Category Archives: California

Salvation Mountain

A little over a year ago, I took a detour after hiking in Joshua Tree National park to visit Niland,  CA to pay homage to Leonard Knight’s “Salvation Mountain”. My first exposure to Salvation Mountain was through the film “Into the Wild” in which there is scene where Christopher McCandless ( played by Emile Hirsch) is staying in Slab City and visits Salvation Mountain.

Leonard Knight (born 1931) was the creator of Salvation Mountain. As the story goes, one day in 1967 Leonard was visiting family in San Diego and went out of the house to sit in his van. Something came over him and started to repeat the Sinner Prayer – “Jesus, I’m a sinner, please come upon my body and into my heart.” Supposedly he accepted Jesus into his heart and was never the same again.

One of the painted vehicles on the premises

One of the painted vehicles on the premises

I am not a religious person and I don’t have any particular affinity for folk art. I had almost no expectations about my visit. To me it was just something interesting and unique to experience. I have to say though that it was a wonderful experience. The mountain is part pilgrimage and part playground, but its all about being positive.

Welcome to Salvation Mountain

Welcome to Salvation Mountain

Years a fter the San Diego van incident, Leonard ended up in Niland and Slab City and found that he liked it there. He returned to finally settle there and to promote his undying love for God. He had tried other ways of expressing his devotion, but never felt successful, until he started to build the mountain.And build he did. Beginning with a single bag of cement, Leonard started to built the mountain monument in the flat desert from the ground up in a dried up riverbank. It was a slow process with a little work every day.

A portion of the front of Salvation Mountain

A portion of the front of Salvation Mountain

A view of one the slopes

A view of one the slopes

Four years into the task,  the mountain he built collapsed from unstable ground, poor construction and weak cement. Apparently this did not shake Leonard’s devotion to the task. Per the Salvation Mountain website, he “thanked the Lord for showing him that the mountain wasn’t safe. He vowed to start once again and to ‘do it with more smarts’.” So, he began again, this time using straw and native adobe clay.

Partial View from the Top

Partial View from the Top

Another topside view

Another topside view

Once the adobe dried, Leonard would coat it with paint to keep he wind and the rain from eroding it away. He quickly learned that the more paint, the better  and stronger the mountain became. Per the website,Leonard once estimated that he had put well over 100,000 gallons of paint on his mountain.

The backside of ongoing construction

The backside of one of the walls and pathways

Along the way, Leonard started to build Hogans, the domed-shaped home of adobe and sticks used by the native Navajos. This little rooms were great escapes from the hot sun of the Colorado Desert. I found the hogans charming  and in a way they offered a more private way to experience the mountain.

Interior of on the of hogans

Interior of on the of hogans

Another Hogan View

Another Hogan View

Leonard Knight passed away in 2013, but for now Salvation Mountain lives on.  One of the things that made Leonard most proud was a plaque that he received from Senator Barbara Boxer of California. The plaque documents the  Congressional record of the United States proclaiming Salvation Mountain as a national treasure.

My favorite line from the congressional record states “American folk art is found in all corners of out nation. Perhaps one of the least likely locations would be the desert where Salvation Mountain is found. Leonard Knight’s artwork is a national treasure, a singular sculpture wrought from the dessert by a modest, single-minded man. It is a sculpture for the ages – profoundly strange and beautifully accessible, and worthy of the international acclaim it receives.”

And indeed it is profoundly strange, but welcoming and accessible. The mountain is a monument to Leonard’s faith and religion, but it is also a monument to love… for god and for one another. Without getting too whimsical, I’d say that I felt that positive energy while I was there.

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The Great Attack Birds of San Clemente

Last week a traveled to San Clemente, CA for a wedding. San Clemente is a mid-sized town between Los Angeles and San Diego. Its know for its coastal views, surfing and as the headquarters for Rainbow Sandals. Essentially, its a surf town.

Sunset in San Clemente

Sunset in San Clemente

Being that I was still on East Coast time, I woke up way too early on Friday and went in search of good coffee and breakfast. The first place we stopped was supposed to have already opened, but clearly they were on surf time and were still prepping for the day. So, I landed at a busy donut shop called Surfin’ Donuts, of course.

mmm, donuts

mmm, donuts

Afterwards, we thought I’d take a drive to the waterfront to check out the scenery and get some fresh air. After a quick left turn I found myself on a hilly windy road, which gave way to a view of the San Clemente  pier.

San Clemente Pier

San Clemente Pier

Though the pier provided beautiful views, it was also totally infested with birds. Now, I don’t mind a few seagulls or pelicans. But this was different. There where hundreds upon hundreds of pigeons. As we started to walk down the pier, they were take flight and a few would make like they were going to dive bomb us.  This happened every few steps. Fear got the best of us before we could make it to the end, but it was a very long pier…

Attack Birds

Attack Birds

… but it was worth it for the sunrise views.

