California has long since been known for its rich artistic culture. Usually depicted by films of Hollywood, artists from the streets and rich music the state has such an ample footprint that it is slightly surprising that many local residents weren't extremely familiar with one of the greatest labors of artist labor within the state. Salvation Mountain might be a little off the beaten path, just south of Joshua Tree National Park, but the drive itself is quickly forgotten upon arrival to the man made treasure.
It all began with a single man, expressing a labor of love after receiving a message from God. Now to those who are not religious, you shouldn't stop reading here because this is far larger than a take you will in Sunday School. What began as a a mission to share in a message became a labor of love with a message more should note.
His name was Leonard Knight and in 1967 he found the Lord and his profound mission of spreading the word that "God is Love" and "Love is Universal" He did not discriminate nor did he feel as though God could only be understood by a single type of people. He attempted to make this word his life's work, something to which he daily worked until his passing. His life is honored now with the continuation of his legacy in Niland, California.
It was not always a man with a mission to build a mountain however, it first began with an attempt to share his message with a hot air balloon. Over the span of some 14 years this mission dwindled, but never did his desire to share his message. He happened upon Niland’s now infamous Slab City. Noted as “the last free place in America” and his true life journey began as he began construction on an earthen mountain to be called, Salvation Mountain.
He was tested, much like we all are along the way, first by a collapse of his initial structure and then by the government in an attempt to shut down his work because of the land for which it rested. But time and time again he overcame the diversity and those from the nearby community rallied behind his work and his message.
He was recognized in his lifetime for the site by the State of California as well as numerous art societies, still they recollect the man never felt like his life’s work which had brought so many accolades was anything more than what he had been told to do. He remained a humble servant on a mission until his passing.
When we arrived, no amount of reading or any photos taken and seen could have prepared us for exactly what we saw in the midst of the heat and desolation. A mountain rising above everything, adorning every color of the rainbow and reflecting an ambiance so strong that it left you a little breathless. Turning down the graveled road, one can see the site from quite a distance and the closer it becomes the more surreal it is in actuality.
The project had expanded several stories, created by earthen walls constructed from those things found within the land as well as many times donated paints. Hay bales and adobe like mud were used throughout to create reinforced structure following the initial mountain crumbling below the weight of the structure previously. Trees built elaborate room structures as well as windows to almost create a stained glass effect.
Leonard had created rooms within his mountain, each more elaborate than the last and though he intended to eventually move into his structure he instead decided to reside on the premise in a truck. Now exploring those rooms, there is still a feeling of the love he had poured into each project.
Despite the clear message of the mountain, there isn’t a feeling of being preached to when there, instead there is a feeling of hope and love as the message sends a reminder that we are all blanketed in the message of loving one another.
It is said that while Leonard was living, he’d take time to talk to all those which came to the mountain to share in a piece of love he held in his heart with his mission. No single person was excluded, perhaps that is why to this day there is such a diverse group of visitors. Not a single language, not a single race, not a single religion, all are both present and welcome.
It is art, it is a message and it is a place of finding peace for so many. The feeling is overwhelming and it is like no other exhibit you will visit in California or anywhere else. It is a sentiment to commitment and also to the message but it is also bright beacon of hope as it opens the eyes to everyone that Love Is Universal.
There is no cost for admittance to this treasure, however if you would like they are always happy to accept donations to help with maintenance of not only cash but also paint and supplies. This legacy is one you will not want to miss if in California.
Distance to Nearby Cities or Attractions:
Los Angeles, CA: 187 Miles
San Diego, CA: 153 Miles
Joshua Tree National Park: 68 Miles
Yuma, AZ: 91 Miles