Salvation Mountain

March 1, 2015 at 11:10 am (California, fine art photography, Photography) (, , , , )

Salvation Mountain, Niland, CA

Salvation Mountain, Niland, CA

A psychedelic mountain rises from the desert on the east shore of California’s Salton Sea, a beacon to the lost and the joyous.  Vivid flowers and red hearts and lime green words abound.  One phrase repeats over and over again.  “God is Love.”


A steady stream of pilgrims pays homage to both the spirit and the art of its creator, Leonard Knight, who died a year ago at age 82. Renowned both for its evangelical religious message and for its kitschy folk art, