Pilgrimage: Mecca, Salvation Mountain, Salton Sea Mud Pots

Every year over 15 million people set out on a pilgrimage to visit the city of Mecca as a show of religious devotion. For us Mecca was a starting point rather than a destination. No. Not that Mecca. Mecca, CA of course.

california; desert; flowers; mecca hills Picture of an ocotillo and Palo Verde on a walk up "Bathroom Canyon" in the Mecca Hills.

Picture of an ocotillo and Palo Verde on a walk up “Bathroom Canyon” in the Mecca Hills.

Our procession of vehicles was headed for Anza-Borrego State Park, the outdoors our religion, the desert our god. But the deserts of southern California are a long way from the bay area and the Mecca Hills provide an excellent opportunity of rest for the weary.

The residents of Mecca utilize the easily accessible camping sites along CA-195, Box Canyon Road. Just off of I-10, the canyon is also easily accessible for those venturing from further away. It is spotted with side canyons and Jeep trails and one of these, Little Box Canyon, is a favorite of ours. Maybe it’s the heavy washboard road, or the deep-ish gravel that keeps them away, but we laugh in the face of such obstacles and were once again able to find a secluded camping spot for the group.

That evening we partook in religious ceremonies ourselves. Limes, tequila, and mix were miraculously transubstantiated into margaritas. We drank, we ate, and we bonded with each other and the desert around us.

california; desert; salvation mountain This is what you get when you combine adobe, straw, paint, and religious fanaticism.

This is what you get when you combine adobe, straw, paint, and religious fanaticism.

It was perhaps fitting that our first sight-seeing trip should be Salvation Mountain. After a scenic drive along the East side of the Salton Sea we drove through Slab City, North of Calipatria. For some, Slab City is a vacation getaway in and of itself. It was not the sort of resort we wanted to visit. Slab City gets its name from the slabs left over from a WWII U.S. Marine Corps barracks. Since that time, the area was taken over mainly by squatters. We swear we saw a Nazi flag flying proudly over one of the shanties.

california; desert; salvation mountain Leonard Knight lived here while creating this art installation.

Leonard Knight lived here while creating this art installation.

Salvation Mountain lies just outside the “boundaries” of Slab City and is a sight to behold. The art installation was created mostly by a local, Leonard Knight, who spent decades plastering the hillsides with straw and adobe, then painting them with bright colors and religious messages. Here, one can walk the Yellow Brick Road (we found the Wizard of Oz reference mildly amusing) to the “summit” of the installation, adorned with a gigantic cross which we assumed symbolized salvation. None of our group could reach it. Scattered about the grounds are various vehicles, lavishly painted, including the truck which Mr. Knight used as his home until his recent passing.

The entire site may be a display of utter religious zealotry, but holds its merit as a work of art and we’re glad we saw it.

california; desert; geothermal; mud pots Impressive contrast between the fresher flow to the left and older flow to the right.

Impressive contrast between the fresher flow to the left and older flow to the right.

Abandoning what man created and turning or sights towards what nature made, we headed towards Calipatria and the Salton Sea Mud Pots. Just outside the geothermal power plant lies a field which seems fairly flat from afar. As one gets closer, they can see some irregularities in the surface. We left our vehicles and headed towards the irregularities on foot (this is likely private property as there are many no trespassing signs). The smell and bubbling sounds were the first indications of geothermal activity.

The flat field are littered with mounds, grey in color, some about the height of a person. These are the mud volcanoes. As the heated subterranean water mixes with the soil and builds up pressure, the resulting mud is ejected into the air. Along with occasional mud flows, the result is the formation of mud volcanoes. Careful as you travel the grounds. The area does not seem very stable and the boiling mud is…well, boiling hot.

After the stop, we broke for lunch and headed towards Anza-Borrego…

Next time on Destination Isolation. Thrown off guard by the Border Patrol. Caving in the desert. General fun in the sun.