlers as they pushed west not knowing how much further it would be before they found water, or anything else besides sand for that matter.
Our first stop of the day was the Salton Sea. I was intrigued by this place when I first heard about it in a movie and since we were in the area, we had to check it out. I only did a little bit of research so here’s the short story version to give you an idea. The Salton Sea is a huge man made irrigation project lake gone wrong in the middle of the desert between Palm Springs and Mexico. Somewhere in the 1950’s vacation homes, hotels, and all the businesses that those bring, started popping up everywhere (think Okoboji type stuff). It was supposed to be the vacation spot for years and years to come. Due to the heat, pollution, and many other reasons the lake became saltier than the sea and vast amounts of fish died and washed up on the beach. There were also a couple floods in the 70’s that added to the troubles of the already doomed desert lake. Soon, most of the people left and the businesses shut down and now it looks like something that might be a good set for the next zombie apocalypse movie. This lake is just huge! It goes on forever and when we looked out, we couldn’t see anything but water much like the ocean. Driving by it we could see the mountain views in the background and the and sparkle of the water and it looks to be a beautiful place to spend and afternoon doing whatever people do on the beach. Once we got there though, it was something entirely different. Although it was probably a gradual evacuation, looking through the ruins of the campers and homes would seem as though everyone left suddenly.
What was left were pieces of someones lives from years past slowly becoming part of the earth from which they came. It’s definitely an eerie feeling and I don’t know if its because it seemed like a lonely forgotten place or because we knew that over time, there could me many more places such as this if we weren’t careful.
The next stop was Salvation Mountain. We’d never heard of this place until we saw the movie “Into the Wild” and I knew that somewhere in our travels this was a place I wanted to see. The mountain was created by Leonard Knight who, at age 36, had a spiritual awakening and dedicated his life to spreading a simple message, “God is Love, Accept Jesus into your heart, and Repent and be saved” He created and maintained this mountain until he got too ill to take care of it in 2012, then passed away in early 2014. Now, the place is maintained by volunteers and donations and its free for everyone to come and enjoy. I saw that they are hiring a couple to live on the mountain as care takers but I don’t think Jason will go for it. We wandered around and climbed the mountain and went inside the structures he had built with mud, hay, and paint. There was an area that was built with trees and he would have had to crawl up pretty high to paint them all, then looking up even further we noticed the glass windows he had installed.
We spoke to a couple who were there with paintbrushes in hand, working hard to preserve Leonard’s work. They were traveling around the country, home schooling their 5 kids, and were spending some time there as volunteers. They explained a bit of the history and how its being taken care of now. We should have asked them how they were funding their travels given our recent situation.
Religious or not, I don’t see how anyone could visit Leonard’s mountain and not be touched in some way by his dedication to spreading his one simple message. It’s not up to interpretation, its pretty easy to understand what he was going for, which to me is how it should be. As I stood around looking at all of his colors and verses, and learning how he spent over 30 years creating and maintaining this place just so people could come and wander though this wonderland of latex paint, mud, and hay, I experienced a quiet peace that I hadn’t felt for awhile. Maybe that was the whole purpose of it.
Right next to Salvation Mountain is Slab City which was also featured in “Into the Wild.” This place started as a Marine training camp called “Camp Dunlap” during WW2. It closed, the buildings were torn down and all that was left were well…the slabs. It is now home to about 200 full time residents (called “Slabbers”) and about 2500 during the winter months. This is truly “Off Grid” living. There is no water, sewer, electricity, or any of those other luxuries most of us have grown accustomed to. It is entirely free to live there and literally anything goes at this place. We just drove through part of it briefly because even though I was really curious about this makeshift city in the desert, we didn’t want to drive around snapping pictures of their chosen lifestyle as if it was a tourist attraction. I loved the idea of the place, but one thing we’ve learned driving around in the desert this week is that it’s not the climate for us. We love the warm weather, but looking out at the sand that goes on forever, almost looks like a construction zone to us. I thoroughly enjoyed stopping at every place we went to, but I don’t think we’re ready for this level of “Off Grid” living just yet.
Tomorrow we leave So. California and head towards Colorado to spend Christmas with the kids. We plan to stop in Lake Havasu tomorrow so we can check out The London Bridge. Later in the week the plan is to see the Grand Canyon. As many times as we’ve driven around that area, we’ve actually never seen it so we think its about time. We’re still weighing our options and trying to figure out our plan after the holidays, but I think we’re leaning toward figuring out a way to continue to wander the country. There’s still way too many things that we want to see and places we want to go.
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
You’re off the Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!”