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Salvation Mountain: A Special Road Trip

Written by Edith & Juan

If you’ve ever dreamed of stepping into a Dr. Seuss book or of having a Wizard of Oz moment,  head to Salvation Mountain.

This place is neat because the person who created it had special intentions.  Leonard Knight was the artist who painted this 3 story hill made of adobe clay, straw, and a lot of paint.  He wanted to get the message across that ‘God is Love.’

His passion for this message led him to write biblical scriptures, while creating a colorful mountain containing different meanings. We made the 1 1/2 hour road trip to Salvation Mountain on a weekend that we stayed in Palm Springs and it was quite special.

Salvation Mountain

Leonard Knight

To start off, it’s important to know the history and the man behind Salvation Mountain if you choose to visit.  (If you’re interested in the history, read on.  If not, skim through the pictures and find out how to get there at the end of this page.)

Summarizing the information on the Salvation Mountain website, you will learn that Leonard Knight was a man who served in the army.  After serving he visited his sister in San Diego from Vermont and found himself repeating the Sinner’s Prayer and accepting Jesus into his heart.  Going back to Vermont, Knight got an idea to create a hot air balloon displaying the words “God is Love.”  The idea came to life but unfortunately he was not successful in completing it.

In 1984, Knight moved to Quartzite, Arizona and found himself in the Niland/Slab City desert with his boss one day.  He moved there with his trailer and pursued the idea of the hot air balloon again, failing once more.  About to leave, Leonard Knight decided to stay one more week in which he found himself starting a small monument with a half bag of cement.  The days went by and they turned into years.  Pretty soon his small mountain turned into 50 feet and he painted the words “God is Love.”

Salvation Mountain

Never Give Up

The mountain was not stable and fell down because of the weak cement and sand.  Not giving up or getting discouraged, he decided to do it again but more wisely.  That’s when he started using adobe clay and straw to rebuild.  He also started using layers of paint to help it hold better and become stronger.  With time, people started showing up with gallons of paint as donation.

As his mountain became well-known, the San Diego county thought there would be problems with the religious monument and set forth to label the mountain a ‘toxic nightmare” and that it needed to be torn down.  Knight and his friends did not allow this by petitioning with signatures and having more samples of the soil checked for lead.  Turns out the soil did not contain unacceptable amounts of contaminants and the mountain stayed. I’m so glad about that!

Salvation Mountain

Continued Work

As time passed, Knight kept building and painting.  He created The Hogan, a 10 ft dome-shaped room which he was planning use to keep him cool from the extreme 115F + degree weather.  But he didn’t.  He continued to live in his truck.

He also created what’s know as The Museum, modeled after the hot air balloon idea. This is a structure with many dome rooms held together by tree branches, tires, and wood he gathered throughout the desert.

The Hogan at Salvation Mountain

The Hogan at Salvation Mountain

The Museum at Salvation Mountain

The Museum at Salvation Mountain

Salvation Mountain is Special

The philosophy of his creation is based around the Sinner’s Prayer and love.  You will see many Bible verses and words about love.

This place became so special that Seann Penn featured it in his movie, Into the Wild and the band Third Day featured a depiction of it on their album’s cover image.  Salvation Mountain was also featured in other movies, music videos, on National Geographic, and Leonard Knight even got his own documentary of it, Leonard Knight: A Man and his Mountain.

At age 82, Knight died in February 2014.  It is known that he used to give personal tours of Salvation Mountain to explain his work .  Unfortunately we didn’t get the pleasure of meeting him because we went a year after his death.  But to me, his work was special.  His story is special.  His message is special.  Talk about perseverance and love!

Last I read was that volunteers help maintain Salvation Mountain.  And though this place is free to visit, paint is accepted as donation to help maintain the mountain.  Sometimes you might even get a tour by one of the volunteers maintaining the places like my sister did during her visit a few months ago.

Salvation Mountain

Salvation Mountain

How to Respect During Your Visit

During our visit there, we saw a sign asking visitors to follow the yellow brick road (think Wizard of Oz).  Please follow the yellow road!  The volunteers are serious about this.  Some visitors chose to climb other areas of the mountains and the volunteers had to keep yelling from far away telling them to stay on the yellow brick road.  In front of the central heart, there is also a sign telling you not to climb.  So please don’t sit on the heart for your pictures.  Be respectful and treat this like any museum.  Because in the end, that’s what it is.  It’s a museum that took many years for Leonard Knight to build and his message of love needs to last long enough for others to see.

Follow the Yellow Road

Follow the Yellow Road

Salvation Mountain

Other Things To See:

Salvation Mountain

Salvation Mountain

How to get to Salvation Mountain:

The Salvation Mountain sits in Niland, Ca near Salton Sea and an hour and a half from Palm Springs.

From Los Angeles or Phoenix:

Coming from the Interstate 10, you will get on the 86S and drive 11 miles to Highway 195 (signs for 66th Ave E. or you will end of on the wrong side of Salton Sea like we did).  Continue 1/2 mile towards Highway 111S and drive about 42 miles to Niland.  Turn left on Main Street (turns into Beal Road) until you see the mountain in the middle of the desert.

From San Diego or Yuma

Take Interstate 8 to Highway 111 north. Niland is about 32 miles. Turn east on Main Street (turns into Beal Road) and go a little over 3 miles to Salvation Mountain.

Salvation Mountain

Salvation Mountain

This place was indeed special because it’s a reminder of God’s love.  Even if you are not a believer, this place is special because of Knights hard work and dedication to his art that became this beautiful and colorful mountain.  Have you ever gone to Salvation Mountain?  Did you enjoy it? Or meet Mr. Knight himself?

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About the author

Edith & Juan

From Arizona but temporarily based near California, Edith and her husband Juan created Life Beyond 520 to share inspiration from their local travels and adventures in California and beyond. Edith is the blogger behind these posts, but together they hope to inspire couples and others to get out there and explore new places, including their own city.

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