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Salvation Mountain

Leonard Knight was born in a small town just outside Burlington, Vermont. The son of a Farmer, Leonard was never comfortable around large groups of people. Even though his grade school only held a mere 80 students, his shy and recluse nature would get him teased by other children. Eventually, Leonard dropped out of High School and went to work in a factory close to home. At the age of 20, he was drafted into the United States Army to serve during the Korean War.

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Leonard’s skillset developed into a love of machinery and how things went together. After an Honorable Discharge from the Army in 1956, he returned home to work on repairing and painting cars. He admittedly was never very good at working on vehicles, so he turned to the arts. Teaching himself to play the guitar, he would later take on more students than he could handle.

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After his Father passed, Leonard found himself in San Diego visiting his sister Irene. She was a very religious person, he was not. One morning, for no reason that he could remember, he left his sisters house to sit in his van for a long period of time. Not knowing why at the time, he began repeating the Sinner’s Prayer – “Jesus, I’m a sinner, please come upon my body and into my heart.” It was at that moment, sitting in a van all by himself, that Leonard accepted Jesus into his heart. Since that day, his passion and dedication to spreading, “God is Love” has been unwavering.

Before I continue on with the story of how Salvation Mountain came to be, please park your religious views to the side. What this man did is out of Pure Love. Regardless of your beliefs or interpretation, we all need more Love in our lives. 

He later returned home in hopes of building his very own hot air balloon. He wanted to spread his love of God across the sky. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, months into years, dedicated to making this happen. Frustrated and out of money, Leonard moved to Quartzite, Arizona to again work on cars. Looking for a weekend getaway, he and his boss took a road trip the The Salton Sea. Leonard loved the area so much he packed up all of his belongings (including his balloon) and moved. He continued to work on his ballon but after 14 years and a serious lack of money, he failed.

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Salvation Mountain is Born

Looking for another way to spread Love, he purchased a bag of cement and started to build a monument. The monument continued to grow as neighbors donated junk and cement to his aid. After four years of hard work, the first Salvation Mountain would fall into a giant heap of sand and weak cement. As you’ve read, he wasn’t the kind of man to give up. Leonard took it as a sign from the Lord to build it bigger and much stronger for the world to see. He began learning how to build Adobe structures from clay and straw. These natural materials and over 100,000 gallons of donated paint are what make up the second Salvation Mountain as you see it today.

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Leonard and his mountain have appeared on several TV shows, websites, video games (GTA V) and even a couple movies. During the movie Into The Wild, Christopher McCandeless (Hirsch) and Tracy (Kristen Stewart) visit the mountain. Here is the link to the scene (skip to 1:02). Though Hirsch and Stewart are acting, Leonard was not. Every ounce of passion you see in his face and in his words in the movie are true. Although Leonard has recently passed, the caretakers have done a great job keeping the place in shape for visitors.

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Getting There

Salvation Mountain is located just outside Niland, California on the eastern side of The Salton Sea. Parking is FREE. Donations are welcomed. There is a gas station, Del Taco and even a Starbucks at the Mecca turnoff before heading into the desert. Fuel up and grab some food and water, this is your only chance. (There are some small stores near Bombay Beach but with no regular hours don’t take a chance) Leaving Mecca, you will head south along The Salton Sea into Slab City.

This truly is a desert oasis of love and color!

Slab City takes its name from the giant concrete slabs that remain from an abandoned World War II Marine barracks. Once a playground for wintering Snowbirds, most of the areas inhabitants are now campers and squatters. Graffiti is found on just about everything standing that will hold paint (hence the graffiti pictures below). If you’re looking to finish your day in the area, head on over to the west side of the sea to hit the OHV trails in Ocotillo Wells and stay at the Borrego Springs Resort (or local campgrounds)

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I had a wonderful time venturing out to see and learn all about Leonard’s mountain. I wish I could have me the man behind all the Love he shared. Though getting to the area seems desolate and I did use the word squatters, I felt perfectly safe in the area and even met a few of the locals who had nothing but smiles for me. If I wasn’t already in the area, I would have opted to visit during the cooler months and later in the day when the sun is falling on the face of the mountain.

Things To Note

– Roughly 3 hours from San Diego, 1.5 hours from Orange County
– Best to visit during Winter and Spring when it’s cooler
– Pack and dress appropriately for the desert climate (dry & hot)
– Figure half a day with travel time depending on your starting point
– Leave a donation if you can
– Do not leave trash, pack it in, pack it out please
– Keep in mind you are visiting an area people live in, be respectful

Grab some directions from Google Maps, and bookmark the location on Yelp here.

Have you been? Leave a comment below and let us know what you thought of the place!


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