(Ben Whitefield / For the Times)
Why: Because you can’t really envision a man-made mountain, covered in layers of colorful paint and biblical verse, until you see it in person.
What: Salvation Mountain is a one-man project that was decades in the making. The late Leonard Knight (1931-2014) made this colorful mound of inspirational messages, using the desert as his canvas, relying on donations and cobbling together cement, hay bales and many, many layers of bright paint until he had a spectacle several stories tall.
If you’re 20ish, you may know it from the video game Grand Theft Auto V (where it’s called "Hippietown") or one of those PBS documentaries they show in high schools. If you’re older, you may remember the Salvation Mountain scene in Sean Penn’s 2007 movie “Into the Wild,” or maybe you’ve just heard stories about a loner in the desert, forever painting Bible quotations on the earth.
Either way, the labor of love behind this rainbow-colored edifice is clear. Even if its “God Is Love” message doesn’t speak to you, there’s no ignoring the dedication on display.
When we stopped by in January, a few dozen others were there already, reading inscriptions, gawking and snapping selfies. (The state owns the land.)
And if the mountain isn’t quirky enough for you, have a look around neighboring "Slab City," where a disparate collection of squatters has improvised an off-the-grid bohemian neighborhood on several blocks of bare concrete foundations that once held Marine barracks — a "chill" village, in the words of one 20-year-old admirer. Some call it “the last free place in America.”
Where: Drive toward the community of Niland, at the southeastern side of the Salton Sea, about 188 miles southeast of downtown L.A. The “mountain” is a short detour off Highway 111 on Beal Road; Slab City is a little farther east along the road.
How much: Free.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times) Muscle Beach (Los Angeles Times) Union Station (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times) (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times) Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times) (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)