When I envisioned “Road-Trip 2014” a few months ago, I didn’t plan on spending 6 weeks in San Diego. But I guess if I had to pick a city where to extend my visit, San Diego was certainly a great place to do it! I was able to visit many friends I haven’t seen in a few years, and of course enjoy the great weather and all the things San Diego has to offer! Thanks to my buddy Dave and his wonderful hospitality during my visit. I’m very fortunate to have a friend like Dave, who is more like my third brother than a friend! Thanks Dave!
When I departed San Diego at 8:00 AM, it was 72 degrees and there was a thick marine-layer in the sky extending almost all the way to the mountains east of the city. As I drove east on highway 8 and climbed to 6100 feet elevation, the marine-layer slowly disappeared and the temperature began to rise. By the time I had crossed the mountain range of the Cleveland National Forest and descended to the desert floor below, it had reached 104 degrees… boy what a difference a few hours make! I took highway 111 north, direction Niland, California. My planned destination, Slab City and Salvation Mountain. Even after 6 weeks in San Diego, I don’t think I need an extra dose of salvation… but I guess it can’t hurt! I was keen to visit the area after seeing it in the 2007 movie “Into the Wild.” In the movie, Chris McCandless spends a few weeks in Slab City… He meets an eclectic group of resident desert-dwellers and the man who built “Salvation Mountain,” Leonard Knight.
I followed the directions I found on the internet, once in Niland, I turned right off of highway 111 onto Main Street, crossed the railroad tracks and followed Main which becomes Beal Road, all the way to Slab City.
A few miles past the Slab City sign, I arrived at “Salvation Mountain.” I was the only one there for the first hour of my visit as I climbed the colorful mountain. Salvation Mountain is a religious folk art work made of adobe, straw and thousands of gallons of paint. Unfortunately I couldn’t meet the creator, Leonard Knight, as he passed away earlier this year. No one was there to provide information on the Mountain but there is a small kiosk with a brief history of the Mountain on the right side as you enter. Even though Leonard Knight is no longer here to explain the meaning behind “Salvation Mountain,” I think his central message that “Love is Universal” still emanates from the mountain! After about an hour of admiring the colorful artwork and trying to decipher the written text, a young gal from North Carolina arrived. She was on a Summer “Road-Trip” much like mine… traveling in a Subaru with all her camping gear, having clocked over 10,000 miles up to that point. We shared destination-recommendations and a few funny travel stories. As she departed, I could tell she was on a kind of “soul-searching journey”… much like the one that brought Chris McCandless to Slab City over 20 years ago. I believe Chris was looking for something bigger than himself and the standard “American Dream” he was supposed to follow. The one where a life of 40 + years of 9-5 employment, large debt and conformity is the norm. I can, to some degree, relate to Chris… in so much as our apparent mutual love of adventure and travel… the excitement that comes from anticipating what’s around the next bend in the road, because as the saying goes… “not all who wander are lost.”
Just to the east of Salvation Mountain, is Slab City…. there is apparently no rhyme or reason to the town’s layout. It appeared that first come first served was in full-force when choosing a piece of land to park your vehicle or build your dwelling. It was pretty much just as I had anticipated… an eclectic mix of homes made from just about every building material known to mankind. Re-use and re-pourpose are in full swing in Slab City. Advocates of “green building techniques” would be pleased! People tended to their daily chores much like anyone in any neighborhood across America would, sweeping the walkways, watering plants and walking their dogs! A few people waved, most didn’t… I’m sure they get tired of the constant parade of lookie-loos like myself! I tried to respect them by not randomly snapping pictures of their homes! A few wrong turns down the maze of streets and I miraculously found myself back on the asphalt of Beal Road. At around noon, the sun was beating-down with full-force, the temperature had risen to 106 degrees…. time to seek cooler temperatures…. time to seek some mountains……