The Hills Have Eyes: The Salton Sea and Salvation Mountain

Some time ago, we traveled to Palm Springs for a long weekend. Palm Springs is an easy vacation trip from L.A. – always warm and sunny, plenty of cool midcentury rentable houses with pools ready for lounging, and only a couple hours outside the city.
One of the days, the group split up to entertain themselves (ourselves?) during the day until the debauchery (fireside drinking and board games – we’re real party animals) began at night. Some stayed and hung out by the aforementioned pool, a few went off to the movies, and a small group of us decided to check out some of the weirder sights that the Palm Springs area had to offer.

We set off in a giant car and drove the hour or so to the Salton Sea. The Salton Sea, charmingly described in one article as “a beach made of death,” was at one time a hot destination for the crème de la crème of Southern California, a sort of Malibu in the desert with yacht clubs and big houses and private jets flying in and out. However, the salt content of the sea began to kill off the fish that lived there, and as the smell of dead fish grew and recurrent flooding damaged the resorts and homes, the place cleared out. Now, the “town” near the Salton Sea is basically The Hills Have Eyes come to life – in fact, one of the decrepit building hulls literally had that written on it (another one said “abandon hope all who enter here.” Fun.).
The sea itself is an eerily large body of water in the middle of a barren desert, surrounded by a “beach” of ground-up fish bones and littered with beautiful-ugly-haunting debris. It is…an experience. And a stark comparison to the manicured resorts of Palm Springs proper.

From the Salton Sea, we continued on to Salvation Mountain, a historic Folk Art monument created by one very determined Jesus-loving individual, Leonard Knight. Basically, the man painted a mountain, and if Dr. Seuss had really really liked God (and maybe he did, I don’t know), this would be a real-life version of that. It’s cool and weird and also a bit creepy. And crawling with tourists.

Should you take it upon yourself to one day visit these two oddities of the desert (and I think it truly depends on your personality as to whether you think it would be worth it – I was glad to have gone, but I don’t think they’d be everyone’s cups of tea), I would give you some advice: bring water and food/snacks. Pee before you go. And probably don’t go inside that “abandon all hope” building. That doesn’t seem safe.

Both attractions are free of charge.

The Salton Sea
The Sea is very large, but we stopped at Bombay Beach.

Salvation Mountain
Beal Rd
Niland, CA 92257


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