Located in the desert a few miles from the Mexican border (which we learned the hard way, see below), Salvation Mountain springs from the sandy landscape in a bright burst of whimsy. We decided to give up a day in Los Angeles in order to be able to drive through Joshua Tree National Park and make it to Salvation Mountain. It was indeed worth the trade off! In essence, this "mountain" was created from locally donated hay bales, locally harvested adobe clay, and gifted paint from enthusiasts. To understand why this is such a special place, not just for its artistic quality, take a look at these video portraits of the artist, Leonard Knight (you can view them here and here).
As I said, we learned the hard way that we were near the Mexican border. While we were driving down the two-lane road towards Niland, California, we passed a Border Patrol roadblock, which we would encounter on our way back to LA. As soon as we saw it, Felipe and I shared a brief (or not-so-brief) moment of panic because we realized that his passport was not in the car but three hours behind us in a Los Angeles hotel.
We approached the roadblock around dusk. Though I've had a large gun pointed in my general direction in other countries and not thought twice about it, it has never happened on my home turf. This experience coupled with the feisty canine eagerly sniffing each vehicle that passed definitely got our adrenaline pumping.
Of course, out of all of the cars slowly creeping through the checkpoint, we were the ones that got stopped. After staring at us for what felt like eternity, the border patrol guy asked some simple questions in a rather accusatory manner before asking if we were both citizens. Having played games enough to realize that my poker face is almost non-existent, I calmly stated that Felipe was a Brazilian citizen. At that point, the officer ceased the not-so-friendly chit chat and with furrowed brow, intently considered what to do with us after examining Felipe's Brazilian identification and promptly declaring "All that does is prove that you don't belong here". After minutes of deliberation, we left with a stern warning and a lesson learned to always carry your passport abroad. Meanwhile, I was immensely relieved to have avoided a nine hour round trip to retrieve the passport and return to the desert in the dark to bail Felipe out of border jail!