Desert Art Part 2: Salvation Mountain, Bombay Beach & the Salton Sea

First off, I wanted to get this out of the way first:

You do not have to participate in Black Friday sales. I know the prices are tempting AF, especially with another set of commercial holidays looming on the horizon.

However, before you hit “buy” on that TV or wait in line for some mega sale with the masses, take a moment and think about the people that are busting their asses on all levels (from the people making the products all the way down to the ones selling the products) and then think about the people who employ them, who are sitting at home collecting the money. 

Have you worked on Black Friday and hated it? Why in the hell would you want to support a system that forces other people to do the exact same thing? So let’s not, okay? Let’s buy from people we know and support them instead. But, like, every day. Not just Black Friday. 

I’m working on a big ol blog post of people I know and love that you can purchase things from directly.

But, for now, onto the art!

Art Day 2 was probably my favorite art day of the trip, because three things happened:

  1. I visited a place I never thought I’d get a chance to visit in one million years. I’d seen it in a movie and it took my breath away. I didn’t think there was any way I’d ever walk around it myself. 
  2. I got to see ( and fall in love with) the Salton Sea. This is exciting to me because of a throwaway line in the Boggs episode of “Always Sunny”: “The Salton Sea – my family owns a tilapia farm there.”
  3. We discovered a blossoming art hub on the beaches on the Salton Sea. It used to be a bustling resort city before the sea died and now it is a literal ghost town filled with art. I had no idea this place existed and now I’m obsessed. 

The other best part of this day was it was very low cost. Aside from the gas in the car, dinner at In & Out and the donations we made to artists, we didn’t spend a dime. 

But it was a full tankful of gas. And a full fucking day. My favorite kind. 

To orient you in time, let me tell you that we’ve fast forwarded to the day following the wedding, otherwise known as two days after the last blog post

Our original plan was to brunch in Palm Springs with some of the wedding folk, so we woke up and headed to Palm Springs. 

When we got there it was not the vibe for our brains at all, so I spoke aloud this thought that had been spinning around in my head. 

“Why don’t we skip brunch and go to Salvation Mountain instead?”

So, that’s what we did! We would have had spots of fun at brunch, but week had already done so much socializing the last two days and it was draining to my neurodivergent brain so a long car ride would be a good quiet contemplative break. 

It was about 80 miles away from where we were staying. I had zero idea about the terrain or what we’d be driving though. 

Y’all, it was a whole bunch of nothing. 

I don’t mean, like, a city with only one gas station nothing. 

I mean, like, the world is over and we are the only two people left kind of nothing. 

It was wild. We saw so many magical things and so few people on this lazy Sunday. 

So, the goal was Salvation Mountain, a spot I’d spied in my many viewings of “Into the Wild”. 

 I dunno something about this singular devotion to one task really sparked something in me – and it was so vibrant and lively!

So that was our end goal – as well as the community a bit down the road – Slab City.

But the drive was the real gift.

Because the Salton Sea is gorgeous. Dead, yeah, but just so lovely to look at.

I was not expecting this at all. I mean, it’s just a body of water, right?! I’ve seen the ocean and rivers and lakes and ponds and hell, we even have a river the size of a creek running through our backyard. 

But the Salton Sea is still and calm, yet there are still ripples on the surface. It was as if I was looking at the planet on pause. 

And it was so quiet! There were no birds, or no hums of electricity. We passed maybe one gas station and one place to eat for the bulk of the drive. It was the quietest place I’d ever been. 

On the way to Salvation Mountain, we did however pass the ghost of a beach town called Bombay Beach. I am not exaggerating one bit when I tell y’all that Bombay Beach is my newest obsession. 

I am sure I will do a whole entire post about it later down the line as I fall deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole, so I’m gonna try to limit this post to my experience this first visit. 

Because I’m 100% going back. We only saw a fraction of the magic and there’s so much more that we didn’t get the chance to experience. That’s okay, though – next time. 

We only pulled in because it was literally the only community we’d seen in miles and I was curious. The remains of an old-timey billboard really sparked my attention. 

It was a ghost town. Like, the president streets up in Cape Canaveral, but a bomb hit them. 

But then – installation artists discovered it and have started taking it over. I saw the Bombay Beach TVs and then a little ways down the road asked him to pull over near a rusted shipping container with a glass front and a QR Code. 

That was Toxikon. A poison apothecary

Each and every one of those tiny bottles contains a lethal dose of a different poison. I didn’t know this when I took this pic, but I did know I loved it. 

The artist is Kathy Suder, whose work I will be following from here on out. 

One quick thing about stopping at this piece – our car and our bodies became absolutely infested with bugs – so we noped outta there earlier than we would have otherwise. 

Next time we go back though, we’re definitely eating at the Ski Inn. 

After Bombay Beach, we continued on our journey towards Salvation where we encountered a bunch of nothing until we hit the tiny town of Niland. And by nothing, I mean the most gorgeous views I’ve ever seen in my entire life. 

I saw Salvation Mountain well in the distance. I mean, like at least a mile before we arrived at it. 

It was enormous. Way more massive than I was anticipating. As we drove closer, my smile grew larger and larger and my cheeks were wet and then all of a sudden we were there and Mickey was saying “This was in GTAV, too!” (he said that in Bombay Beach as well. Apparently Uncle Trevor or someone lives there.)

And I went bounding away… to the outhouse, cause it had been a long ride and we’d planned to find a place to eat on the way there. And we did not find a single place for that purpose. It was a welcome sight. 😆 

There were maybe ten other people there the entire time we were there, including a very chill docent – there to answer questions but not all up in your space with facts if you didn’t want them. 

The joy I felt simply being there was palpable. Seeing all the paint cans and the vibrant colors that get repainted on a regular schedule gave me goosebumps. 

Salvation Mountain is a place born of and maintained by pure love. And you could FEEL IT. 

So, at the end of the day, we pulled offa the side of the road on the way home and stepped into that creepy utter silence again. And watched the sunset. 

When we set out on the journey, I thanked Mickey for making the drive, because it was likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

You know what he said? He said, “Don’t say that yet. You might fall in love and make a yearly trip.”

And, I mean, I’m already planning another one next year (KPerks and O-Stevie, I’m looking at y’all), so he’s probably right, huh?


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