Friday, March 25, 2011

Yuma Arizona: Slab City and Salvation Mountain

Eric Chace returned my call today from Camping World in Chattanooga. He didn't realize we were three hours west so the call came in quite early. He arranged for a credit for the night of camping we didn't use when the campground was closed due to flooding and suggested I visit any Camping World to see about fixing a problem with the new backup camera in bright light.

We prepared to head out to visit Slab City, up near the Salton Sea in California's Imperial Valley. In addition to the usual six of us on three bikes, we were joined by park resident Scotty on his 650 Yamaha V-Star.

Getting ready to leave (it was cool out)

We crossed the border into California and headed west on I-8 into a fierce headwind. First stop was at an agricultural checkpoint where we were waved through. I do wonder, though, about the Constitutionality of the searches and seizures in these operations. The next checkpoint operated by the Border Patrol was closed today, however, we saw quite a few Border Patrol vehicles along the highway. Not far west of the border, we crossed the Algodones Dunes, pure sand that stretches for quite a ways to the northwest.

Algodones Dunes from I-8

Canal with whitecaps through the Dunes

Dry campers in the Sonora Desert

We got off I-8 after about 40 miles and took SR 115 to Holtville where we stopped so Sherm could get some good coffee. The bikes lined up had plates from Washington, Oregon, Ontario and West (By God) Virginia. A typical VROC group.

SR 115 to Holtville California

OK, Hotville

Bikes in Holtville

California gas prices

From Holtville, we rode north on SR 115 in stiff crosswinds to Calipatria and, after a stop so Sherm could take a phone call, we continued north on SR 111 to the village of Niland. There, we took a small road to the west towards Slab City. We were held up briefly while a SP Highrail truck transitioned from road to rail mode.

Our Canadian flag is getting kind of ratty

Scotty and Wrong Turn in our rear view mirror

Mary had a little lamb

But they didn't say anything about a cow

Sherm and Pat on the Burgman

Roads to Rails

Approaching Slab City

The first thing we encountered at Slab City was Salvation Mountain. This one of a kind creation is impossible to miss. Leonard Knight, almost 80 and originally from Burlington Vermont, found God when he was 36 and has been living here in the desert for forty years while he built this mountain of adobe and paint to glorify Jesus and God. These days, Leonard doesn't work on the mountain any more. He lives in an old converted fire truck on the site and greets visitors while volunteers who share his vision continue the work. Leonard is hoping that the site can be declared a National Treasure so that his message will outlive him. Leonard and the mountain, as well as Slab City itself, were featured in the Oscar nominated 2007 film Into The Wild.

Salvation Mountain - Slab City California

KT interviewing Leonard Knight

Thumbs up from Leonard

Sandy decided not to follow the Yellow Brick Road

And here is why (Sherm, Pat and I went on up)

Wrong Turn and KT talking to some of the volunteers

Sherm at the summit of Salvation Mountain

After exploring Salvation Mountain and talking to Leonard for a while, we continued deeper into Slab City. Developed during World War II as Camp Dunlap, a Marine base, it was abandoned soon after but the slab foundations remain. The residents are a combination of snowbirds who dry camp free and squatters who live here permanently. Many of them appear to be refugees from the hippy era. We stopped at The Range to see where the entertainment takes place and met Ben. He and his wife have lived here for 17 years and he offered the use of the mobile home next to his old RV if we should ever want to stay over. One of the big events, The Prom, was taking place tomorrow night but we couldn't stay. Besides, I told him I didn't own a suit or tie. He said they would be provided.  Strange place.

Slab City housing

I'd hate to have to polish this

Slab City Christian Center

Memorial at The Range

The Range stage

The Range seating

The Oasis Club at The Range

Food prices seem pretty good

Prom Night Poster

Ben explaining things to Wrong Turn

Ben's new truck

The main Oasis Club

The thing that struck me about Slab City was the intense sense of community I felt from the residents, who live under squalid and often oppressive conditions. Ben said it only got up to 124F last summer but 130 wasn't unusual most years. No water, power or trash pickup. Yet they seemed to look out for each other and share what they had. Sherm thought he might bring his Minnie Winnie over for a few days next winter and Pat liked the idea. Sandy wasn't so sure.

From Slab City, we returned to Niland for lunch in a more normal environment. We stopped at Bobby D's Restaurant to check out the historic photos on the wall and had some great food served by a very competent and attractive young lady.

Bobby D's Restaurant - Niland California

We considered going on to check out Bombay Beach on the Salton Sea, but the wind was still blowing strong so we made a pact to circumnavigate the Salton next time around and headed back south.

We rode straight south to Brawley past a geothermal power operation. In Brawley, we fueled up at $3.999/gallon. On the outskirts, we saw a Texaco station selling 87 octane for $4.099. We had planned to continue south the Calexico and follow 98 east, but the winds were rugged enough that Sherm opted to jump on I-8 and head directly home.

The return trip was uneventful except for two moron California drivers who seemed to think they owned the left lane. They caused problems for pretty much everyone out there. Another moment came as we went over an overpass coming to the Dunes and caught the worst crosswind gusts of the trip. It was blowing from the northwest and I think I know how the Dunes got there.

WT and KT headed for home

The Agricultural Checkpoint from the other side

Someone feeding the bears

The group in motion

Back at home, we all went over to Logan's Roadhouse for supper. This is the second Logan's we have been in The first was in 1999 the day we met EZ and Crystal in Ringgold, Georgia. We ate peanuts, threw the shells on the floor, had margaritas and ordered steaks. I totally enjoyed the whole experience.

Logan's Roadhouse (sorry about the angle)

Enjoying peanuts while waiting for our table

Back at Lynda Vista, we realized how much riding in the wind had taken out of us and were in bed by 8:30. PM.

Don't forget to check out Sherm's latest posts.  And take a look at our other shots of Salvation Mountain below.

Today's Route (207 motorcycle miles):

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