Slab City’s Salvation Mountain

Activated in 1942, Camp Dunlap — just 85 miles southeast of Palm Springs — was a Marine Corps training facility during World War II. When the base was subsequently decommissioned, the land was returned to Imperial County, California, and only concrete slabs remained. Today it’s known as Slab City — a strange haven for squatters and off-the grid living. It’s also home to two unconventional art installations: Slab City’s Salvation Mountain and East Jesus.

A year ago, I’d never heard of Slab City, Salvation Mountain, or East Jesus. Yet again, Instagram was the instigator. It was the reason I first laid eyes on Salvation Mountain. And from the very first glance at images of the cool and colorful creation I thought to myself: “Must. Go. There.” 

Last Wednesday, that’s just what I did!

Southwest Road Trip

Currently I’m wrapping up a mini Southwest road trip that started in Las Vegas and ends in Tucson, Arizona. My sister and I decided to meet in Vegas two weeks ago to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon. We successfully completed the run the Sunday before last and it was a blast! We had The Strip all to ourselves. Along with 25,000 other runners, that is! 

Me and my sis. We spotted these tacky Vegas hats in a store and at first we were like, “who on earth would buy such god-awful hats?”
Later we had a change of heart and were like “these are the BEST HATS EVER!”
Post-half-marathon celebratory pic in front of Paris, Las Vegas!

I told my sister, Anne-Marie, of my plans for after leaving Las Vegas: to visit Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park, Salvation Mountain, then on to Phoenix, Arizona. After that I’d head to Tucson and even further south, to Rio Rico, Arizona, where our parents live.

A pic from my solo-trek to Joshua Tree National Park

Just like myself a year earlier, Anne-Marie hadn’t heard of Salvation Mountain either. But when I showed her some pics, she told me she’d seen the iconic images recently in a new music video by Kesha. We looked it up on YouTube, and — sure enough! — there was Salvation Mountain.

(You can check out the video yourself below. But, FYI, the song starts one full minute in.)

Salvation Mountain also makes an appearance in the movie adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, which I’ve yet to see, but have added to my watch list!

On the Road Again

After four nights in Sin City, I dropped my sister off at Vegas McCarran International Airport early Monday morning, crossed the Nevada-California border, and drove southwest to Palm Springs.

Two days later a beeping alarm woke me at ridiculous-o’clock. (That’s 3:30am, in case you were wondering.) I was up at that profane hour in order to check out of the downtown Palm Spring’s Motel 6, so as to arrive at Salvation Mountain by sunrise.

This was my first look at Salvation Mountain!
Here’s a panorama to give you an idea of the place from another angle.
Yet another panorama — this one prominently shows the “yellow brick road.” (More on that in a moment.)

California has 20 million acres of forest, 1,200 miles of coast, and countless wilderness areas, but with Moon California Camping, you’ll always find your perfect campsite.

Salvation Mountain

So let’s talk about the “mountain.”

42 thoughts on “Slab City’s Salvation Mountain”

  1. Oh man! Looking at all of your photos I’m bummed we didn’t stop here on our own cross country road trip with the kids when we moved back east. We would have loved this stop! We keep talking about a trip back out west, so I think I’m adding Slab City to our ever growing list.

  2. We’ve just returned from nearby there and am so sad we didn’t know about Salvation Mountain. Looks amazing. It will have to go on our list for our next US road trip.

  3. We are planning a California road trip for next Summer, so this is really interesting! It’s easy to plan in the big cities but the quirky more out of the way ones are great to find.

  4. Wow. This is incredible. If only I’d known it existed a few months ago when we were on our road trip in California…this would have been a great additional stop. Great pictures!

