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Finding Inspiration at Salvation Mountain in Slab City, California

Should you ever find yourself on Highway 8, skirting the edges of California’s border with Mexico, I’d encourage you to take a diversion onto Highway 111 and then to Niland, California where you’ll find Salvation Mountain, a wondrous display of folk art rising out of the floor of the Sonoran Desert. 


I dare you not to be amazed by the mad art of a dedicated and driven man named Leonard Knight.  Although he passed away in 2014, his passion continues to inspire.  Leonard’s message is clear: “God is Love”.  Even as a non-religious person, it’s hard to argue with that.


A precariously-standing "museum" built of straw bales, mud, windows and trees. 

A precariously-standing “museum” built of straw bales, mud, windows and trees.


Leonard Knight worked on his creation with religious devotion for thirty years.  He lived on site, out of his truck, and without the basics or comforts of running water, electricity, heat or a phone.  Despite his meager income, many described him as a super happy guy with a passion for spreading the message that God loves us all.  Yes. All.


Salvation Mountain

Salvation Mountain in Niland, California


The mountain and attached uncompleted “museum” were built with tons of mud and cement adorned with trees from the surrounding desert, sticks, reclaimed auto parts, tires, and an estimated 200,000 gallons of donated paint (the painted areas have 10 – 15 coats of paint!).  And to think that this was the second mountain Leonard created — the first collapsed after years of work, but the tenacious Leonard started again.


Salvation Mountain


Unfortunately, due to the number of visitors and the harsh desert climate, this unique work is rapidly disintegrating with paint chips everywhere and exposed straw. Looking at pictures from the past I see how much has already disappeared under the footsteps of visitors. I suggest you get there fast and see it for yourself.  It’s such an unusual treasure in such an unlikely place.


Inside structure

Inside the museum structure


Salvation Mountain sits at the entrance to the infamous Slab City which purports itself to be the “last free place in America”.  On the land of a former World War II Marine barracks (the concrete slabs were all that was left behind after dismantling), the place is a mecca for eccentrics, retired folks, artists, musicians, and nomads who camp or squat for free.  Not an easy life though: there are no amenities — no water, no electricity, no toilets and no trash pickup.  Despite this, misfit Slab City residents have built a real community that includes churches, libraries, and nightclubs.


Short on time, I was sorry to miss the free tour offered at the city’s artist compound’s (called East Jesus).  A short drive into Slab City certainly piqued my curiosity enough to warrant a future visit.


Salvation Mountain


While in the area, don’t miss seeing eerie Bombay Beach on the banks of the Salton Sea (California’s largest lake and a wildlife refuge for hundreds of species of birds). Or make a stop in one of the many hot mineral springs (the Earth’s crust is particularly thin here).  And finally, to cap off your strange and wonderful day, don’t miss a visit to the International Banana Museum.


Salvation Mountain Photos & Video Below:

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