Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Slab City, Niland, California

Why go to Slab City? Well we were curious to see it because we had heard about it in RV circles and also because it was featured in the book and movie Into the Wild. Slab City is an abandoned WWII marine base east of Niland, California which is located on the southeastern edge of the Salton Sea. Needless to say it’s in the middle of nowhere. Soon after the war, the military removed the buildings leaving the concrete slabs and access restrictions, so people moved there in their campers and trailers to live free and “off the grid”. Living there today is a mixture of permanent residents as well as RVers that are spending a few days. All the residents live or park where they want in this 60+ acre area without water, electricity and sewer facilities…it’s as primitive as it gets. After driving around on the dirt roads we came upon a structure called the Slab City Oasis Club so we decided to stop and have a look. We were soon greeted by a friendly gentleman named Mike Bright who provided us history of the city and answered any questions that we had. He also showed us photos taken of him with Sean Penn during the on-location filming of the movie Into the Wild. He provided us much insight into the nature of the culture and people who make Slab City their home.

As we were leaving we stopped at the entrance of Slab City to explore Leonard Knight’s Salvation Mountain creation (which the Folk Art Society of American designated as a National Folk Art Site). This is one of the most famous landmarks in Slab City made popular by visitors posting pictures on the internet and again by the story told in the book/movie Into the Wild.

Living in this remote desolate desert, Leonard has been able to make his own adobe (mixture of clay and straw) and find inorganic materials from the desert like tires, car window and more to build a 3-story creation of his faith’s message. Inside and out, Leonard has painted every surface with a selection of bright colors. His creation has been a work in progress for over 19 years with surprising vision. With each visitor that appeared, he was eager to walk everyone through the inside of the structure and explain how he built various parts. He was also very patient to take a picture with anyone that asked. At the end of his mini tour he wanted to make sure everyone had a chance to walk on his yellow brick road path that takes you through and to the top of Salvation Mountain.

What’s more interesting than the obvious uniqueness of this creation is Leonard Knight’s enduring commitment, passion and open generosity to share what he believes in with anyone that stopped. After walking and exploring freely his mountain and vehicle creations, he surprised us again as we left by not asking us for money to support his efforts rather by giving us a picture puzzle of Salvation Mountain and sincerely thanking us for stopping to visit. You don’t have to be religious to appreciate what Leonard has created out of nothing in the desert. You will have to see it to truly believe it.

We posted more pictures of Slab City, and oh, if you go to Salvation Mountain, we're sure Leonard would love another can of paint!

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