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.
– Richard Ryan, Guest contributor