August 1, 2011

Salvation Mountain

While preparing for our June visit to the Salton Sea (see last post), I learned about a desert attraction that we just had to visit: Salvation Mountain, a three-story tribute to God near the tiny railroad junction town of Niland. Salvation Mountain is the creation of 79-year old Leonard Knight, who came to this place in 1984 and has been expressing his intense love for God ever since.

The theme of "love" is apparent up and down the mountain, from biblical scripture and the Sinner's Prayer to neon-colored flowers, waterfalls, and the Sea of Galilee at its base. A winding "yellow brick road" leads visitors to the summit, where they can stand beside a towering white cross and gaze across the Imperial County desert. Leonard himself still keeps regular hours at his masterwork to welcome guests and spread the word of God's love, although decades of toiling in a harsh environment are taking their toll on his stamina. But his passion and kind heart are still as vibrant as the colors that adorn his mountain.

(click photos to see full-size)

With plans to shoot trains along the Salton Sea in the late afternoon and evening, we settled for a midday visit. While the light wasn't ideal, we spent three wonderful hours touring the mountain and talking with Leonard and his friends who assist him with maintaining the adobe clay tower and keeping colors fresh . . . no small task, considering that summer temperatures can pass 120 degrees! Salvation Mountain was featured in Sean Penn's 2007 film Into the Wild, where Leonard appeared in a cameo role.

Leonard now lives in nearby Niland, but he can typically be found at the mountain during the midday hours (depending on heat severity). When we arrived on a 100-degree June day, he was being interviewed by a video crew but he quickly returned to his favorite role: happily welcoming visitors and answering questions. In the pictures above and below, Leonard is chatting with visitors from Switzerland; the lower image catches his trademark "thumbs up."

If you're touring the Salton Sea, Salvation Mountain is a must-see; it's located three miles east of Niland near Slab City. For more info, visit Below are a few assorted images from our visit.

Leonard's paint cans stand ready for touch-up work.

The winding "yellow brick road" that leads travelers to the summit.

 Viewed from inside the "museum," bluebirds soar across a skylight.

Trucks and other rainbow-colored vehicles add to the site's quirky character.

A final view of the Salvation Mountain mailbox. Thanks to Leonard and Daniel for their caring spirits!