Saturday, May 19, 2012

Salton Sea - Part 4: Salvation Mountain, Niland & Points South...

We had spent a solid two hours in Bombay Beach and, to be honest, just that one stop made the entire trip worthwhile. We did a good deal of shooting, enjoyed some lunch and a cold beer, and even had the cook educate us on everything "Salton Sea". For instance, I never knew that the Salton Sea and, more specifically Bombay Beach, lay directly on the San Andreas Fault.

So it's probably just a matter of time.

We pulled out of Bombay Beach, made a right, and made our way south. There weren't too many places left that we wanted to hit on this trip, but we wanted to make sure we hit them. I think both of us would've been just as happy listening to the bartender and the cook at The Ski Inn spinning their tales, but we probably wouldn't have gotten much shooting done.

It was only a mere ten miles or so down the road when we started looking for the entrance to Slab City and Salvation Mountain.

To say that Slab City is an unusual place would be to master the art of the understatement. Residents of Slab City refer to it as "the last free place in America". It gets its name from the concrete slabs left from WWII barracks that left a long, long time ago. A group of servicemen remained there after Camp Dunlap closed, and "Slab City" was born.

The entrance to Slab City and Salvation Mountain...

"The last free place in America"...

A portion of Slab City...

A portion of Slab City, as seen from Salvation Mountain...

Most of the residents of Slab City are here because, to be frank, they can't afford to live anywhere else. They eke out their lives on government assistance, and buy what they need in the nearby town of Niland. It doesn't cost anything to take up residence out here, as the site is uncontrolled, and there's no charge for parking; you just kinda' show up. The camp has no electricity or running water. Residents may be, at least, mildly eccentric, but the warnings I'd heard about them not liking "outsiders" were unfounded.

From Slab City, it was a quick drive down to Salvation Mountain.

The entrance to Salvation Mountain...


There's no easy way to describe Salvation Mountain. If you tried to describe it to someone without some sort of pictorial reference, you would be laughed at or committed. It's just that weird a place. Leonard Knight, a longtime Slab City resident, started the creation of Salvation Mountain some 28 years ago, and it's been a never-ending process of construction and creation. Leonard, who was committed to an assisted living facility late last year, was a devout Christian man who only desired to spread the word. His vehicle for that would be his mountain, and his medium would be acrylic paint.

A lot of acrylic paint.


Salvation Mountain...

Some of the many vehicles at Salvation Mountain...

Inside Salvation Mountain...


Another of the many vehicles on the grounds...

Inside Salvation Mountain...

Once upon a time, you could get a free tour of Salvation Mountain from Leonard Knight himself. Unfortunately, Leonard was moved to a long-term care facility in El Cajon, California late last year, as he slowly fell victim to dementia. Volunteers are attempting to maintain the mountain, but it's not been easy. As a result, Salvation Mountain could one day become, like so much else out here around the Salton Sea, a memory.

As we drove towards Niland, I had to wonder how much longer places like Slab City and Salvation Mountain could survive, and whether or not either could survive without the other.

At this point, we were on the home stretch. There were really only two other places we were hoping to stop to see. The first of these was Red Hill.

Aside from there being an old boat launch here, there's not a lot to see, really. What caught our eye, though, were the salt deposits. From only a few yards away, the salt looks like snow. Given the temperature, though, we were pretty sure it was just salt:




Despite the heat, we trekked around here and there with our gear.

One of the cool things about this area are the obsidian deposits. Black volcanic rock litters the shore, in sizes very small and very large:

A rather small chuck of obsidian...

Salt deposits along the shore in Red Hill...

A lone tree in the salt deposits in Red Hill...

After leaving Red Hill, we made the short two or three mile drive to the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge.

The entrance to Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge...

Sonny Bono was the United States Congressman who represented this area at the time of his death in 1998. He was always a champion of the Salton Sea, so it made sense that a refuge, bearing his name, be set up which would allow people to view the Sea from vantage points within the refuge:

The viewing platform at the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge...

Just in case you can't see the wildlife with the naked eye...

We didn't see much in the way of wildlife, even with the mounted binoculars. We saw some rabbits and a couple quail so, if we got stranded, I guess we could've eaten well.

We finally decided that we had enough of the little flying bugs and the salt and the heat, and decided it was time start making our way back to San Diego. We drove south, found our way through El Centro, and jumped onto I-8 West. 

Thinking back on what the day, I wonder why it took me so long to get out to Salton Sea. I wonder if places like Niland and Desert Shores and Bombay Beach are going to survive another 30 years.

And I wonder what will be left to photograph... 

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