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Saving Salvation Mountain

Updated on September 12, 2016

Spreading the Love

Leonard Knight has spent the last few decades of his life laboring to share with the world one solitary message that "God is Love."

A few miles from the Salton Sea, Leonard has one layer at a time, built a mountain out of desert junk and 100,000 gallons of paint. With no apparent master plan, he began painting, and for thirty years just kept going. He is a man on a mission to share with the world, the greatest love it has ever seen. Like a modern day John the Baptist with a paint brush, Leonard, and his artwork proclaim God's love and man's need for repentance to all who will stop to marvel at his mountain. Embedded into the mountain are giant inscriptions of the Sinner's Prayer and John 3:16.

Salvation Mountain is not only one of the greatest pieces of folk art ever created, but is a testament to our freedom of Speech and Religion here in the United States.

A view from the top of the mountain, down the River of Life
A view from the top of the mountain, down the River of Life | Source
In a dry and weary desert, a beacon of color, love, and imagination greet travelers and pilgrims
In a dry and weary desert, a beacon of color, love, and imagination greet travelers and pilgrims | Source
The grotto.  Made of paint, adobe, tires, and telephone poles.
The grotto. Made of paint, adobe, tires, and telephone poles. | Source

Saving Salvation Mountain

Recently, Leonard has moved from his mountain to a nursing home in San Diego and can no longer look after his masterpiece. There is no one to add layers of paint to strengthen the mountain, no one to make sure vandals don't ruin it, and no one to make sure the government doesn't take back its land.

One of the most pressing issues is that Leonard is a squatter and does not own the land his mountain is sitting on. It is next door to Slab City, an abandoned military base, full of winter snow birds, grown hippies, and other free spirits. Should the government decide that the mountain is unsafe for the public or just wanted to clean house, the mountain has the grim possibility of being demolished.

Supporters of Salvation Mountain have been trying to gain government protection by attempting to turn it into a National Monument or Historical Site. However, once the government becomes involved, red tape may keep people from enjoying the mountain with the same freedom they have previously enjoyed.

One of the issues is that the mountain isn't structurally sound, in fact, it has fallen once and had to be rebuilt. For it to be government owned and run, health codes, building codes, and wheelchair access would all have to be addressed.

Since every layer of paint strengthens the mountain, what happens when a decade goes by without anyone to paint and upkeep it. Would it be wrong to have others continue painting it? Salvation Mountain is an ever morphing piece of art, with no two visits being the same.

According to posts on various social sites, Salvation Mountain is already beginning to show signs of degradation. With the cards stacked against it, time may be running out for your chance to experience the mountain in all of its majesty and beauty.

Salvation Mountain Scene from Into the Wild

My Own Pilgrimage

I first discovered Salvation Mountain from watching Into the Wild, a film with a profound impact on my personal ideologies. I convinced my brother to go explore the ghost towns around the Salton Sea and visit Salvation Mountain. In the film, two of the characters go on a date to Salvation Mountain and receive a personal tour of it from Leonard himself.

Arriving at the mountain was very impressive. It is several stories tall and looks like a giant Candyland board in the middle of a flat and isolated desert. What I didn't expect was a personal tour from Leonard Knight. I recognized him from the movie, went over to greet him, and was treated like a welcomed guest to his home. For the next half-hour, we toured his property, talking about how he constructed his various structures, his plans for expansion and his passion for his work.

I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity to meet Leonard while he was still living on the property, and immensely lucky to have been given a personal tour.

"The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever." Isaiah 40:8 (ESV)

Even if the desert takes back Leonard's mountain, it can never take its message.


February 2014: A Sad Update

On February 10th, 2014 Leonard Knight passed away. Here is a touching account of his final days.

"About three weeks ago, I was indulging in my favorite hobby of telling Leonard what was going on at his mountain. We now have two couples living there and working together as caretakers/docents/security etc. etc. This, plus the efforts of the monthly work parties, the Mountain is looking great! It is also receiving more media attention. Leonard stopped me and said it looks like all his dreams are coming true. Even more than he dared hope for! He said this with a smile on his lips but his eyes were sad. I have certainly seen Leonard fatigued or sick in the past few years, but I had not seen sad acceptance and resignation before. This haunted me. This past December and January has been challenging for him health wise. This, coupled with the realization that his eyesight, hearing and ability to walk with the prosthetic leg are not improving, has led him to see that he'll not be returning to his beloved mountain. A week later he told me that there just isn't anything he could do here anymore to help the mountain or the message. Maybe, he said, I can do something from the other side." -Dan Westfall, Salvation Mountain Facebook Page

Visit Salvation Mountain

Salvation Mountain:
Salvation Mountain, Niland, CA 92257, USA

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    • Availiasvision profile imageAUTHOR

      Jennifer Arnett 

      6 years ago from California

      That rumor is false. On Salvation Mountain's Facebook page there are frequent updates for Leonard's health. Just a few days ago they posted his address so that people can send him letters. He is in a nursing home in San Diego. The Mountain is showing signs of wear and tear because it's not being kept up. He hasn't lived near the Slabs for at least a year and a half. It looks like they have elected a guy named Mike to oversee the Mountain for the summer months. Every once in a while Leonard visits the mountain.

    • novascotiamiss profile image


      6 years ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

      I heard through a friend who spends the winters down by the Salton Sea that Leonard passed away, already last year. Apparently somebody is looking after Salvation Mountain and has already done extensive renovations. So even though the creator may have died, Salvation Mountain will definitely live on.

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 

      6 years ago from USA

      My husband and I visited Salvation Mountain a few years ago, just before Leonard developed health problems. We were fortunate enough to meet him and get a personal tour of the mountain and his museum. What a fantastic collection of folk art by a very talented and fascinating artist! Nice article! I've also written about Slab City and Salvation Mountain...what a unique place! I have heard that there is a non-profit group seeing to protecting and maintaining Salvation Mountain and that Leonard's health has improved somewhat. I hope that's true.

    • Availiasvision profile imageAUTHOR

      Jennifer Arnett 

      6 years ago from California

      I'm glad that you got to see the mountain in all its glory. I hope people take the opportunity to see it while it's still here. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • novascotiamiss profile image


      6 years ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

      What a wonderful article. We've visited the area a few times and are so sorry to hear that Leonard had to move to a nursing home. We all get older and like Leonard, Salvation Mountain will one day crumble and return to earth. Hopefully this unique piece of art will still be around for a few years to be appreciated by visitors from all over the world.


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