There’s some average Joe gag from decades ago about people being subjected to the movie reels or slide show from someone’s latest vacation. I always thought it was pretty cool, actually. Any time people go places is a good time, be they tourists or travelers.
I came back a few days ago from a trip that took me from Imperial Valley up to Death Valley. Naw, I won’t burden anyone with details of how great 117 degrees feels or how standing on a rock in the middle of Titus Canyon with no one within 25 miles feels incredibly liberating and alone.
I hit Salvation Mountain, a couple miles east of Niland, Calif., which is a hillside covered in a painted tribute to the faith of Leonard Knight. I visited the place in 1998 and talked with Knight for some time. I was just traveling then as now, no story or anything. Just wanted to get his deal. We talked about some hassles he was getting from some of the locals at Slab City, which begins about 100 yards south of Knight’s little compound, which is composed of a couple trailers and a lot of paint cans, along with the beaming hill.
Knight is now in a nursing home and he has a friend looking after the place. It’s still popular – the day I was there, at least a half dozen folks were poking around, climbing up the sides of the hill, checking out the art.
Slab City is just as compelling as Salvation Mountain. It’s a village of folks living off the grid in the middle of the desert. Some of them have solar panels now, which is a change from the last time I was there. There’s also a place for bands to play called the Range. It’s a stage with a little bar, and I’d say that any band wanting to shoot a cool-ass video and play for a crowd they would never encounter elsewhere, this would be the way to go. Haul the gear out there, bring some folks, stock the bar with $1 cans of beer, and have at it under the desert sky.
I spent the last couple days of my trip in LA, which is always fine and never long enough. Had much tequila and beer at El Coyote, where Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Foster and Wojciech Frykowski dined before the Manson clan visited their place up the hill.
Where Diane Linkletter took a dive
One thing I also had to do in LA is check out the building that Diane Linkletter was supposed to have taken a dive from under the influence of LSD in 1969. Imagine my disappointment when I found out the cause of death was a ruse by her dad, talk show/wholesome entertainment icon Art Linkletter, to push an anti-drug agenda. The guy had a few burdens and I dug him when I was little, at a time that some entertainment figures were still pretty pure. I’d say he was one of the good guys. And his daughter’s death came a couple months after the Manson slayings went down, so he was probably thinking he was doing some good by talking about acid being the cause and all. Still…I walked over to her apartments, Shoreham Towers, and grabbed a shot of the nameplate. For some reason, reading that she took a jump because she was depressed made me feel much worse than if it was just a lofty notion of flying on acid.
Steve Miller is an investigative reporter with over two decades of experience in daily newspaper, Web and magazine reporting and writing. Miller has done time as a court and cops beat reporter at the Dallas Morning News and as a national reporter for the Washington Times, and as a correspondent for national publications including People magazine, High Times, Boston Magazine, Miami New Times, Houston Press, The Daily Beast and U.S. News and World Report. In 2012, he was an Edgar award finalist for his book, Girl, Wanted: The Chase for Sarah Pender. He is a recipient of the digital investigative award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. Miller was also the former vocalist in the Midwest punk rock outfit the Fix in 1980-81.
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