Niland is the closest town to Fountain of Youth. It was our mailing address, but it's actually about 20 miles from the resort. Hitch-hikers and boondockers (RVers who park out in the desert for free) know Niland (which is a tiny, dusty little village) as the "gateway" to Slab City, the former WWII Camp Dunlap. The camp was used by General Patton for tank and desert warfare practice. The land has been used by squatters ever since the camp was closed after that war ended.
Seasonal snowbirds (often in high-end motor homes) and full-time desert dwellers in junk-yard rejects reside next to each other on the crumbling concrete. There's no running water or electricity. One article I read described Slab City as "post-apocalyptic." This kind of snow-birding isn't for us, but some RVers really enjoy it. The picture on the right is one of the "buildings" It doesn't give the full impact. This is one of those you really have to see it to believe it places.
Even before you reach Slab City off of the dusty back road from Niland, you can see Salvation Mountain, also on the old Camp Dunlap property (and also "squatting" there for free). It's a surreal, technicolor mountain, built by one man who has a kind of singular purpose that is incomprehensible to most of us. Leonard Knight is 74 years old and has been living and working out here for almost 25 years. The Mountain is the height of a three-story building and is a couple hundred feet wide (so far). It looks like a 3-D vision from an odd coloring book, standing up there out in the middle of the flat scrub land.
We always like it when we get the opportunity to meet local "characters" and Leonard is certainly one of the most interesting and eccentric ever. He says that the Mountain is his testimony to God's universal love. We aren't capable of judging the Christian merits of the project (nor would we want to try). We just admire it as folk-art.
And we really enjoyed visiting with Leonard and getting a glimpse into his very different world. Leonard didn't do any proselytizing or preaching to us (probably recognizing that it wouldn't do much good.) He and Bill talked about how to make adobe and discussed the finer points of mountain construction. We talked about travel (he is originally from Vermont). And just told him that we admired his work.
Right now, he is expanding the dome that he calls his museum. He has piled up tractor tires with poles and limbs that he found out on the desert to make "trees" that help support the hay bales that form the dome. He coats everything with adobe, forming a smooth coat on the hay and giving texture to the trees and flowers. We asked if he was a little bit afraid working up so high in the "trees". He said the they rose up so gradually that, by the time he got up so high, he was used to it.
We've driven the 25 miles to look at the Mountain each time we've stayed at Fountain of Youth. Leonard said he is getting quite a few more visitors these days because he and Salvation Mountain are briefly featured in the book and movie "Into the Wild." (He wasn't sure what the movie was about, but he said the film-makers were really nice people.) Nobody else was there on the weekday morning we went, but as we left, about 10 other people stopped by.
He has just finished creating a miniature version of the Mountain, which is going to go into the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.
Anyone who enjoys seeing things that are out-of-the-ordinary and meeting people who are one-of-a-kind would enjoy a visit to Salvation Mountain and Slab City.