Leonard Knight’s Salvation Mountain

Leonard Knight | 1931- | Niland, CA
Spiritual environment – masterpiece | Created in the mid 1980s to present

All Leonard Knight wants you to know is that “God is Love.”

We arrived in Calpatria the night before and checked in to our motel. It was surprisingly full, with folks working late into the evening, with some of the rooms converted into offices. I soon found out that the film crew for Sean Penn’s “Into the Wild” were there preparing for the next day’s shoot at Salvation Mountain as well. They were filming in the afternoon, so we made plans to be there in the morning.

Rumor has it that Leonard appreciates paint to be brought to him, so a quick stop in the local True Value secure the last 3 gallons of mis-matched paint and one special mix of red…just because.

I have heard about this place for years, but nothing prepared me for this day.

Leonard lets his mountain do the preaching. Years ago, his sister took him to church and he didn’t like it, so he left and decided to pray on his own: “Jesus, I am a sinner. Please come upon my body and into my heart.” And his life changed for the better. In the early 1980s, Leonard decided to sew the words, “God is Love” on a hot air balloon more than 100 feet high. In 1986, he drove to the Mojave Desert to test it. It failed. Leonard stayed anyway, living a simple life out of his truck without electricity or running water, and he began to build another monument to God on the desert ridge.

Originally, the mountain was built on the side of a ridge with concrete waterfalls and fields of flowers. Four years into building, the weight proved to be too much and it collapsed. Undaunted, Leonard thanked the Lord for showing him that it wasn’t safe and started to rebuild, this time using his own mixture of straw, mud, water and paint to create a lighter adobe to sculpt with. Over 100,000 gallons of donated paint later, Salvation Mountain and Leonard’s message of God’s love for all is visible from airplanes and satellites. In 1994, local officials decided that with all that paint, Salvation Mountain must be a toxic waste site, and wanted to tear it down. Luckily, friends and admirers of Leonard’s were able to disprove that notion and the mountain was save.

On this day, despite his desire to “save his voice” for the movie, he took us on a personal tour, climbing the mountain like a nimble teenager. Atop his creation, he talked (ok, preached a little) of love, his love for Jesus, love of God, love for creating. He told of the “arguments” he would get into with the Lord, when hard times fell on the mountain, and laugh about how the Lord was always right, and all was right with his love. After cleaning up in a local hot spring, Leonard joined us in town for lunch, sharing a pineapple and canadian bacon pizza, then headed back to his mountain to meet up with the “Into the Wild” crew, excited by the notion that the word of God’s love was going to be seen now throughout the world (oh, and on local pbs stations…)

Leonard Knight is Love.