Ladies and gentlemen, I have gathered you all here today to bring you salvation. Can I hear an amen? Amen! Each and everyone of you carries the answer to your own salvation. Because my friends, salvation is within all of you. Salvation is in your heart; your love is your salvation. Hallelujah!
I went on a quick road trip to Salvation Mountain. One man’s tribute to God. Now why did I go there? I had heard a story about Leonard Knight who had created Salvation Mountain starting in the early 1990s. He and his project sounded so interesting, that in the back of my mind I told myself that one day I would go visit. One day never came.
Last week I kept thinking about my 50 weeks activity which I had somewhat wanted to tie to Valentine’s Day. I had thought of another activity to do, but it was a little risque and I wasn’t really sure it was something to talk about in this PG-rated blog. (I’ll leave it to your imagination on what I was going to do.) Late one night I couldn’t sleep and started reading emails, playing Words with Friends, scrolling through Facebook — the usual middle of the night stuff. I came across a news story that Leonard Knight had passed away. It reminded me of my desire to visit his mountain, and I decided then that Salvation Mountain would be my Valentine’s Day week activity. Because love comes in many forms.
I was able to finagle my friend Lacy to take a quick road trip to Salvation Mountain, which is about a 2 and a half hour drive away, east of the southern tip of the Salton Sea. We left at 6:00am, because I had to get her back to San Diego for a 2:00pm meeting. First, I would like to note that driving straight into the eastern rising sun while driving on the freeway is not fun, at times I thought I couldn’t even see the road. But otherwise it was a lovely drive through parts of California I had never seen. And once we were off the freeway heading north through the flat farm lands, I felt like I was in a different state altogether. Now, I have driven up the 5 freeway many times through California’s Central Valley, but have never gotten off the freeway to drive through the farms. Of course, I missed a turn and we had to work our way through farm roads, which are not always found on Google maps. But along the way we observed that crops were being picked, tractors were turning dirt, and cows were standing bored.
We finally get to the little town of Niland, find Main street, turn right and continue onto a barely paved road where rising up in the desert ahead, you see the Salvation Mountain cross and iconic heart enclosed bible verse. Your first impression is wow, how cool is this! Then you realize there’s more than just a man made mountain. There’s old cars, recycled tires, areas off to the side. The mountain itself is built up using adobe, and colorfully painted in a 3D whimsical Dr. Seuss-like fashion, stripes, flowers, hearts. Bible verses and “God is Love” sayings are prominently displayed.
Straight away, we notice a young Japanese couple in wedding attire taking pictures in front of the mountain. What a cute souvenir for them. Then we read the “please stay on the yellow brick road” sign, which we then proceed on and climb up to the top of the mountain to the cross. I will say it was a little slippery and I thought for sure I was gonna slip off the side and break my neck. I really should learn not to look down. But since no one was really around that early yet, I clumsily and safely crawl up the mountain to make sure Lacy didn’t have to carry me down. While at the top, we see below what looks like a room with a bunch of branches. We did notice that we could walk down the dirt side of the mountain, which seemed safer, and headed down and towards the other side to discover what were those branch like rooms.
Oh my Lord. Wow. These “rooms” were amazing. To your left, Leonard created this adobe domed room, a Hogan, which he originally had planned to house himself during the hot summer days. You see, Leonard had lived in his truck, parked in front of the mountain. Within the painted walls of the Hogan, visitors have left all sorts of mementos — dolls, pictures, bibles, flowers, notes. It felt very shrine-like to me, as if leaving a symbol to respect a patron saint. I just kept looking around, behind, above.
We walk out to the rooms with the tree branches, which Leonard had coined the Museum and is the area he was working on prior to his health problems. Simply amazing. Colors abound, branches here and there, windows looking in looking out, God is Love. I want to lay down on the dirt and look up at the blue skies trying to sneak through the greedy tree limbs. It would be eerie to stay there overnight while the stars sneak a peek to find you.
I look upon the entire mountain and feel the love of one man, Leonard Knight. And that one man’s love to God has brought together people from all walks of life to appreciate what he has done. Yes, Salvation Mountain has been designated both a National Folk Art Site and a National Treasure. Yet, it is more than either of those. Using adobe and straw, donated paint, recycled materials like window panes and tires, and most importantly his time and devotion to create his everlasting tribute to God. That is love. Eternal and unconditional love is one’s salvation.
As we were exiting the mountain and looking around the painted cars, we were curious about the tents set up beyond. We ask a couple gentlemen, one of which was “Builder Bill” if that area was Slab City. Oh no they say, those were just a group of motorcycle club folks there for the holiday weekend. He said Slab City was further down the road, and that if we liked unusual housing developments, go take a look. We do, and we did.
Well, what a quirky “town” Slab City is, and let me tell you, if I could stand extreme heat, it may be a place for my retirement. Slab City is a development of people who have taken over an abandoned Marine training base and the remaining slabs. Residents and visitors there live off the grid, bringing in their own generators and solar panels, water supplies, etc. Everything is recycled.
We met Sandi, a local artist, who paints on wooden paneling and other found materials. Most of those materials are found in their dump, which apparently many outsiders use to avoid paying city dump fees. Some materials she is using as insulation for the half wall she is building around her trailer. Sandi hosts music nights at her place on Tuesdays around her outdoor firepit and underneath the unobstructed stars. She also has a CD of original songs dedicated to life at Slab City. She told us about the vibrant community life there, music played four nights a week, Saturday’s being at Builder Bill’s Range. Sunday breakfast is at the Oasis, which she suggested we go for coffee. We do so after hugs goodbye, and promised next time we visit, we’ll bring the wine.
Coffee was already out by the time we get to the Oasis. But a group of residents there tell us about the Library, the Internet Cafe, The Blue Room, and Poverty Flats. They give us a map and we attempt to find a few of the places. Instead we look around and observe the many types of people living there. Some with elaborate RV set-ups, some homey slab living rooms, and some with hut-like structures. We never did find the Library, and since we didn’t want to get lost in the desert, we turn around and decide it’s time to go.
In the very short amount of time at Slab CIty, we met some wonderfully nice people who have created this “town” out of necessity. I respect their pioneer and adventurous spirit. Personally, I think it’s a pretty courageous way to live. I will definitely come back for a weekend, sing songs at the Range, eat breakfast at the Oasis, and check my emails at the Internet Cafe…oh and bring Sandi some wine.
The road trip to Salvation Mountain and Slab City was the right activity to celebrate love. Both places are evidence of love stories. Slab City residents live there for the love of their lifestyle, not just because it’s “free” but more so because of the freedom it offers. Every one of them has a life love story to tell. You can hear it in the pleasure that their voices echo when talking about Slab City.
Leonard believed that love is the answer to a peaceful and harmonious existence. He lived in harmony with a simple existence with God, and died in peace. His love story with God is written in each paint stroke he applied on Salvation Mountain. A story that he loved to share.
Love can come in many forms. A love for family. A love for the environment. A love for issues. A love for animals. A love for another person. Make love your salvation, and create your own love story.
Love is our salvation
I think of you, and I feel love.
You are my salvation.
When you touch me, I feel love.
I am your salvation.
I look at you, and I feel love.
Love is our salvation.
In person. In spirit.
Mind, body and soul.
My love is your salvation.
Your love is my salvation.
Love is our salvation.
Salvation Mountain – http://salvationmountain.org/
Slab City – http://www.slab-city.com/home/welcome/
I still need to read the book and watch the movie, but check out “Into the Wild” which references Salvation Mountain and Slab City.