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  • Writer's pictureSelima Smith-Dell

Salvation Mountain: Sound Healing, Restorative Silence, Desert Heat, A Message of God is Love

I’ve been nervous to post about my visit to Salvation Mountain since the overturn of Roe Vs. Wade. I’ve been worried that the pictures could send the wrong message about which side I’m on when it comes to abortion. I’ve also just been so devastated by the news and so worried for women and all folks who are non binary or gender queer with wombs and our future that I haven't wanted to publish my writing here or express my creativity. I fear for the future of folks with wombs, people of color, and those in the LGBTQ community. If any of our safety and rights are threatened then they are all threatened. I say this all to say that this mountain created by Leonard Knight is more important now than ever. Leonard Knight was the OG hippie in the Slab City area. He was not a religious man. He was always so accepting and kind towards folks of color and the LGBTQ community. He lived his life believing and spreading the message that “God is Love”.

As someone who was raised in a very religious Christian home and no longer is a member of that faith I was originally very hesitant to check out this monument that displayed a plethora of biblical scriptures and murals. I assumed it was a monument for those who were followers of the Christian faith. I think it’s important for me to expand on this so you can understand my hesitancy a bit more.

I grew up in a very Christian home. My mom was a minister growing up. One of my grandfathers was a pastor and the other a deacon and a pastor. Growing up we would regularly attend protests at our church that were anti-LGBTQ and pro life protests. I knew I was pansexual (well I originally thought I was bisexual) at a very young age and so it has been quite traumatic for me to recall some of those memories. One of the reasons for my delay in coming out was so much undoing I had to do of things taught to me by family and the Christian church. Even my coming out in my late 20s was difficult as my predominant parent, my mom didn’t speak to me for a couple months once I did so. With all that said I was a bit triggered initially when I saw photos of Salvation Mountain and the scriptures and Christian words. But then I did a lot of reading up about Leonard Knight and his life I was overjoyed by the monument and message, that it was one of love and acceptance. Also despite my negative experience with the Christian faith I know there are many branches of Christianity that are very welcoming and open to LGBTQ folks and I respect that.

Salvation Mountain was best described by Barbara Boxer, former CA Senator who described it as “a unique and visionary sculpture…a national treasure…profoundly strange and beautifully accessible, and worthy of the international acclaim it receives.”

Alexis and I left for Salvation Mountain from West LA at 7am and we got so lucky. We didn’t run into any traffic on our roughly 3-hour drive there. We made a stop halfway to grab matcha’s and breakfast sandwiches at a drive in Starbucks and got gas and picked up a bunch of waters at a near by gas station. We arrived at Salvation Mountain right at 11am. You could see the Mountain from far away. It was a rainbow beacon of color in a sea of sandy brown desert. As soon as we arrived, we saw a sign saying no cars beyond this point. We parked the car and applied a ton of sunscreen. We grabbed our waters and made our way into the Salvation Mountain.

The first pieces of artwork we enjoyed were several painted trucks and a motorcycle. We admired the murals displayed on the vehicles and snapped some pics. Before making our way to the main mountain we were greeted by one of the volunteers, Diana. She told us what parts of the mountain we could enjoy and the ones that were closed off. During our time there the staircase to the top of the mountain was closed off and the right-side monument that you could explore inside of was closed off. I know it’s been like that for a while now. But there was still so much to enjoy and now we had a reason to go back.

Next, we explored the main mountain itself, snapping many pics along the way. After the first 30 minutes we were so hot from the desert sun so we made our way back to the picnic tables and covering to enjoy some shade and to drink a ton of water. We joined the volunteer Diana who was there with her cute little dog. He was taking a nap under her lawn chair. We chatted away for a while with Diana as she told us her own journey of how she came to be in Slab City and volunteer at the Mountain. She was a kind and fascinating woman. We talked with her for probably an hour. Anyone who knows me well that I can talk for hours and hours with strangers and loved ones alike. She gave me a lovely wet cloth for my phone for keeping it cool in the desert sun.

I made a comment about how meditative and quiet it was and said it must be the perfect place to meditate. I asked her if she ever meditated there and she said she did often and then she grabbed her sound bowl. She was a magician with the sound bowl. The sound resonated beautifully throughout the desert. She then taught me how to use it holding her hand under mine and carefully guiding me. It was difficult. She even played it while it was in the palm of my hand and the vibrations went through my whole body and it really stirred about some strong emotions for me. What a spiritual and healing experience sound bowls are. It was great having some quality time with Diana. After we felt properly hydrated and had our fair share of quality time we went back to the mountain to explore a bit more for 30 minutes or so. We took a lovely selfie with Diana and she was kind and took some Polaroids for us as well. We headed out around 1pm.

Now for the fashion portion of the post. What did I decide to wear to this colorful mountain celebrating and promoting the message of “God is Love”? Before visiting the mountain I was so inspired by the rainbow of colors and saw this as the perfect moment to celebrate Pride and my pansexuality. I brought out my Rainbow platform sneakers that I haven’t worn in over 5 years. It just felt like the perfect moment for them. I knew immediately that I wanted to pair it with my chicken/cock person that I got from Colombia back in 2018. It’s truly one of my favorite purses. It’s handmade by a wonderful Colombian artist and has been featured in fashion magazines including the illustrious Vogue magazine. It’s rare that I begin a look with accessories and shoes but this time my inspiration began there. I decided to finish my Pride celebration outfit with this bright yellow organza dress. It has fun flower detail in the front and a bow detail in the back. I have had so many magical nights thanks to this fairytale dress. It’s been quite a good luck charm for me. Pride is all about love and acceptance and celebrating my queerness at this mountain through my fashion felt like the perfect moment.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this post. It’s a bit more personal than my posts usually are and so that's new and exciting. Below I’ll put some words of wisdom and advice for those looking to check out Salvation Mountain if you want to check that out. If not, it’s been nice. See you on another adventure.

Words of Wisdom:

  1. There are volunteers 24/7. They are usually at the entrance to guide you or give tours should you choose. They take tips. They are fabulous. Take a moment to get to know them. In addition to the volunteer at the entrance Ron is also tucked away nearby if the volunteer has any issue. He is in charge of the mountain and maintaining it.

  2. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes. Flats are encouraged. I’ve heard tales that heels aren’t allowed on the mountain so I wouldn’t wear heels as they scuff up the paint. Flats are definitely the way to go. Even my platforms were difficult navigating the ups and downs of the mountain.

  3. Wear lots of sunscreen and drink tons of water. Diana encouraged us to drink at least a gallon of water in the two hours we were there. It was over 102 degrees. I don’t know if I’ve ever been that hot in my life. At one point I felt as if I could pass out so make sure to stay hydrated. Diana said she’s had to call the ambulance on numerous occasions for people fainting from heat exhaustion.

  4. Have fun and allow yourself to experience the peaceful quiet of the mountain and celebrate the love and beauty that exists within us all.

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