The temperature on the dashboard said it was 84 degrees outside but it felt much hotter. The last time I was in the Salton Sea in California, it seemed to be the hottest place I’d ever been in my life. This particular day was not like that but hot nonetheless.
Directly in front of me was Leonard Knight’s amazing Salvation Mountain, a place I’d wanted to go to for over a decade and there it was. Other people have made this a focus of some of their photographic projects (check out Aaron Huey’s amazing work on the subject here) – I could never compete with that, I just wanted to see if for myself.
The sun reflected off the pale ground and white painted stripes below my feet – I felt like my eyes were getting sunburnt. I walked into one of the side tunnels watching a couple of Japanese tourists snap photos and a guy passed me and, slightly derisively, said, “Wow, this is something eh?” I wasn’t sure what to say – I’m not religious or anything like that but how can you mock something so elaborate as this? Maybe he was crazy, maybe he was on to something – whatever it was, it was a pretty phenomenal achievement.
The drive back to LA along Highway 111 still felt as apocalyptic as it did the last time I was down this way over a decade ago – there were very few people around, houses decrepit and lonely looking, graffiti on everything, walls crumbling down. It was kind of like a Mad Max world in real life. That said, it looked a teensy bit better than that last time I was here – I did not see a mobile home leeching red paint into a salty, shallow pool of water or power poles up to their necks in the sea and the amount of dead fish on the shore and their decaying smell seemed to be lower. And, the water level of the lake also seemed to be dramatically lower – apparently the lake is receding for real and the effects of that could be devastating.
In a weird way, getting back on I-10 back west to Los Angeles it felt as though the temperature dropped a bit - even though the dashboard thermometer now read 86 degrees - hotter than it was back at Salvation Mountain. . The landscape around me was still dry and beautiful, but something about being in that other dry and beautiful spot made the heat radiate a bit hotter.