An American Monument for Believers, Heathens, and Dogs

Shane and Ruby walk the yellow path on Salvation Mountain

Everyone who knows me can tell you these things about me—I love living in a Chevy S-10 pickup (with Shane) for months at a time, I once went six weeks without taking a “real” shower, and above all, I am sickeningly obsessed with my dog, Ruby.

Taking these several factors into account, Fairfax County, Virginia, is the most inappropriate place for me (I stay here when I am not traveling). Women wear stilettos and diamonds at noon, and men dressed like Agent Smith suggest to me that I exercise my 50-pound hound in an on-leash ¼ acre dog park instead of on the extensive network of cross-county trails where Ruby would prefer to chase wild turkeys, trails that are incidentally maintained by my tax dollars.

At the end of the day, Slab City is the place for me. All we had to do was drive all the way across the country to get there. “Slab City” is what the locals call an abandoned military base in the shadows of the Chocolate Mountains in Niland, California, just a handful of miles from the Mexican border. Hundreds of people live there year-round in RVs, campers, trailers, or tents, and “snowbirds” come through seasonally to keep warm in the desert near the Salton Sea.

camp site at Slab City

Look how content I am in my leopard-print sombrero, just moments after the demarcation of our “property line” on our prime real estate—Shane, Ruby, and I were situated underneath one of Slab City’s few trees. We stayed three and a half weeks, and the rent ($0) jibed well with my waitress salary. We made friends with our “next door neighbor” Mark, who donated two plastic chairs and a welcome mat for our tent, so that we could leave our dusty shoes outside. Each Saturday, we attended quasi-mandatory music performances at The Range, and on Wednesdays Ruby mingled with the neighborhood dogs while we hung out at potluck lunch.

Salvation Mountain

The fact that there was no running water or toilets was offset by the presence of the most amazing American folk-art monument I have ever seen. I don’t think I will ever see anything that will top this. In Sean Penn’s “Into the Wild,” Chris McCandless (Alexander Supertramp) spends time with Leonard Knight, the artist of Salvation Mountain. Leonard gave me a jigsaw puzzle of the image of his straw-bale painted mountain dedicated to God’s love for all. In his ten-second sermon, Leonard told us that believers and non-believers alike should “keep it simple.”

Shane and Ruby talk with Leonard Knight

Leonard is the most tan person I have ever seen. He has been living in the southern California desert for half a century working on his life’s task of building and maintaining his masterpiece.

As if he hadn’t endeared himself to us already, Salvation Mountain is dog-friendly. Unlike most other American monuments, when it comes to Salvation Mountain, you don’t have to leave your furry friend at home.

View from the top of Salvation Mountain

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  1. Favorite campsites in Arizona « 256 Days in a Pickup Truck - March 27, 2011

    […] CA, as the coolest place to camp in the US. For more info about Slab City, you can check out my previous post about Slab City and take a look at some of my Slab City photos in my Picasa albums. Please take note of the unique […]

  2. The Power of an Idea « 256 Days in a Pickup Truck - May 23, 2012

    […] money in 2000.” Finding out more about Daniel reminded me of when Shane and I hung out in Slab City in the desert in Niland, CA, for nearly one month in February 2009. A lot of people live there in their trailers and campers […]

  3. John Krakauer: Into the Wild | SavvyCitiZen - March 29, 2013

    […] where McCandless had gone, the most notable being Slab City in Niland, California. Continue reading here for memories of my three weeks spent at the abandoned military […]

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