Visiting Slab City and Salvation Mountain
Slab City, California and its focal point, Salvation Mountain, is one of the most bizarre and eclectic places I think I’ve ever visited. I learned of this off-the-grid community after reading a blog post on the Salton Sea, a nearby excursion I also visited while road-tripping from Temecula to Phoenix.
Slab City and Salvation Mountain remind me a bit of Burning Man, but with much less coordination and hoopla. Burning Man is also a temporary event, where Slab City is a transient, semi-permanent, quasi-community.
As I approached Slab City, I had more than a bit of apprehension. The area has trash strewn all over the place, along with old abandoned buses and motorhomes. There are shanties and other oddly shaped domiciles set up. Slab City is something you might see in a 3rd world country, not the U.S.
As I was drawn into the bowels of this odd and unsightly place, curiosity beckoned me to get out of my vehicle and explore further on foot. Slab City is indeed a fascinating place. There is a mixture of newer RV’s and more refined living structures, along with the, shall I say, more creative places to live. As the saying goes, “One man’s junk, is another man’s treasure.” This is no more evident than in this community of desert dwellers seeking freedom from the grid.
Slab City is quite large; I would have guessed there were over 1000 people living in the area. I later read that the community swells to 4000 in the winter months, but I don’t think these are official census numbers. Just like any city, there are the haves and have-nots. There are areas for commerce and entertainment, with a strong influence of art, although it leans toward the whimsical.
Slab City gets its name from the concrete slabs that were left behind from an old military base. Over the past several decades, people from all walks of life have descended on the area to call it home, even if just for a short span. All you have to do to live in Slab City is find a vacant parcel and put up stakes. And, abide by the community rules, which I assume are, do on others as you would have them do on to you.
Salvation Mountain is the Most Remarkable and Colorful part of Slab City
The most remarkable area of Slab City might be Salvation Mountain, a very large and colorful spot in the community developed on the side of a bluff with many nooks and crannies to explore. Rocks, blocks, hay bails and other materials, including roots from dead trees, were used to construct this homage to the lord.
Salvation Mountain was the creation of Leonard Knight, a long-time resident of Slab City who passed away in 2014. This colorful tribute to Jesus was Mr. Knight’s way of spreading his message “Love Jesus and keep it simple.”
As I explored this freakishly amusing place, it was pretty easy to distinguish residence from visitors—the clean ones were likely visitors. Salvation Mountain had the highest concentration of visitors compared to other areas of the community. After spending an hour or so perusing this community off the grid, I began to let me guard down and enjoy the elements that draw so many to this creative and eclectic enclave. I imagine Slab City has to be on the radar for Instagrammers as the photographic opportunities are endless.
Things not to Miss at Salvation Mountain
- Follow the yellow (brick road) path up to the top of Salvation Mountain where the cross is. The views are pretty great and you get a different perspective. Note: Be sure to stay on the yellow path or you may get yelled at by one of the stakeholders.
- Don’t miss seeing the various rooms at the base of Salvation Mountain to the right.
Things not to Miss at Slab City
- Be sure to explore the rest of Slab City, don’t think that Salvation Mountain is the only interesting area.
- East Jesus (veer left at the fork) has a slew of interesting things to see. Some really creative uses of one man’s junk.
- Check out the library. Yep, Slab City has its very own Library.
- If you feel like staying longer than an afternoon, there is actually a hostel on-site. I did not go in, so I can’t say how clean or nice it is.
I hope to make it back to this area again one day when I have more time to explore. If you’ve ever been to Slab City and Salvation Mountain, please leave a comment below and share your experience and/or favorite things to see/do.