A few hours away from San Diego in Niland, Calif. 190 miles southeast of Los Angeles, in the lower desert of Southern California in Imperial County just east of the Salton Sea and about an hour and a half from Palm Springs, you will encounter Salvation Mountain. The artist, Leonard Knight, an Army veteran of the Korean War, discovered God in a life-altering experience in 1967 while visiting his sister in San Diego. He visited her often and decided to settle a few hours away in Niland in 1984 when he began painting the mountain with messages of devotion to God. “I painted the mountain because I love God and I love people,” Knight’s quoted as saying in the on-site description. The first message you read upon arrival is “God is Love”.
The colorful mountain also includes flowers, trees, waterfalls, suns and birds and is surrounded by cars that are also painted. The mountain is approximately 40 feet high and spans about 150 feet across, made of local adobe clay and mostly donated paint.
You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the two decades of dedication that Knight put into his art. He lived simply on a small Social Security check and slept in the back of his truck. Love is written everywhere and he believed that love expanded to everyone. He didn’t attend church because he believed you can love God from anywhere however, he always respected those that did.
In 2001, the Folk Art Society of America declared it a National Folk Art site worthy of protection and preservation. Knight died Feb. 10, 2014 at the age of 82. Dedicated volunteers currently preserve Salvation Mountain. http://www.salvationmountain.us
More Photos by Ana Pines