By Laura Stec
Travelin’ Solo: Salvation Mountain and East JesusUploaded: May 25, 2022
Our first Travelin’ Solo trip has been going down the road for a while. Alone. Together. This is our last post from the trip. Thanks for coming along.
We started in Bakersfield at MJC’s spic-span and cozy Airbnb, sauntered down to Salton Sea campground and mystical Mecca Beach with the wooden slit showers and forever views, bopped in at Biennale-Bombay Beach and now sightseeing Slab City for the unexpected – art exhibits.
The Joshua Tree National Park area of California has all kinds of playa art. Who knew? I’d describe the style as made from whatever tumbled in the sand past the artist at hand.
History tracks desert creatives back to the 60’s, an art form continued by Burning Man friends and allies who’ve set up their dessert studios with The Joshua Tree - a stark, dusty white landscape open to inspiration and interpretation - as muse and backdrop. It’s worth a look-see in the Landers area and Morongo Basin, north of Joshua Tree. Treasure-hunt over to Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum and others. If you come up from the south-eastern side of the national park, please check out Salvation Mountain and East Jesus.
From our conversation last time, some readers quickly jumped from Slab City = Poor People = Bad People. We must caution assumptions. At no time did I feel unsafe in Slab City. Hell, it’s A LOT riskier DRIVING to the place than walking around it (have you experienced driving with all the semi trucks on Interstate 5? ACK!) Important travel solo note: I’ll go pretty much anywhere in the U.S. in the day, but only stay in structured campgrounds at night (like women-run Mojo’s). Never alone in a dispersed spot, no matter if it’s free (especially if it’s free).
On a more playful note - this type of outdoor art excursion, however you incorporate the two, makes for good solo travel. Fill your trip with outdoor entertainment – activities done alone, but in public with others. That way you get a little of each. Successful solos balance both needs.
This man-made adobe sculpture constructed atop the sand has rich history. It was one of those stories; Christian Leonard Knight’s truck broke down in Slab City and he decided to stay dagnammit, preach and build Salvation Mountain for 30 years, now a designated National Folk Site. 50 feet tall and 150 feet around, Salvation Mountain’s mission is to spread love across the desert. An overly-creative earthy burble of left-over paint, throw away materials, tree limbs and tires, scavenged from the desert or the dump. Walk the well-worn sand bar toward the mountain - notice waterfalls, rivers, the Sea of Galilee and hogans, igloo-like structures of straw and broken glass.
Follow a Yellow Brick Road to the top of the mount and take a selfie with God is Love as your backdrop. A board of directors hosts visitors at the site and helps repaint an art mountain continuously exposed to God’s fiery side - her unforgiving harsh desert climate. See Salvation Mountain .
Keep driving up the sandy road to East Jesus (better yet, hire the local bike tour and explore by 2-wheels). Unlike Salvation Mountain, there’s no religious connotation here. Just an experimental art installation some call “a place in the middle of nowhere beyond the edge of serviceability.” Hmm, where would East Jesus be? Would Eastern Jesus be a Buddhist, and if so, what would his/her message be?
- photo by AR
Actually, it's another story of guy leaving his life and landing in Slab City. Charlie Russell called it quits, left his job in technology, headed to Slab City and started building trash sculptures around his car because what else does one do in the middle of nowhere when it is 120°F? Years later, it’s a miracle! East Jesus rises into a permanent installation curated by The Chasterus Foundation, a 501(c)(3) formed after Russell’s death in 2011.
The Dangers of TV - photo by AR
A labyrinth of statues and gathered materials, doll and computer parts, suitcases, even an old bus make up the sculptures. New works continuously appear as old works degrade. Referred to as salvagepunk, pieces continue to transform and adapt, considered part of the art form.
After Slab City, friends gathered and camped through Joshua Tree National Park, and then I went out solo again to the Palm Springs area - a “sandwiched trip” as we discussed earlier. Curious about solo travel? Stack either or both sides of your trip with companions – giving you that chance to experience traveling on your own but with built in social time on either end.
- photo by a friend
Courageous Travelers – our journey has come to an end. But before we go, here’s a favorite camp treat for your next trip. Delicious cookies (no added sugar and gluten free) that store well in your car and won’t melt in the summer heat.
Peanut Butter Date Balls
Makes 25 cookies
1 cup medjool dates, pitted
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 T flax seeds, ground
3 T water
½ t baking soda
1 t apple cider vinegar
course sea salt (optional)
Preheat oven to 350F. Line baking sheet with silicon baking sheet or parchment. Process the dates until crumbly (it’s ok if a ball forms). Add peanut butter - vinegar. Process until combined well. Do not over mix. Form into a ball, place on baking sheet, 1-inch a part. Sprinkle with sea salt (optional). Bake 15 minutes or until preferred texture. 13 minutes has under-baked middle, 20 minutes is firm, you decide. Let cool completely before serving. Store leftovers in fridge for best results. Adapted from detoxinista.com
- Photos by LSIC unless noted