Salvation Mountain: California’s Holy Outsider Monument

Outsider artist Leonard Knight’s vision began with a hot air balloon in the 1970’s. Knight dreamed of painting “GOD IS LOVE” on a balloon that he would release into the heavens. Unfortunately, Knight was never able to construct a hot air balloon that was fit to take flight. Leonard Knight eventually migrated to an artist’s colony in the California desert called Slab City. Knight’s creative fervor soon found a new medium. The first incarnation of Salvation Mountain would soon be realized.

Salvation Mountain is a towering work of folk art adorned with messages of unconditional love constructed out of adobe, hay, and thousands of gallons of donated paint. Much like his previous attempt at building a workable hot air balloon, Leonard’s first attempt at constructing Salvation Mountain wasn’t successful. Salvation Mountain initially collapsed because it was constructed out of flimsy materials. Leonard Knight was undeterred by his first string of artistic failures. Knight believed that God called him to live in a harsh desert climate so that he could show the world that love and acceptance could thrive anywhere. Knight believed that his message of universal love could penetrate even the hardest heart.

The second incarnation of Salvation Mountain—which still stands today—features colorful renderings of Bible verses, the American flag, a red heart, and an austere cross. Leonard Knight created Salvation Mountain as a monument to God’s unconditional love for all of humanity—even the most flawed among us. The communities surrounding Slab City and the nearby Salton Sea (a lake sustained by toxic farm runoff that is considered an ecological disaster) are home to many misfits and drifters. Like Leonard Knight, many who live in the shadow of Salvation Mountain have good hearts—but never quite found their place in mainstream American society.

salvation mountain

salvation mountain truck

Salvation mountain

Prior to developing dementia in 2011, Leonard Knight offered personal tours of Salvation Mountain to any curious visitor who may be passing through. Knight was famous for his warmth, intelligence, and hospitality, In the wake of Knight’s 2014 death—members of a public charity called Salvation Mountain, Inc. stepped forward to protect and maintain Salvation Mountain. Witnessing a monument to love, acceptance, and kindness in a dusty corner of the California desert is a truly heartwarming sight. Leonard Knight’s man-made homage to the goodness of the human spirit and the power of divine love will inspire visitors from the four corners of the Earth as long as it stands.

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