Desert Oasis Traversing California's dusty roads
Palm Springs Modernism
Mid-century modernism features clean lines, integrated indoor/outdoor living spaces and an overall simplicity in its aesthetic.
Bold Light and Shady Trees
The desert sun accentuates the architectural lines of the abundant mid-century residences. Some of these houses, when first built, came with landscape features, including a set of two palm trees. This particular neighborhood is aptly named Twin Palms.
All around are mountain views and huge palm trees with lofty bases reminiscent of the limbs of giant elephants.
The Slabs and East Jesus
If you're familiar with the world of Mad Max (sans the violence), then you can begin to imagine the experience of being at Slab City, or the Slabs, as it is known.
Deriving its name from the concrete slabs that remain from an abandoned World War II barracks, Slab City sits in the Sonoran Desert about 150 miles northeast of San Diego. It is a winter haven for campers, artists and those searching for meaning in their lives. You won't find running water, electrical services or convenience stores here.
The "residents" who live here during the non-summer months have concocted ingenious ways to exist off the grid. From composting toilets to eking power out of discarded and/or damaged solar panels and batteries, they have constructed a self-sustaining environment that runs against the odds. Given that it was only a couple of hours drive from Santee, it was a no-brainier for us to go visit.
Our first stop was Salvation Mountain, a man-made concrete mound about three stories high and covered top to bottom in acrylic paint. It was the brainchild of one Leonard Knight, former resident and larger-than-life character who would meet and greet the many daily visitors and even give personalized tours to a lucky few. Alas, he passed away in 2014 but his legacy is plain to see. Tourists are encouraged to add their own artwork and paint cans and brushes are provided for those feeling a creative urge.
While in the sculpture garden, I was welcomed by Frank. He lives in East Jesus and gives tours to visitors. I wasn't expecting to see anyone because it was upwards of a hundred degrees while we were there. Frank was a towering figure and friendly, if not a little manic. His sense of humor was somewhat jarring at first. After he gave me his initial schpiel, I asked if he lived here. "No, of course not, I'm just some fucking random guy who's here masquerading as a tour guide!", he replied. It was delivered with a Joker-like smile so I nervously laughed it off. He then left me among the sculptures saying I was free to photograph whatever I wanted.
"This tour is a performance, don't interrupt..."
Frank spoke at a frenzied pace now and wouldn't allow questions. He laughed maniacally when I tried to speak and said "Look, this tour is a performance, don't interrupt. I guarantee your questions have been asked a thousand times and they will be answered all in good time". I'm not going to lie, there was something intimidating about Frank. Not threatening in any way, but I didn't want to distract him while he spoke for fear of getting him off his game.
In the meantime, Linda was sitting in the car waiting for me. The last she heard, I was taking a few photos in the sculpture garden and would be right back. That was twenty minutes ago! I managed to shoot her a text while Frank wasn't looking. "On a tour!" I quickly typed. I felt relieved that she at least knew I wasn't dead or kidnapped or attacked by scorpions.
The tour wound up and I was finally able to make my escape. Had I been there alone, I probably would have stayed to get some more photographs but with the high temperatures, I wanted to get back to Linda and move on. We'll be back in the area in at some point so I didn't feel like I was relinquishing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Honestly, the whole experience was unique, in the true sense of the word. I think that everyone who comes here will walk away with a different perception of the place. There is an associated Website for East Jesus and it's fascinating to read the mission statement. If you're interested, click on the link below: