Leonard Knight spent roughly three decades building this colorful mound in the Sonoran Desert as a way to share his devotion to peace, love, and a higher power. The result is Salvation Mountain: a five-story high, 150-foot-wide art project crowned by the words “God Is Love,” which is an exuberantly painted folk-art jumble of hearts, birds, flowers, and trees. It towers over the surrounding playa and the shimmering Salton Sea, which lies roughly seven miles to the west.
Knight used hay bales, adobe clay, donated paint, plus an assortment old tires, car windows, and other found objects to construct his mountain-shaped shrine. It’s a quick three-minute walk on a hand-painted yellow brick road to reach Salvation’s 50-foot summit, but why rush? Take time to explore Knight’s ingenious labyrinth of crannies and caves, complete with Technicolor biblical messages decorating the walls.
Knight’s homage to God sits at the entrance to Slab City, a 640-acre plot of concrete slabs left over from a World War II Marine base. For decades, year-round squatters and seasonal snowbirds have lived here rent-free on state-owned land, calling it “the last free place to live in America.” There’s no power grid, no sewer, no garbage pickup, and no building codes. Knight thought Slab City was an ideal spot to construct his mountain, so he moved onto the site and spent his days building, painting, and welcoming curious visitors. In 2007, he was featured in the film Into the Wild, based on the Jon Krakauer book of the same name, which brought even more pilgrims to Salvation Mountain.
Knight died in 2014 at age 82, but his mountain remains open daily from dawn until dusk. Volunteers live at the site and maintain the structure, which is crumbling from the desert heat and sun. Admission is free, but donated cans of paint are gratefully accepted.