  5. one of my favorite movies ‘Into the Wild’ is when I first heard about Slab City, next month I’ll be talking a road trip California and plans are to stop at slab city, Into the Wild is on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

  6. It’s so funny how Instagram fuels our sense of wanderlust for these things, isn’t it?! You saw Slab City on the social media site, went and blogged. Now I’ve read your blog, I really want to go myself! Thanks for sharing, I’m adding to my bucket list! x

    1. So true, Becca! That’s how I ended up in Chefchaouen last year as well! Thanks for reading! Take care and happy travels! 🙂

  7. I too have never heard of this place but looks like a really cool place to go and visit 😀 Love how it’s been decorated, the artwork brings just brings it to life. It does look like a place that looks like it’s been made up for a movie rather than out there in there in the middle of nowhere 😀 – Gonna have to see this place with my own eyes someday 😀
    amit recently posted…Marrakech, Morocco: A spontaneous tripMy Profile

  8. Love hearing about new places like this especially when It’s a bit off the beaten path ! I guess that the Salvation Mountain is something you really gotta see yourself, right ? It’s like no other… In the middle of desert a huge colorful piece of artwork mountain praising God., so amazing !
    C-Ludik recently posted…Normandy, between “War and Peace”My Profile

    1. Yes, I definitely recommend seeing it for yourself! Hope you’ll get the chance to go sometime, C-Ludik! 🙂

  9. Really interesting place!! I actually JUST saw a photo of this for the first time on Instagram today, but had no idea where it was or what it was. How crazy! I will definitely head out to it next time I’m in the area — looking forward to learning about East Jesus 😀

    1. Thanks, Kristen! Yeah, I also only heard about it for the first time within the last year! Happy travels! 🙂

    1. Hi Followingtheriviera, Salvation Mountain is not in Vegas! It’s in Imperial County, California, about five hours south of Las Vegas! 🙂

  10. Never knew such places existed. Thanks to Instagram I should say and thanks to you for sharing it. I have Uncle who lives in Palm Spring, so I guess I have the reason the visit the place too. Nice photos! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Joy! Hope you make it out there sometime to see your family and to check out all that the area has to offer! Palm Springs is a fun place to visit too!

  11. The number of times I’ve visited a place just because i saw lovely pictures on Instagram – I can totally relate to you when you say that! I have never heard of the salvation mountain myself and I can see why you wanted to visit after seeing pictures- it looks very interesting!

  12. I haven’t spent much time in America and had no idea this place existed! Looks super cool though. I’d love to do a road trip at some point, hopefully sooner rather than later. thanks for sharing.

  13. I’ve not heard of Slab City – this needs to be added when we eventually do our USA road trip. Instagram is great to find new places to travel to. Salvation is so vibrant – love the colours and the artwork! Where does the yellow brick road lead to? Well done on completing the half marathon!

    1. Thank you Whodoldo! The yellow brick road was the path to stay on for viewing the mountain without stepping on and possibly damaging the rest of the art. Plus, Greg told me it’s also for people’s safety! 🙂

  14. I’ve been to Vegas but never knew about these hidden gems. Thanks to you I now know where I’m definitely going on my next trip to the US. Apart from driving, is there any other way to get to Salvation mountain?

    1. Hi Chandrima,
      Unfortunately there’s not really another way of getting out there. I suppose a person could hitchhike if comfortable with that, but it’s kind of out in the middle of nowhere! Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  15. I had never heard about this place before you mentioned it but looks super interesting and colorful. Also i am really intrigued about the sleeping cat on those colorful rugs. Is it from a shop in the same area?

    1. Hi Ketki,
      Actually, the cat is just a header picture on my website, so it doesn’t have anything to do with Salvation Mountain. Although, there were some really cool cats hanging around the mountain, which I’ll be posting more about in a post dedicated solely to cats soon! (I love taking cat pics when I travel!) But to answer your question, the pic of the cat sleeping on colorful rugs was taken in Istanbul! Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  16. sounds like a great road trip! I think I’ve seen a few pictures of Salvation Mountain in Slab City but I had no idea exactly where it is. May have to add that to my SoCal Bucket List when I return to visit friends and family in San Diego. I mean who wouldn’t want to go to East Jesus

    1. Yeah, who wouldn’t want to go?! Hope you get to make it there sometime soon, Eric! Thanks for stopping by!

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