On the way to Salvation Mountain

Editor’s note: My dad, Rich Ryan, is one of the biggest lovers of travel that I know.  Now that he’s a retired professor, he keeps himself busy with exploring and writing a column in the local paper (among many other things!).  He has a lot of helpful insight to share, and I’d like to bring him into the blog as a regular contributor.  Here’s his first post about a recent day of exploration we shared near my hometown, combined with my photos. We’ll follow-up soon with part two of our day.  He calls it “Dad’s Guest Blog.”

I have lived in Imperial Valley, California for a good part of my adult life.  I have lived here so long I know about the field crops grown in the area even though I’ve never farmed.  Friends and I hike in the surrounding desert during the cool, but not cold, winter months.  It’s beautiful.  However, I had never been to Salvation Mountain until recently.  Peggy, my daughter and your Gracefully Global host, decided that she needed photos of iconic sites in Imperial County, and Leonard Knight’s Salvation Mountain is definitely one.

From our home in El Centro, the trip is about 50 minutes northeast on California Highway 111.  It’s never bumper to bumper traffic here so you can count on a quick trip.  When I wrote about visiting and how colorful the area is, friends teased me for it being my first time to the Mountain and other sights in the vicinity.  I countered that people who live in New York City rarely visit the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty assuming they will go next year.  “Next year” is usually dressed a lot like Uncle Bob and Aunt Sally who insist on visiting.  This is a good thing.

Since Salvation Mountain was an add-on to another trip, we didn’t get there till an hour before sunset.  Keep in mind that Salvation Mountain is open sunrise to sunset. There was a mix of U.S. and international tourists, and my impression was that people were dressed for the Burning Man festival held annually in the Nevada desert. 

Peggy, my wife, Estela, and I were woefully under-costumed.  If I’d known, I would have at least worn my beads.

Salvation Mountain is in an unlikely place to be labeled an example of American Folk Art.  It’s in the desert just outside of Niland, California, and to the southwest is vast farmland developed from reclaimed desert. 

Leonard Knight decided this was the place he’d create his homage to God, the bible, and Christianity. 

He scrounged paint and old hay bales and eventually had a steady supply of both as visitors appreciated his creation. 

He shaped a major hill from hay bales, adobe clay, and the natural contour of the land.  And he painted hills and rocks with inscriptions from the bible.  He erected a large cross. 

And he colorfully painted various vehicles left on the property. 

He didn’t own any of this land, and most of what ended up there was donated.  So he was a squatter in the Name of the Lord.

Knight estimated that he used over 100,000 gallons of paint on the mountain, and at one time Imperial County attempted to close it down arguing high lead content in the soil. 

But Salvation Mountain has endured along with its message of “God is Love,” and is noted as a destination in tour guides around the world.  It’s a must see if you happen to be in the California desert about an hour and a half southeast from Palm Springs.  For more information about Salvation Mountain, visit the website.

Just up the road from Salvation Mountain is the Slabs, once a World War II-era military training camp.  It derives its name from the leftover cement slabs.  It has grown into a notable artist colony and totally off the grid, destination.  Services are minimal, but some people brave the 115-degree intense summer heat and live there year round.

It’s not for comfort seekers, yet, art installations are worth the trip and so is the music.  The vibe is good, and there is a performance stage, Slab City Range, with a very open mic.  

Do be weather wise when visiting Imperial Valley.  This is the low desert, and from late spring to early fall temperatures will usually exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s best to visit during the mild winter, or late fall and early spring.  A sun hat and water are must-haves.  Enjoy your visit.

Visit part two of our adventures: The Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge

Richard Ryan, Guest contributor
   Instagram: @desert_rich

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18 responses to “On the way to Salvation Mountain

  1. Peg, tha nks for posting me. I shared this with a bunch of Valleyites. Take care, Dad

    On Mon, Apr 3, 2017 at 2:39 PM, Gracefully Global Blog wrote:

    > Gracefully Global posted: “Editor’s note: My dad, Rich Ryan, is one of the > biggest lovers of travel that I know. Now that he’s a retired professor, > he keeps himself busy with exploring and writing a column in the local > paper (among many other things!). He has a lot of helpful ins” >

  2. Fun post! I didn’t realize you grew up so close to the Mexican border. With all the news of late, I wonder what is your take on the issues?
    Did you get to see the cacti bloom? It was in the national news. I hear that the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park was mobbed. I cringe to think about that delicate ecosystem being over-run by humans. 😦
    You may enjoy this post: https://wildheartoflife.blog/2017/03/12/the-crystal-cave/ as well as Shayleen’s more recent posts of the Salton Sea. (I like her writing a lot.) The area seems full of wonderfully eccentric individuals. A slice of America that merits further study.

    • Oh, thanks so much for sharing Shayleen’s work with me, Eliza! Yes, I’m sure I would enjoy it. Loading it now, will check it out. I am just realizing how horribly behind I am on my blog. You know, story of my life. You’ve always been so patient with me, I appreciate it. 🙂 We enjoyed the cacti bloom on the special hikes my dad and his Bureau of Land Management buddies know about that aren’t known much to the general public. So, luckily, we didn’t encounter any mobs. But yes, on the typical hikes I’m sure it was super mobbed. I can’t remember getting that much rain in the desert, ever. It was crazy! Yes, you said it best, this area is filled with wonderfully eccentric individuals. So well put, Eliza. :)) My mother was a newspaper photographer here, so I grew up knowing and enjoying them! :)) Thanks for your lovely comments, Eliza!

    • You’ll probably notice it once in a while, now that you have a frame of reference to it. It is amazing how often I hear it mentioned here and there. Ten years ago, though, when he was still alive, it was virtually unknown! Thanks again for your comments and for stopping by, I really appreciate it, even though it doesn’t seem it from my tardy replies! 🙂

  3. I am on other SO Cal native that has never visited but it has been on my list for a long. THanks for the post and can not wait for more from your Dad.

    • Thank you, Terry! And please forgive my very tardy reply here. I so appreciate your stopping by and your comment. I have another one from my dad in the works, soon to come. In the meantime, hope you are having a wonderful weekend!

  4. Hello Peggy and hello to you, Rich!
    Thank you for a wonderful insight into your part of the world that is such a mystery to me in Melbourne.
    I’ve heard so much about Burning man and I can see why that would fit into the environment there.
    One day, you never know-we just may come and visit as my hubby loves military history. We shall take your advice and follow the Autumn leaves…
    Nice to meet the dad of such a beautiful lady 🌹

    • Di, I just saw this, I can’t believe it! I hadn’t realized I’d been so removed from my blog for so long. Thanks so much for your kind thoughts! I will pass them along to my dad. Yes, this stuff is fascinating, a really unique part of the world. That would be awesome if the two of you made it one day…:)

      • Thanks so very much! I do so love your travels, posts and blog! Happy to spread the happiness you create! Venice?! I’m so very envious! Cheers to you. I’m having a wonderful week – painting indoors and staying out of the heat. 🙂

      • Really sounds like a wonderful week! So glad to hear it. :)) The heat wave in Italy finally broke a bit, and the days have been more bearable. I wish I could stay indoors, ahhh! :)) Thank you for your kindness…hope you made some wonderful progress on your art this week.

  5. Pingback: The Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge | Gracefully Global Blog·

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