California is full of surprises, and its deserts are no exception. These arid and unforgiving landscapes have some of the most impressive and interesting hidden treasures one could find. Man-made or not, the courage and the tenacity of some of the people who made these possible for us to discover and admire proves that life always finds its place even in the most harshest environments.
Whether you’re a local or a visitor, consider visiting these five unusual places in the Golden State.
This vast body of water in the Colorado Desert is 35 miles long and 15 miles wide and the largest body of water in California created by the Colorado River. Although it has long lost its status as one of the best recreational areas in Southern California in the 1960s, it continues to be home to one of the largest varieties of birds in North America. With 400 species and sub-species, including brown pelicans, egrets, and cormorants, they all depend on the health of the water and a constant population of fish.
The area around Salton Sea exudes an eerie and seemingly haunted atmosphere, where rusted cars, homes, buildings, boats, and other items once used for recreational purposes have succumb to the strains of the desert sun. The beaches are full of fish skeletons and scattered bones which crunch under foot. So, don’t take your shoes off while walking along the shore unless you want to have these pierce the soles of your feet. The water appears murky, and a foul odor wafts in the wind. Surprisingly, you may spot a few boats and even snorkelers bobbing on the water’s surface.
Read our full story about Salton Sea
Leonard Knight from Burlington, Vermont, was the creator of the massive and impressive artwork at Salvation Mountain in the Sonoran Desert. He was a lover of Jesus, and his faith was so strong that he dedicated Salvation Mountain to Him. Even though Knight had a rough start, he never gave up building his artwork and keeping his faith. You also can see the truck he used to live in while building his masterpiece. His devotion and determination to Jesus is something no one can deny while visiting.
This remarkable mountain is filled with colorful artwork, sculptures, tunnels, and paths that lead to the top. Yet, there’s so much discover when you arrive.
Read our full story about Salvation Mountain here.
East Jesus & Slab City
Charles Russell is the man behind the East Jesus artwork in the Colorado Desert. He left his desk job in 2007 and moved to Slab City, noted as the last free place on earth. While visiting, you may seem a little uncomfortable with the people who live in the area, but that’s okay. They’re weird and chose to live in a hot desert environment without any amenities.
One may call this trash art, but there are so many things to see and admire. We were impressed by the art and its significance. The Elephant, the Robot Man, among others, show how talented and creative these artists are. When you visit, make sure to take the informative tour, and leave a tip to show your gratitude. There are no facilities for visitors, so don’t try to do anything that could get you into trouble.
Read our full story about East Jesus here
Desert Christ Park
Located in Yucca Valley near Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert, the founding of Desert Christ Park is the work of Reverend Eddie Garver, whose vision was to establish a Christian-themed park as a light for world peace, and Frank Martin, whose original dream was to place a 10-foot statue of Christ at the Grand Canyon. Upon hearing the news of Arizona’s rejection to allow a place for the statue, Garver offered Martin a sport for his statue on his property in 1951. Today’s park contains many statues of Jesus and his disciples, some of which are in bad condition while others are well preserved. The admission is free of charge and big enough to spend a few hours studying and admiring all its artwork. There’s also a chapel on site for meditation.
Read our full story about Desert Christ Park here.
Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum
Born in Alabama, Noah Purifoy graduated from the Los Angeles Art Institute in 1956 and became a visual artist. He’s best known for his assemble of sculptures from charred debris and wreckage collected after the Watts Riots in 1965. In the late 1980s, he moved to the Mojave Desert and started a project called the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Museum on 10 acres of open land in Joshua Tree. He created small and large-scale sculptures and other artwork until he died in 2004.
This is a very impressive outdoor museum with different types of art created with scrap metal, wood, toilets, metal, wires, kitchenware, and other building materials. Remarkable pieces include the White House, the House of Toilets, the Tilted House, the Hover Train, and the Smoker’s Hut. If you visit, be sure to make a reservation by calling ahead, and keep in mind that you need permission from the person who runs the foundation. This outdoor museum will impress visitors in every way possible, and it’s up to you to enjoy and interpret the artwork the way you see it.
Read our full story about Noah Purifoy here.
Other interesting places to discover in the deserts of Southern California include Cabazon Dinosaurs, Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch, The International Banana Museum, Bodie Ghost Town, and Anza Borrego Desert Sculpture Garden.
California is as diverse as the people who call it home. So, the next time you visit the Golden State, or if you plan to explore your own backyard as a local, take the off-the-beaten path to discover these hidden gems of California’s deserts.