Avoid the tourist throngs and discover two desert oddities three hours east of San Diego, in Calipatria and Niland.
From a distance, the Mud Pots look like giant anthills, and the sulphur smell will knock your socks off. Just outside Calipatria, sitting on the San Andreas Fault, the Mud Pots are formed by underground water pushing up mud to the surface, to form what look like mini-volcanoes that hiss, gurgle and burp. Entertaining, to say the least.
Drive seven miles to Niland. Main Street leads to Slab City and Leonard Knight’s bizarre Salvation Mountain – a magical land of multicolored structures made from adobe, tires, branches, old paint and anything Leonard can get his hands on. The old gentleman has lived in the desert for many years, and loves to give visitors the royal tour.
Abandoned by the military in the 1960s and given to the California Teachers Association, the property pretty much belongs to everyone. Dotted around the mountain are various trucks and junk heaps that Leonard has transformed into a kind of religious folk art. Painted and stuck-on designs and Bible messages decorate the vehicles.
If you have spare cans of paint in your garage, bring them along — Salvation Mountain is a work in progress. In return, he’ll happily hand you a DVD or a jig-saw puzzle of his beloved home.