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Salvation in the Desert

March 3, 2019


There’s something about driving all the way around a lake. I found this out a few years back when my brother-in-law Mike and I did a trip completely circling Lake Michigan. It just feels right.

In this spirit of completeness, I also wanted to drive all the way around the Salton Sea, so I proceeded south when I left Borrego Springs. But then another completion called to me – I decided I needed to drive all the way to the international border in Calexico. It was only an extra 20 miles and it seemed like something I ought to do just to be able to say I had driven from one end of California to the other.

I made the side trip and found Calexico a grubby, grotty town. Traffic was heavy and even though I was hungry, the restaurants looked iffy and there was no place to park Gladis. I headed back toward the sea, traveling through the great expanses of agricultural fields that are the southern counterpoint to the San Joaquin Valley.

On the way to the east coast of the Salton Sea, I took a right at the tiny, tiny town of Niland and visited Salvation Mountain. This desert landmark is a spectacularly odd monument to faith and persistence, built by a man named Leonard Knight.

After a sudden religious conversion at age 35, he wanted to share his simple faith (Repent and be saved. God is love. Read the Bible.) by means of messages written on a hot air balloon, for which he spent 14 years fundraising and trying to sew. The balloon fell apart and was a failure. Leonard, ever-faithful, was undeterred, began building a monument to God’s love in the desert with adobe and donated paint, only stopping when he died. It ended up being a candy-colored mound about 50 feet tall and 150 feet wide with a cross at the top and the most prominent message at the top – GOD IS LOVE.

He also decorated everything he could get his hands on – trucks, tractors, a scooter. Today some of the local residents sit in a little shed, answering visitor questions and giving out pamphlets.


Salvation Mountain is surrounded by Slab City, a former military base that has attracted a sprawled-out collection of squatters, artists and eccentrics living in trailers, RVs, broken-down trucks and pretty much any type of shelter anyone would care to haul out into the blistering desert and occupy.

Dozens of people stopped by to see Salvation Mountain during the hour I was there, many loaded with photo equipment to capture the oddities. Japanese students posed carefully in groups in front of the mound A little girl in a sparkly party dress perched on the rusty bumper of Leonard’s truck for a portrait. And of course, many people took selfies. I wonder what Leonard would have made of that.

I tried to feel God’s presence which I sat and mused at Leonard’s work, but I have to admit I felt closer to God while looking at the cloudy sky than his candy-colored mountain and busy creations.



Slab City art car


Slab City church





  1. hayorstores permalink
    March 4, 2019 00:02

    I just created my first businesses blog
    Can you please check it out thanks

  2. hayorstores permalink
    March 4, 2019 00:03
    Thanks a bunch

  3. writing for the world permalink
    March 4, 2019 01:25

    This reminds me of GTA 5.

  4. March 4, 2019 09:13

    Great photos, Sue!

    • March 4, 2019 13:43

      Thank you! The Samsung S7 comes thru.

  5. March 4, 2019 14:30

    It’s great reading you and following you! And seeing your great photos.

  6. jmarkbest permalink
    March 5, 2019 01:05

    It’s a pleasure to see you on here pretty I hope you are doing great as well

  7. March 6, 2019 07:50

    I love tiny desert towns. Terlingua in West Texas is one of my favorites. Yeah, I can see how those creations didn’t make you feel closer to God. They are very cool, though!

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