Catalina Cave

This one may be at the outer limits of altar-dom, depending on just how fluid you feel like being. I would've included it no matter what, but what really clinched it was the "inscription" (Can caves have inscriptions? Message, graffiti, art, etc.) inside the cave, which reads:

This itself is religious / It demarcates a sacred space

It's a note that's frustrating for a few reasons, the first of which is, don't pretentiously tell me via vandalism what is a sacred space. The second, keeping the first reason in mind, is that it's true. Caves have been sacred spaces since humans began to formulate both art and sacredness, which Werner Herzog can narrate to you in Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Not only that, but a major, major point of altars is the ability to demarcate sacred space as you choose, more or less where you choose, by the mere decision to arrange objects and text. 

This particular cave is in Two Harbors, on Catalina Island. Mom came to visit from Vermont, and treated us to a two-night stay. In the last hours before getting the ferry back to LA, we rock-scrambled just a teensy bit off the sandy beach in the harbor. The cave is small, with shells and rocks people have tucked into its walls' natural nooks and crannies, and someone lined its edge with rocks. 

High Desert (Rain) Edition

It's no surprise, but Joshua Tree and its surrounding area (Yucca Valley, Landers, Pioneertown) is replete with altars and altar-like installations, from Noah Purifoy's Outdoor Museum to the Joshua Tree Health Foods counter. 

This altar-like piece is against the wall inside (a detail of, if you will) Noah Purifoy's Carousel, one of over 20 assemblage sculpture installations in the Outdoor Desert Art Museum off of Blair Lane, in what feels like the absolute middle of nowhere. Lauren and I just barely got tickets for the day's last sound bath at the Integratron, and with two hours to romp around before vibration-bathing and a map graciously provided by an Integratron crew member, we went rumbling down the dirt roads to find Noah's museum, a High Desert Test Site.

While many of the constructions and pilings are arranged like altars or memorials, this particular section of Carousel stands out for its resemblance to early Christian altarpieces, and for the three small wooden crosses at the top. Crosses and groupings of crosses are found throughout the ODAM. 

Bottom left image from Noah Purifoy Foundation website, bottom right image from High Desert Test Site website. 


We passed this memorial to Dennis Ray Caton (1/29/1974 - 4/2/2010) on Border Ave between the ODAM and the Integratron. According to the Hi-Desert Star, Caton was killed in a motorcycle accident at this intersection. A handful of tiny motorcycles are at the base of the cross. I borrowed Lauren's phone to take pictures, which are oddly glowing, either because of her phone's temperament or the unusual misty, rainy weather, or a combination of both. 


This is the "multi-cultural" altar inside the Integratron, with a sign above it that reads: This "multicultural" altar is filled with sacred objects and mementos left behind by people who were deeply touched by their experience in the Integratron.


A small counter altar inside of a health and wellness store (mostly teas and tinctures) next door to Natural Sisters Cafe along the main drag in Joshua Tree.


This roadside memorial is off of Old Woman Springs Road between Joshua Tree and Landers. It marks the site where, according to the Hi-Desert Star, 11-year-old Jeffrey Matzek and his father Leslie Matzek were killed in a car crash in 2011.  

All the way from...

North Berkeley! The lovely Miss Bianca Hernandez sends this photo of a nicho offering with a mysterious tin-foil wrapped object.

Santa Barbara

Small memorial with Guadalupe candle lashed to tree, along the beach in Santa Barbara. 

Lost Surfers in Santa Cruz

Walking along West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz, this memorial honors surfers who have died riding local waves. It's near the famous spot Steamer Lane, and sits next to a stairway leading down to the ocean. Roadside America writes about the memorial here

Not (Exactly) an Altar, Not (Exactly) in LA

Salvation Mountain just outside of Niland, CA, is someplace I’ve been wanting to see for a long time. Leonard Knight was born in 1931 in Vermont, and dreamed of visiting California from childhood. In 1984, he settled in Niland and began to work on Salvation Mountain. The mountain in these photos is Leonard’s second mountain - his first was built from cement and sand, and collapsed. 

Knight’s primary construction materials are adobe and paint, and the next-door museum is made from hay bales, utility poles, and salvaged wood, among other things. Two small structures are adjoined to the mountain, between the mountain and the museum. These are modeled after Native American hogans. 

Leonard Knight is 81 years old and has been experiencing health problems for the last year, which have prohibited him from actively maintaining Salvation Mountain. The non-profit Salvation Mountain, Inc. has been set up to raise funds and volunteer-power to keep the mountain vibrant.