Sunrise in San Clemente

Sunrise in San Clemente

California Dreaming

Tomorrow, I head to California to celebrate the wedding of a close friend. In honor of my California trip, I thought I would take a look back on a previous wander in Southern California.

Gratuitous pelican photo

Gratuitous pelican photo

Almost a year ago to the day after a delicious brunch, we took a  saunter down to the Hermosa Beach pier. Having lived in California I usually am not terribly impressed by the beach views. However, that day was different. It was windy so there was clear skies, no smog and a decent break in the surf. There were loads of surfers out and we took some time to enjoy watching the action.

Clear skies in Hermosa Beach

Clear skies in Hermosa Beach

One surfer in particular intrigued me because I noticed that he was paddling out wearing a trucker hat. Who does that? Even great surfers bail out of waves and I was sure that he was going to lose his hat. I managed to capture a great picture of him as he cut under the pier to catch the break.

Tracker hat surfer

Trucker hat surfer

We watched him for a while, but he never did lose his hat.

Saving the Salton Sea

About 11 months ago I visited California to see friends, do some hiking/wandering and ending with a business trip. I spent three years in California while in law school so on this trip, I wanted to do some off the beaten track tourism and see some new things. At the top of my list was to pay a visit to the Salton Sea Recreation area. I had been hearing about the Salton Sea for years but an article in Vice had really piqued my interests.

The Salton Sea, past its prime

The Salton Sea Recreation Area sign has seen better days

So, what is the Salton Sea? It’s an inland lake in the Coachella Valley area inland in Southern California near Joshua Tree National Park. The lake was accidentally created in 1905. In an effort to increase water flow into the area for farming, irrigation canals were being dug from the Colorado River into the valley. However, there was an engineering error caused by a heavy rain and millions of gallons of water flowed into the previously dried out lake bed.

In the 50s and 60s, it was a booming tourist attraction that attracted families and celebrities like Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys and Sonny Bono. It was “marketed as a ‘miracle in the desert’” it would regularly attract over half a million visitors annually. It was a full service resort town complete with shops, hotels, yacht clubs, fishing and water-skiing.

Salton Sea in its Prime

Salton Sea in its Prime

Salton Sea post card from the 1950s

Salton Sea post card from the 1950s

However, the success of the area was short-lived. The Salton Sea lacks an outflow, which means that runoff and contaminants that enter the lake, have no exit or means of dilution. The Salton Sea is surrounded by nearly half a million acres of agricultural land and its runoff, includes salt, fertilizers and pesticides. By the 1970s, the salinity of the sea was so drastically increased that the water was becoming too hostile to support the life of most freshwater fish. Currently, the salinity is increasing at about a rate of 1% annually and it is more salty than the Pacific Ocean. This caused a die out of fish, elevated bacterial levels and algal blooms that began to rot giving off foul odors.

The Salton Sea Today

The Salton Sea Today

Today, only a few species can survive in the lake. The shores are littered with dead and dedicated fish and the beach is covered with barnacles and fish bones.

Dead fish on the shores of the Salton Sea

Dead fish on the shores of the Salton Sea

Beaches covered with the bones of dead fish and barnacles

Beaches covered with the bones of dead fish and barnacles

It wasn’t only the wildlife that suffered. Tourists stopped coming and revenue for resort areas dried up. Most people have left the area but a few still eek out a living. Many areas suffer from blight and vandalism with many vacant homes. I visited the community of Bombay Beach which is a prime example of such abandonment. There are still a few residents, but it is a desperate and desolate place.

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Vacant home in Bombay Beach

Graffiti in an Abandoned home, Bombay Beach

Graffiti in an Abandoned home, Bombay Beach

A kitchen of an abandoned home in Bombay Beach

A kitchen of an abandoned home in Bombay Beach

But, good news may be coming soon to the residents of the Salton Sea area. Assemblyman Brian Nestande of California announced this week, an initiative to institute a quarter-cent sales tax in the Coachella Valley. The money raised would pay for an earth dike to be constructed across the northern portion of the Salton Sea. The purpose of the Dike would be to create a new body of water the size of Lake Arrowhead that would be fed by runoff and preserve the northern shoreline. The cost of this restoration project could range from $225 million to $510 million.

For more information about the Salton Sea you can check out the following links:

http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/us/2014/10/20/orig-sinatra-hangout-becoming-toxic-threat.cnn.html

http://www.outsideonline.com/news-from-the-field/Restoration-Project-Proposed-for-Salton-Sea.html

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/02/140218-salton-sea-imperial-valley-qsa-water-conservation/

http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=639