Two Sides of Salvation in the Salton Sea

Just underneath the sign that says Salvation Mountain is another one asking for donations of paint. It’s not hard to see why: the mountain itself, a handmade version of Calvary, complete with cross, looks like a child’s furious scribblings blown into life. Blues and greens and reds splash across the hill, cut through with a snaking yellow—the yellow brick road, according to another sign beside it, upon which you can walk up past the letters that proclaim GOD IS LOVE, and stand under the cross.

South from that vantage, there isn’t much but those gnarled, low branches that let the desert surrounding Southern California’s Salton Sea pretend that life has any business around here. Every other direction, it looks a bit like a particularly spacious used car lot: old motorhomes, sand-blasted minivans and the odd unreasonably shiny, late-model sedan are sprinkled throughout breaks in the brush. Clothing lines and tents and grills and metal barrels surround them like the vehicles were shaken out before being plopped in the sand.

I only learned after returning within range of roaming-charge-free wifi that this collection of squatters actually had a name: Slab City, after the concrete foundations that used to hold up military buildings, and have since been occupied by some combination of drifters and drop-outs. On the way in, we passed a sun-baked man who appeared to be wearing a sarong riding a no-shit donkey; the only other people who weren’t in rental cars walked.

Images via Jesse? S! / tuchodi / Channone Arif / Ken Lund / Raymond Shobe under Creative Commons