Deep in the Californian desert, perched like a lost parrot on Mexico’s shoulder, sits Salvation Mountain.
This absurdly gorgeous spiritual monument was painstakingly moulded out of mud and paint by a beautiful man named Leonard Knight. He began his work in 1984 and finally finished in February this year, when he passed away at age 83. DSM just missed meeting him by a couple of months, when we made our way through prickly US border patrol officers, dilapedated shanty towns and hundreds of miles of desert highway to this magical place.
The desert brings out strange things in people. Something about being swallowed by the stillness, immersed in the lifeless desolate dust, seems to shift your perspective on things somehow. What it brought forth from Leonard Knight is one of the most amazing creations I’ve ever experienced.
“Imagine if Jesus became best friends with Dr. Seuss and they moved to a mountain in the desert together…”
With that gloriously intriguing destination in mind, the 200 miles of bleak highway seemed like nothing. As we zoomed southwards in the glare of the spring sunlight we were met by progressively tinier and tinier townships that lay sprawled by the roadside, like wild animals hit by cars and left to slowly decay. Before we hit the Mexican border we swerved off and wound our way slowly through a place where caravans and RV’s come to die. Dusty dogs and dustier children wandered the streets. 7ft high chain-link fences separated the shacks which were proudly emblazoned with confederate flags and the occasional swastika, the owners eyeballing our shiny hired 2014 Camry with distain. If anything, the ‘magical whimsy level’ dropped even further as we crossed some train tracks and headed out further west into the dirt… then out of nowhere… THIS:
Salvation Mountain, Colorado Desert, Southern California.
Leonard was a Christian man who had a very pure heart and simple message; God loves everyone. His method of delivering this message is one of the most unusual yet effective and beautiful ever produced. Simple and elaborate all at once, the site attracts people constantly all year round, especially since Leonard played himself in the film ‘Into the Wild‘. Even since his passing, everyone who steps foot on the yellow brick road that winds through the site still receive his heartfelt message loud and clear:
“Don’t get complicated with love. Lets keep it simple.”- Leonard Knight
Now that the creator of Salvation Mountain has gone to join his creator there were fears for the site, as it requires constant upkeep to keep it from succumbing to the harsh weather of the Colorado Desert. Luckily, since his passing there have been plenty of people willing to volunteer their time to maintain this remote piece of modern folk art. I met the current caretaker, a man named Kerry or Terry or something, as he was cleaning out his favourite paintbrush.
Nothing will ever be added to Leonard’s creation, but hopefully, with people like Kerryterry willing to come and maintain Salvation Mountain, thousands more people will be able to experience the surreal childlike wonder this place seems to evoke.