My latest BuzzFeed travel piece came out over the weekend, and it’s about Salvation Mountain. In case you don’t want to click over to read the actual story (but please do!), Salvation Mountain is a massive sculpture — an example of “outsider art,” or folk art — in the middle of the desert. It’s not too far from Bombay Beach, which I’ve written about before.


Salvation Mountain is also part of Slab City, a famous squatter community where Laura and I picked up a hitchhiker named Domino, and not far from where I met a man who rides mules across the west.

If you’re interested in visiting this area and are coming from Los Angeles, here are the sites I recommend visiting, along with the amount of time I’d plan on spending there (go in reverse order if coming from San Diego):

1. Bombay Beach: 60 minutes.

2. Salvation Mountain: 25-45 minutes.

4. Slab City: 30-90+ minutes. (Duration will depend on how many people are around to talk to).

5. Calexico (optional, if interested in checking out a very non-touristy border crossing).

Here’s a map of this trip, but there are a lot of weird things to see out there, so give yourself time to wander.


This is a really cool, unusual part of the world. For example, In my BuzzFeed story, I mentioned a conversation with two older men who had come to the region because in the desert you “can do what you want out here.”

A painted tractor near Salvation Mountain.
A painted tractor near Salvation Mountain.

The conversation lasted around 20 minutes, and the two men were very friendly. One of the things that stands out most was the hot springs they mentioned, “where everyone is naked.” They stressed this several times — “Seriously everyone is naked. Whole families are naked.” — and seemed to think I would really enjoy a naked hot springs.

They also asked if I had any cash for their beer fund. I didn’t, but I got the sense that the request was as much an invitation to have a beer with them as anything.

This back view of Salvation Mountain shows the branches and hay bales that underly the structure.
This back view of Salvation Mountain shows the branches and hay bales that underly the structure.

In any case, it’s hard to explain the appeal of this area. Personally, I don’t love the heat, nor am I a fan of vast stretches of beige dirt. Compared to the twisting, alien deserts of Utah, the interior of California seems at a glance to be rather plain.

But in reality it’s anything but plain. I think that has to do with the very particular, and peculiar, culture out there. This region of California is populated in part by people who came there to escape a more conventional existence, either for a little or a long while. That means that despite the heat and the dust, it’s an unconventional and fascinating place.

— Jim Dalrymple II


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.


  1. This is so rad! I love that you spent so much time talking to people. It makes me want to go back out there and just talk to every single person! Also loving the map you included.

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