Reaching the end of California at the Salvation Mountain

Salvation Mountain: reached the end of California

Past the Salton Sea, in the Colorado Desert, by Slab City, you can find the so-called “Salvation Mountain”. To be exact, north of Calipatria, north-east of Niland, in the Imperial County.

Salvation Mountain is an artwork, which exists out of adobe, straw and thousands of gallons of lead-free paint. Leonarad King (1931-2014) build this mountain as appreciation of god and as a gift for the world with the message “God Is Love”. It is covered with various murals and areas painted with Christian sayings and Bible verses. Since Knight started forming the mountain in 1984, some old cars and trucks were added.

In 1998 Knight had the idea of expanding the mountain. He collected ideas of the Native Americans from the surroundings. This group of Native Americans is called the “Navajos”. They are known for their architecture. Their houses (pueblitos) inspired Knight and he started building the Hogan (pueblitos made out of wood, car parts and straw).

Knight wanted to live in his Hogan but he preferred to live in his 1930’s Chevrolet Truck without any running water or electricity. He was only reachable by mail. Since he decided to not live in his Hogan, he started calling it “the museum”. It is inspired by a hot-air balloon that Knight started building before the Salvation Mountain. His intention was to let all people know about his message that “god is love” which was written in red color on the white fabric of the hot-air balloon.

Many objects given to Knight by friends or visitors as symbolization of their tribute to god can be explored in the museum. Every object has its own meaning.

To really understand the artwork you just have to come here! The artificial mountain is 50ft (15m) high and 150ft (45m) wide. It is allowed to trespass the mountain on the yellow marked way. This way you can explore it in its fullest. You can walk all the way from the Sea of Galilee on the bottom to the big, red heart in the middle to the big cross on the top.

The present Salvation Mountain is not the first of its kind. Knight started building his first Salvation mountain in 1984. Unfortunately it was very unstable. When the first one eventually fell apart, Knight just got more motivated to build another mountain. He saw the collapse as a sign given by god that the first artwork was unsafe and has to be improved.

In the 90’s, the California government repeatedly tried to close the Salvation Mountain and Slab city because there were multiple concerns in matters of toxic ingredients of the paint. In July 1994, the Imperial County hired a hazardous waste expert to test the soil around the mountain. The results showed hints of poisoning. Knight and his advocates started collecting signatures for a second evaluation with a neutral expert. This time the results came back negative and supported Knights statement that he only used nontoxic paint.

In 2000 the Folk Art Society of America and the senator Barbara Boxer declared the Christian artwork as “a folk art site worthy of preservation and protection”.

When Leonard Knight died in 2014 in El Cajon there were many doubts about what would happen to his cultural good. Every since many visitors bring paint or some money as a donation. A small group of volunteers are still working on the mountain and try to preserve it as good as possible. In 2012 the public charity welfare group Salvation Mountain Inc. was founded and maintains the project.

Where Salvation Mountain can be found in media:

  • In the movie “Into the Wild” from 2007 where Christopher McCandless and Tracy go on a trip to the Salvation Mountain. They meet and talk to Leonard Knight and work on the mountain together.
  • In the documentation “Plagues & Manly Pleasures on the Salton Sea”, “Desertopia” and “Mountain”
  • On the back cover for the Kyuss album “And the Circus Leaves Town” an “Muchas Gracias: The Best of Kyuss” such as on the Switchfood album “Hello Hurricane”
  • In the Computer- and Consolgame “Grand Theft Auto V” where the mountain is transferred to the fictional town Sandy Shores. As well as in reality the trailer park (referred to Slab City) can be found in front of the work of art.
  • The music video of the Coldplay-Song “Birds” was filmed here

Salvation Mountain is open 365 days a years from sunrise to sunset. Next to the artwork is an old trailer where the volunteers are living in to watch that everyone follows the rules.

You can park on the “parking lot” in front of the mountain. Still, you should always keen an eye on your vehicle since this area is not the safest.

Even camping is allowed here. Slab City is a camping area which is for free. But you can also just stop anywhere around this area. You are literally in the middle of the desert and no one cares.  But as I said. BE CAREFUL! Speaking of being careful. Bring water. A lot of water. It is hot. Always.

603 Beal Rd, Niland, CA 92257

(760) 624-8754

You may also like