Salvation Mountain

I blame our trip to Salvation Mountain on Covid.

Craving a bit of mountain scenery in the desert (I know, it’s a bit unrealistic), I purposefully chose Palm Springs as a stopping point since it boasted an amazing tramway ride into the San Jacinto Mountains. Unfortunately, the tramway schedule had been abbreviated due to the pandemic, resulting in it being closed on our full day in “Hollywood’s Desert Playground.”

Staying with the “mountain” theme, Plan B required a 75 mile drive south on Highway 111, a Border Patrol checkpoint on the way back, and a 6.5 mile cruise down a dirt road that peeled off what looked like a ghost town.

A moment or two after Kurt put the Jeep in park; the dust settled on what once was a World War II military base, and there it was, a multicolored vision that received 1000% approval from my inner child.

An uplifting larger than life mural in the desert, Salvation Mountain was a labor of love created by Leonard Knight. Born in 1931 in New Hampshire, Mr. Knight’s early adult life found him serving in the Army, painting cars in a body shop, and offering guitar lessons to children in the neighborhood. It seemed as if he had very little direction.

All of that changed in 1967, when, at the age of 35, he had an encounter with God while visiting his sister in California. Immediately, he began to tell everyone he knew, and some he didn’t, about God’s love and mercy. Going from church to church, this uneducated man’s simple message wasn’t well received.

Refusing to accept defeat, in 1970, he decided to build a hot air balloon, believing this a more effective means of communication. For fourteen years, he collected fabrics, and was even gifted an old sewing machine, stitching swatches together until the project became much too cumbersome for him to handle. Adding insult to injury, much of the earlier fabric became worn and the stitching began to fail.

Even though he finally decided to scrap the balloon, his drive and dedication were unstoppable, leading him in 1984 to an abandoned military base near Niland, California. After one failed attempt with concrete, he created an adobe plastered mountain, an expression of love for the one who loved him first.

In 1996, Knight stated, “I was just going to stay one week. It’s been a very good week.” With bright sunshine and blazing temperatures, the mountain colors were constantly fading, and thus, were in continual need of a fresh coat of paint. Furthermore, the word soon spread about this declaration of faith. Visitors came from many parts; Knight welcomed everyone, their questions, thoughts, and prayer petitions.

His health began to fade in 2010, and he was moved to a convalescent home in San Diego a year later. He died in 2014 at the age of 82, but his ministry is far from over. A non profit group, Salvation Mountain, Inc., maintains the property by hiring caretakers and providing supplies. We met the caretaker on site in 2021.

This Covid induced detour is one I will never forget. To learn more about Leonard Knight, I highly recommend watching the documentary Leonard Knight: A Man and His Mountain.


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