Updated: Mar 13, 2019
Interesting things can happen when a man finds religion. Or looses it for that matter. This is a story of Leonard Knight, a man that at almost 40 years old found god. Over a period of a few years he started working toward constructing a massive hot air balloon dedicated to his love for God, but the balloon never got to soar. He then decided to turn a desert mountain side in Slab City near the Salton Sea in southern California into a colorful shrine and museum with a simple message that ”God is Love”.
Featured in the film “Into the Wild” I had to make a journey to Salvation Mountain to meet the quiet, smiling old man and share in the midst of this interesting splash of color in the desert with all of its positive energy.
Slab city itself is a collection of motorhomes, some running and some permannently stationed in the desert just outside of Niland on the Salton Sea. It's populated by nomadic folk of all backgrounds, and before getting to slab city one passes next to Salvation Mountain - needless to say, it's hard to miss. I had the great pleasure of meeting its originator before his death, for my subsequent visit three years later proved to be poorer from the absence of this gentle man, whom I had the pleasure to speak with for a while seated there in the back of the station wagon he calls home, with the hatch swung open shielding us from the burning desert sun.
I would highly recommend you pay a visit to this place, and plan to spend at least 30 or so minutes exploring the various constructions Leonard and his young disciples that now care for the place have created.
TIP: In Niland on Main street there is a sizable grocery store called the United Food Center where you can stock up before heading west, for there will not be much more than sand until Julian another 100 miles and about 2 hours away. Be prepared to also pass an U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint on the 78. If you made the mistake of not fueling up in Mecca and find yourself now in need of gas, it will cost you a 20mile detour to Salton City.
That said, there is a brand spankin' new ranger station in Ocotillo Wells where you'll find restrooms and water. Another good option is to take the S22 through Borrego Springs, a dusty little desert town that every few years gets a few hundred thousand visitors to witness the colorful superbloom in Springs after heavy rainfall. The road up the mountain pass to Hellhole Canyon is also called Montezuma Borrego Highway, and is very scenic. At the top is Culp Valley Primitive Campground which I have utilized before and can recommend.
From this point on the desert turns green and some beautiful curves follow towards and into Julian, a small mountain town famous for its apple pie which is not to be missed. Be cautioned that winter months bring snow to this area.