Far away in a secluded Southern California desert lies a miraculous display of psychedelic painted folk art displayed on a 150 feet wide and 50 feet tall mountain of trash. This interesting expression of art is known as Salvation Mountain. The visionary work of art was created by a local resident in the area of Imperial County named Leonard Knight. The man-made mountain is 28 years in the making.
It started as a small monument made of dirt and painted cement and throughout the years the art piece began to grow. Over time the creation began to incorporate adobe clay, straw, peripheral structures made of telephone poles, tires, and car windows, as well as art cars and sculptures, and gallons of latex paint.
The mountain made of what most would consider trash is painted in a patchwork of stripes and color blocks of whatever paint was donated that week. Throughout this colorful mountain are numerous murals with Christian sayings and biblical verses.
How Did It All Start?
After arriving in Niland, California, Knight believed God wanted him to spread a message of love throughout the hostile desert community. Leonard made several failed attempts to spread his message by painting “God Is Love” on a hot air balloon.
After accepting defeat he decided he would move out of town, but wanted to leave a statement to all his neighbors prior to his departure. He began constructing his project in 1984. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. Each day, Leonard would put a little more cement and a little more paint on the side of a forgotten riverbank.
Determined to Spread the Love
As his monument grew taller and taller, he would pack old junk he found at the dump onto the side of his “mountain,” fill it with sand and cover it with cement and paint. Cement was hard to come by, so he would mix a lot of sand into it. Leonard’s mountain soon grew to 50 feet and higher.
One day, after about four years of work, with the instability of all the sand undermining its structure, the mountain fell down into a heap of rubble. Instead of being discouraged, he vowed to start once again but this time he would build his mountain even stronger than the last.
Over the next several years he added adobe clay, straw and thick layers of paint to help keep the mountain together.People from all over the world would come to visit this work of art bringing donations of paint which he added to strengthen and beautify the mountain.
In 1998, inspired by the “pueblitos” (little villages) from the Navajo tribes living in the area around the mountain, Knight wanted to expand the mountain. He created a dome-like structure of adobe clay and straw which he originally intended to make his home. He instead decided to live in his truck, despite having no water or electricity.
A Popular Attraction
Although Leonard Knight passed away in 2014 his mountain still stands today. It continues to be a popular visitor attraction and is protected and maintained by friends of the artist.
It is estimated that over 100,00 gallons of paint have been liberally added to keep the mountain standing and protect it from the harsh desert elements.
Visitors were once encouraged to donate paint for Knight to add to the structure.
The paint was used to write Bible quotes, waterfalls, paint trees, flowers, suns, and various other decorations displayed on the colorful mountain. The brightly colored art piece stands out in the bland empty desert surroundings and to this day, the underlining theme of spreading love is felt everywhere as you explore the Mountain.