California Drive Part II: Salvation Mountain & Slab City

Let’s wrap up the drive (finally) from California. Picking up where we left off, Tyson, James and I departed Bombay Beach were we caught Hwy 111 to our next stop, Salvation Mountain. This came planned from Tyson, which I’m really glad he added to our itinerary. What’s this place? Hang on to your hats: A Mr. Leonard Knight created this mountain by (creatively) dumping buckets of paint onto a dirt hillside out in the middle of California’s Sonoran desert. It went further than that. He actually made this into his living quarters and a strong religious statement for anyone who came across it. As you can see in the following photos, Knight covered the area in Bible verses and Christian sayings in bright saturated colors.


Here we are from the top looking down.


Exploring the back of the mountain revealed Knight’s structural genius of incorporating haystacks, branches and old lumber to bring a neat sanctuary to escape the desert heat. How many gallons of paint do you think was involved here? Big thanks to a fellow tourist for getting a nice group shot of us.



Tyson and me at one of the entrances. Thumbs up for quite an experience!


By now, the temperatures were approaching the high 90s and it was getting quite toasty standing outside. We hopped back in our cars, cranked up the A/C, and headed down the road to the next stop…Slab City, CA. Some call it the “last free place in America.” If you want to literally live off the grid, this is your place. Slab City is mostly comprised of snowbirds and other free-spirited individuals living by way of Social Security or Disability or…nothing. The name comes from the concrete slabs that remained from the WWII Marine barracks of Camp Dunlap. The area is decommissioned and uncontrolled by the State of California for now. There is no charge for parking, so pull up your RVs and make it home! Here we are driving into the land. Did you catch the nice chap playing guitar on the welcome box?


From what I could tell, there is no order here. Pick your spot, and call it home. There are no utilities provided. No running water, electricity or sewage system…hmm…I wonder about that last part. Many RVs and residents here rely on solar power and external sources of water.


Tyson led the way down the dusty unpaved road.


Tyson noticed a hand-painted sign promoting their local “24hr Library” and decided we needed to check that out. We continued to travel the washboard road which wasn’t that much of an issue in James’ cushy Malibu. My 6’s nearly original 12 year old suspension on the other hand, was letting me know of its displeasure. Soon enough, we arrived at the library’s parking lot.


The interior reminded me of my grandpa’s old sheds full of books of many different genres…


In here, we met a few locals who gave us some really good info on Slab City. Both happened to be named John (so, John?) and both gave us an equally warm welcoming. We found out that the library was operated by a one-legged woman. Her boyfriend, Caveman, would provide free cooking services for the community. They also told us that this is the place to be if you want the government to leave you alone. If we decided to camp out for the night, I’m sure John or John would make us feel right at home.


Per John’s (older John) recommendation, we proceeded to check out a place called East Jesus. This is a land full of art from all directions. Folks basically took garbage and made it into something interesting. Most had messages poking at modern society.


I overheard John tell Tyson to keep right at the fork in the road. I didn’t know he literally meant…a fork!


Welcome to East Jesus. Endless art awaits! This old Civic was covered in old circuit boards and bullet shells.


A few minutes are needed to take in all the messages from these old televisions sets.



After wandering around a while in the heat, we decided we had enough fun and needed a drink and a burger. We left the friendly vibes of Slab and headed back to the nearest town, Niland, for lunch at the Buckshot Deli & Diner. It sure hit the spot!


Our last stop for the day was the “Mud Pots.” These were only 6 miles off the main road and they sit in a cleared field out the middle of nowhere. What they are are pools of bubbling mud from a acidic hot spring…or mini volcanoes.


We ran over to the gurgling mounds of mud like little kids. Tyson got a little too close to one ‘pot and ended up with a fully submerged shoe in mud!



That about wrapped up our drive and it was time for us to head out and part ways. However, a little stupid goof on my part delayed that for about an hour. I was fumbling through some items in my trunk and was ready to set out. I shut the trunk lid and right when it latched, I had a few colorful words pass through my mind. I had left the keys in there! That was that. Trunk shut and the doors were locked as well with the windows fully closed. A slight panic stirred up in me and I was trying to think of some way, any way to rectify this. Nothing. So I had to share what I had done: “Uhh, guys.  We have a problem.” After a few moments of scratching our heads, we piled up in James’ Malibu and called for help on his handy OnStar system. $120 and 1hr later, rescue came and got us back on the road. I had never been so thankful for James, Tyson and Mazda Roadside Assistance. Otherwise, I’d be stuck with no water, no trees and desert temperatures reaching the low 100s in the sun.


From there, it was time to head for home. James and Tyson headed back to Phoenix via Hwy 78 and I-10 where I hit I-8 towards New Mexico. Even with my key goof, the drive was an absolute blast. Thanks for coming along!



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