Joshua Tree, Salton Sea, and Salvation Mountain, April 2012 - Bombay Beach by Salton Sea, Salvation Mountain Wedding Day, Mysterious Mud Volcanoes of Niland
Page 2 of 2


14 April 2012 Saturday, continued: While others were reveling at the Coachella Music Festival not so far away, Lisa and I were at the tiny community of Bombay Beach, on the shores of the Salton Sea and over 220 feet below sea level, was founded as a private development in 1929, but became popular with vacationers and retirees for the desert climate and water recreation opportunities. In 1976 and 1977, storms threatened the community, as the water level rose several feet, taking out part of the town.

Today, a large berm protects the town, but not before the storm took back some of the homes that still lay rotting all these years later.

This is a photo of the one of the residences just beyond the berm that protects the tiny, mostly mobile home town.

Buy A Home For The Price of An Automobile: Bombay Beach, as well as other communities around Salton Sea, are some of California's cheapest real estate. As of this writing, three homes were for sale: $28,000, 37,500, and 49,900, all homes around 1400 square feet on 5000 square foot lots. Not all homes in California are astronomically priced!

Salvation Mountain, Slab City, California

I read about Salvation Mountain in the LA Times Travel Section. Leonard Knight came out to Slab City, near Niland, and liked the area. He began building this as a result for his deep passion for The Lord. He started one week. One week turned into another, then one year into another.

But according to the LA Times article, Leonard Knight has taken ill. And with no one to repair it or keep it going, the mountain has begun falling into disrepair. I knew we had to visit this fantastic place, located near the shores of the Salton Sea in Imperial County, south of Bombay Beach.


This version of Salvation Mountain actually isn't the first mountain that Leonard Knight built. His first mountain collapsed after four years of effort, weak cement the culprit. Mr. Knight thanked The Lord for showing him that his mountain was unsafe, and vowed to build a stronger mountain.

Mr. Knight rebuilt his mountain using adobe mixed with straw to hold strengthen the mountain, slapping liberal amounts of paint to combat erosion from the wind and rain. People come from all over with donations of paint. He uses it very liberally. Mr. Knight estimates that he has put over 100,000 gallons of paint on his mountain.

The colorful Salvation Mountain, which welcomes you to Slab City, can easily be seen from Beale Street, which you take from the tiny town of Niland. Slab City is "the last free place in America", as the sign says, and is a combination of local squatters and seasonal folk escaping the cold weather of the north, living by the old concrete slabs of the barracks of the abandoned and dismantled Fort Dunlap World War II Marine training base.

In the years since the base was decommissioned, people seeking escape from "regular" society have flocked here, as many as a thousand coming during the winter months, attracted by DIY, rent-free living beyond the reach of electricity, running water and the law. It reminded me a bit of "Mad Max".

Slab City, Here We Come: Living Life Off the Grid in California's Badlands (Time Magazine article)


The "Toxic Nightmare": Saving Salvation Mountain

In summer 1994, the county hired a toxic waste specialist to test for "contaminants." Even before the test results were back, they cordoned off the area and labeled it a "toxic nightmare." The tests predictably came back claiming high amounts of lead in the soil. The county petitioned the state of California for funds to tear down the mountain and haul it to a toxic waste disposal site in Nevada, a state that seems to be rather good at this sort of thing.

However, local residents collected hundreds and hundreds of signatures were collected on circulated petitions. Thanks to the help of many old and new found friends, Leonard dug soil samples from the very same holes as the toxic waste specialist had dug, submitting it to an independent lab. The new tests revealed no unacceptable levels of any contaminants, including lead. Salvation Mountain was saved. Just a few year later, in 2002, Salvation Mountain was entered into the Congressional Record proclaiming it as a national treasure. Mr. Knight hopes that someday the museum will hold photos and artifacts of the mountain, including his struggle with the county supervisors, as well as his art. But more than that, he hopes that his message of love and compassion for all will be seen by more.


And indeed, Mr. Knight's message of love and compassion could be seen in full display. Sara and Mike, residents of Slab City, held a wedding reception at Salvation Mountain. Here, Mike puts a ring on Sara.

The wedding between Mike and Sara continues, with them exchanging vows. The man to the right of Mike in the back had said, "Today is a great day. My friends are getting married," calling my attention to the wedding. A guitarist played while friends clapped for the couple.

I suppose most in the "regular world" would describe these people as eccentric, strange, vagabonds, tax evaders, people on the fringes of society, wearing weird clothes and living off the grid. What I do know is they were kinder and more welcoming than most. And today, quite happy.

Moments after the vows were exchanged, Sara the newlywed smiles with Leonard Knight's Salvation Mountain as the backdrop.

Sara displays her wedding band.

The guitarist played. People laughed. The weather was perfect.

The man was right. It was a great day.

Welcome to Slab City, the The Last Free Place in America", so a sign said. A sign as you left Slab City said, "Welcome Back To Reality". Many here manage to live off as little as $100 a month, often collecting pensions, disability, or taking on odd jobs to make ends meet. Like any other place, there are neighborhoods in Slab City, with some for those who come in the winter, those that are here all year round, and more.

We briefly drove to Slab City, our attention immediately on this fantastic looking truck as well as the pillar with the pumpkin in the distance.

Slab City is a combination of local squatters and seasonal folk escaping the cold weather of the north, living by the old concrete slabs of the barracks of the abandoned and dismantled Fort Dunlap World War II Marine training base.

We loved witnessing the wedding at Salvation Mountain. The people were nice, and invited us to the reception nearby. But we were returning home, and also had one more place in Niland to visit: the mud pots and mud volcanoes.

The Mud Volcanoes of Niland

These strange mud pots and mud volcanoes in Niland are the result of CO2 gas bubbling up through mud. With peaks ranging from below ground level to the height of a very tall NBA basketball player, it's a fascinating diversion, just a few miles off Highway 111.

The easiest way is to drive south from Niland on Highway 111, going past Hazard Road, and turning right on McDonald Road. Although it begins as a dirt road, the second half of McDonald Road is paved. Turn left on Davis Road, which is a smooth dirt road. There is a large refinery or plant to your left. Just before you get to Schrimpf Road, there are a series of dirt mounds to your left, perhaps 100 feet from the road. Those are the mud volcanoes of Niland.

After visiting the mud volcanoes and mud pots of Niland, we drove north along Highway 111, past Bombay Beach, past the campsites along the Salton Sea, through Mecca, and back to the 10 Freeway, our thoughts with the friendly newlyweds, Slab City, and the Salton Sea.

And it seemed the best way to ease the transition back to reality was a couple of date shakes at Hadley's.

Ken's photos of Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as photos of Peru, Burma, India, Morocco, China, Thailand, Ghana, Ecuador, and elsewhere, have appeared in many books, magazines, websites, and galleries.  Visit the Ken Lee Photography Website. Some of Ken's select photos may be purchased through his Imagekind Store.

Buy Ken's art at

Joshua Tree, Salton Sea, Slab City, and Salvation Mountain, April 2012
Page 2 of 2

Eleven Shadows Travel Page
Contact photographer/musician Ken Lee



eleven shadows eleven shadows