As I left Palm Springs, raindrops began to sporadically hit my windshield. About 45 minutes into my drive the Salton Sea broke the horizon with an eerie feeling of misplacement - why...how is this sea here in the middle of the desert?
I continued down the east coast of the body of water, sandwiched on my left by a train track on which at least three different trains were sitting, but not moving. They seemed as stagnant as the sea to my right.
I passed a few towns with names like North Shore and Bombay Beach. Some empty seaside campgrounds and beaches. Some skeletons of old gas stations shielded from the sun with layers of graffiti. Then I drove past a border patrol station, which drove home just how close I was to Mexico's border - just about 50 miles south.
My GPS took me through Niland, California, and I knew I was getting close. I drove past a roadside convenience store where I saw a few people trickling in and out. The main street that took me through town sliced between a short street of a few small houses and mobile homes capped at the end by what appeared to be an old bank or post office. A stone building with columns like tree trunks which wouldn't have been out of place in the booming city of New York in the 1920's stood with boarded windows and slashes of black spray paint across the facade. A man on a bicycle weaved between its pillars as I drove by.
And then I was back in the desert.
"You have arrived at your destination."
Nope. On my left there stood an electricity transformer, and behind me sat the sleepy town of Niland, but in every other direction...there's nothing.
"Great, I'm stuck in the middle of the desert with no idea where I'm going."
I continued down the weathered and dusted-over road slowly, unlocked my phone and hoped I had the LTE connection to search for written directions to Salvation Mountain. Just as I think I'm getting somewhere, I come around a bend and see it - a psychedelic explosion of color in the desert - Salvation Mountain.
I am not a religious person. But you don't have to be in order to appreciate this masterpiece of folk art and religious dedication.
I expected to come across a painted hill embellished with scripture and biblical symbolism, but what I found was so much more. There were handmade caves dedicated to love and acceptance, colorful Dr. Seuss-like trees supporting kaleidoscope roofs, and fields of painted flowers.
Salvation Mountain is an incredibly understated and under-recognized art exhibit and spiritual paradise. The mountain emanates vibrant love and passion for life. The beautiful soul that devoted his life to this masterpiece died just over a year ago, but I highly recommend reading about Leonard Knight and his life story. He was a wonderful human being, and I only wish I could have made it to his mountain some years earlier.
To quote Leonard and best represent the intellectual takeaway from my visit, "Let's not get complicated with love."
Preach it, Leonard.