Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Holy Rollin': BOTS Invades Salvation Mountain

Salvation Mountain is Instagrammer's ecstasy.

A much-revered landmark for IG users, Salvation Mountain is a checklist destination perfectly prohibitive in its desert geography (close enough for social media sojourners to get there and back within a day, distant enough to give every picture pilgrim the appropriate amount of cool cred for making the otherwise desolate journey).  As evidenced by the thousands of carefully-filtered photos bearing the eponymous hashtag, Salvation Mountain is a place for disingenuous youth to affect the poses that have become so subconsciously familiar (those characterized by the subjects' well-studied stare as they regard the horizon with an expert combination of anguish and apathy).  A colorful, if slightly sun-blistered backdrop, Salvation Mountain's unqualified Judeo-Christian ethos can be tolerated in the name of post-ironic photo gathering.  A surefire "heart" magnet, Salvation Mountain elicits envy and scorn in equal measure.  In short, it is Instagram.  The veneer protecting my contempt for social media sociology may seem perilously thin, yet there we were excitedly making the trek to a destination every bit worthy of its celebrity.

Get a load of this!
Music and video by Mary

I refuse to insult anyone's intelligence by pretending that a profundity greater than the average mountain climber's motivated our visit.  Yes, the wacky tacky adventure team, in our quest to storm America's greatest trash castles, was there to document the divinely-inspired folk art of Leonard Knight...but not before procuring some ultra-hip photographic evidence of our own day trip.

Blazing our trail, we began to spitball a few ideas for heightening our experience at Salvation Mountain; as we flew past a discount store, I suggested that it might be fun to arrive in white sweatsuits and drugstore flip flops, giving the appearance of a cult pilgrimage.  Call it pretense, if you must, but I was looking for a way to add a layer of humor to our visit (after all, the ten sexiest Instagram poses lose something in translation when applied to a fat man on the cusp of middle age).  When the elusive white sweat suit became our proverbial white whale; we were forced to settle for the offerings of the paint aisle, leaving the hardware store in crisp, white coveralls and a trio of matching safety goggles.

Introducing BOTS (Brotherhood of Terrestrial Salvation)
Like a mess of meth-making Mike Teavees

Salvation Mountain is the lifework and ministry of Leonard Knight.  What started in the 1970s as a proselytizing mission via homemade hot air balloon (seriously) evolved into an '80s-era devotional of straw, clay, found objects, and countless coats of house paint.  It took two tries and many years for Knight to master his signature mountain-making technique; through it all, his faith, love, and generosity never wavered.  Expansion and maintenance of his passion project continued until his health began to fail in 2011.  In the years since his subsequent death, local volunteers have lovingly preserved Knight's masterpiece.

Love is all you need.  You may quote me.

This legacy of love is the true message of Salvation Mountain.  Christian and nonbeliever alike are reminded at every turn that the purpose of our existence is love.

Just in case anyone missed the literal writing on the wall,
these two BOTS brethren demonstrate how to get a heart on.

It was unclear whether other Knight devotees were feeling the love of the BOTS' presence.  Despite a woeful lack of purpose/planning on our part, many videos and photographs - surreptitious and otherwise - were taken as we silently marched our way up and over the mountain (with un-swinging arms for that authentic touch of cultish weirdness).

She's still wondering if the label on the coveralls was accurate - "One size saves all."

One confused Brit was brave enough to approach me and inquire after our presence; struggling for a clever response, I instead feigned a vow of silence, trying and failing to communicate with meaningless hand gestures.  When the BOTS did speak, it was a practice in improvisational call-and-response between Sister Siusiak's Polish and our semi-Slavic gibberish, punctuated liberally by the Polish slang for wiener.

Starting to question our own bizarre behavior, all we needed was to turn a corner for a loving affirmation.

Things reached a new pinnacle of strange when we formed a human triangle (facing inward with our hands on each other's shoulders) and began to vocalize in unison.  I'm willing to place a generous amount of accountability upon our choice of ensemble; with temperatures upwards of 110 degrees, the internal temperature of our space suits might very well have been delirium inducing.

You could say that we were getting carried away by the spirit of the Man Upstairs...

In the end, we couldn't decide if we were the lighthearted antidote to the hordes of picture pilgrims or ourselves symptomatic of the devolution of weird roadside in America.  As the conflict rages on, we are seriously considering making BOTS official.

We are mobilizing.

And Brother Cyrus says the reaping is nigh.

Resistance is futile.

If you don't want to get left behind, all you must do is "Jump in the Line."

"Jump in the Line" - Harry Belafonte (1961)
This video has been brought to you by Fartco, Inc.

Salvation Mountain
Beal Rd
Niland, CA

Cheers and Amen!

Mr. Tiny
(Brother Diminutata)


  1. I NEED TO GO ON SOME TRAVELS WITH YOU GUYS!! These photos are outta hand EPIC!!

  2. of course salvation has been on my must visit list for years. i love that you guys decided to pick up those outfits on the way and hopefully freak a lot of people out. brava.

    1. Hahaha!!! Thanks, Rae!!! It's definitely a worthwhile destination on your next trip out west!