Sunday, April 15, 2012

Salvation Mountain's Crumbling Future

I have spent a lot of time at the Salton Sea over the years. It's a bizarre area, which speaks to me on many levels. Weird, abandoned buildings, mudpots, crippling vagrants, terrible smells, temperatures that vary between absolutely perfect and full-on hellish...Burrowing Owls, Wood Storks, Yellow-footed Gulls, Black Terns....what's not to love? But starting in 2007, I did the unthinkable...I began making regular visits to a nonbirding spot.

Salvation Mountain is easily one of the strangest places in the country, featuring one of the largest and (of course) controversial pieces of art around. It is a monument to all that can happen when an eccentric spirit puts his mind to something, and for whatever reason never gives it up, even in the slightest. Unless you are someone who fears the weird things in life, you really owe it to yourself to pay a visit to the mountain. A few minutes east of Niland, it's a stone's throw from the Wister Unit.

For those who haven't been, Salvation Mountain is the work of Leonard Knight (left), who has spent much of his life painting the mountain in the name of God's Love. Yup, painting a mountain. As you know, I am a devout atheist, and I can tell you that this place can appeal to just about anyone. It's just so strange that it kind of transcends whatever weird notions people have about what happens after we die, who made the dinosaurs, etc. Leonard has always come across as a good guy and is never pushy about his faith (the mountain speaks for him), which is probably why no one has a bad word to say about him.

Salvation Mountain has essentially been crafted single-handedly by Leonard over the years with mud, straw, and paint, but now it's future is in doubt. Leonard is an old dude, and a few months ago was moved into an assisted-living home...I think it is safe to say that Salvation Mountain will no longer be added to, and it may not be long before the desert sand and wind (and the inevitable assholes with spraypaint) descend upon the mountain.

If you've been procrastinating about going here, now is the time to go. It's so close to so many good birding spots that you have no good excuse not to go if you're in the area. And for those of us who have had the pleasure of visiting this nonsensical place...well, then I probably don't need to convince you that it's worth seeing, at least for one last time.

Oh yeah, don't forget the Saturday Night "talent show" at nearby Slab City...bring a guitar and a flask, and you'll be set.

Leonard photo by Jim Tucker.

Another look at the main part of the mountain. This is the older part; there is a lot of mind-bending, psychedlic newer work just to the south.

Best sign in the world. I like how "love" is just kind of randomly fit in at the bottom.


  1. What a tribute to the works of this man. I can only appreciate his devout faith and the message he imparts. Pretty wierd, though! He may not be pushy verbally, but his art speaks volumes, and it is kind of 'in your face'. However, I'd never deny anyone their religious beliefs, regardless of the fact I do not share them.

  2. Yeah, it's very blunt. That was part of the weirdness at first, but now I think it's just part of the charm.

  3. Damn, you should steal that car. Leonard don't need it no more.

  4. Yes, such a cool weirdo place. I may have try and get down there this year now.