5 Things to Know Before Visiting Salvation Mountain

“ Salvation Mountain is a literal man-made mountain 28 years in the making, covered in half a million gallons of latex paint. What started as a small monument made of dirt and painted cement became, over time, a sprawling adobe and hay-bale mountain complex, with peripheral structures made of telephone poles, tires, and car windows, as well as art cars and sculptures, all painted in a patchwork of stripes and color blocks of whatever paint was donated that week.” — Aaron Huey, National Geographic


That is the best way to describe the peculiar destination in California’s desert just south of Joshua Tree National Park and located near the recognizable and equally as odd, Slab City. The folk art masterpiece was created over 25 years ago by a man named Leonard Knight simply with the pursuit of sharing his love for God. His message “God is Love” can be found in bright pastels on the concrete slab while pamphlets spreading the word of the Bible sit in the landmark’s visitor shack. Salvation Mountain is a new breed of art and the surrounding areas have stories as big as the paint covered concrete slab.

These stories can be found here and in the neighboring Slab City. Slab City, California, famously recognized for its scenes in Into the Wild, is somewhat of a parallel universe with residents seeking a life undisturbed by technology, electricity, societal chains and laws. Those seeking the simplistic, hippie-esque lifestyle head here to experience a world of freedom and peace. Druggies, hippies, war vets and other eccentrics come here looking to experience “the last free place in America.”

We want to explain to you what it is like visiting this bizarre place and what to expect when you arrive. We went into this trip with a blind eye, there are things we learned, things we wish we would’ve known and things we were glad to not know. If this place is on your list, and we highly recommend that it is, follow these tips for a positive experience in what we call a very odd place.


HOW TO GET THERE

You will definitely be needing a car for this one. Traveling from San Diego is the fastest and easiest way to get there, however it is accessible from many other California cities. It is located just over 150 miles from San Diego and is pretty simple to access.

Start on US Interstate 8 and continue on this for a majority of the drive before exiting onto highway 111 where you will drive the rest of the way until you reach a tiny town known as Niland. Once you reach Niland take a right on Main Street, once you reach a fork continue right where the road changes to Beal Road. Follow this road where you will begin to see the hippie huts and war vet campers and soon on your right will be the slab of Salvation Mountain.

Parking is free and plentiful and you are free to stay however long you want.

Once you’ve finished seeing this structure, travel up the road into Slab City, you will see handmade signs from the locals with directions to other destinations in the area. Take a right out of Salvation Mountain’s parking lot and around the curve up into the “city”. This place can be seen just by driving and what you see will have you wildly confused and totally fascinated.

If you are up for seeing more of the area you can travel back west just under an hour where more of these uniquely obscure destinations exist.

Salton Sea, a desolate beach with a unique mountain backdrop, is 15 miles from Salvation Mountain. Get here by traveling northwest on Highway 86.

Ocotillo Wells is another unique area where you can experience some thrill on four wheeler rides through sand dunes.  You can get here by traveling west on Highway 78


MAKE SURE IT INTERESTS YOU

Salvation Mountain is unlike anything we’ve seen before and the lifestyle you experience out there can be an extreme dip outside of anyone’s comfort zone. For that reason, we enjoyed it. Salvation Mountain is a place where you see a drastic cultural change and learn about something you probably never thought you would. However, as much as some enjoy experiencing culture far from the realm of comfort, this place isn’t for everyone.

Here are some things to consider:

  • There is a heavy presence of Christian faith at Salvation Mountain
  • There will be people who approach you if you are out of your car, although mostly friendly some are under the influence
  • It is over two hours to get to Salvation Mountain from any nearby large city, make sure this seems worth the drive
  • There are no bathrooms out here and the nearest city has very sketchy public restrooms
  • If you go in the summer months prepare for the temps to be at extreme highs
  • Food is limited to a small deli and food center in nearby Niland

DRESS THE PART

If you’ve heard of this place before, it is likely that knowledge came from Instagram. This landmark is famous for its photos with vibrant colors and ridiculous uniqueness. If you are going for creative photos and want to fit in with the hippies around you, wear something that plays the part.


LEAVE EARLY IN THE MORNING

 If you want to avoid crowds and avoid a wait in the parking lot, leave early to get there before everyone else. We left around 6am from San Diego and still had a small crowd accompany us. About 30 minutes after our arrival the parking lot was full and the mountain covered in people. Salvation Mountain is far less enjoyable when thousands of others are around and seeing the mountain becomes far more difficult. Crowd-less photos look much better too.

 


TALK TO A LOCAL

After chatting with these locals, we learned so much and found an appreciation for what they are doing there.  We were hesitant about talking to the locals because of the general crowd being described as druggies and lawless free spirits. But we learned these people are the same as us just living out a different lifestyle. Hearing the stories from these people makes the experience authentic and meaningful. We didn’t know much about Salvation Mountain but we sure as hell enjoyed what we saw.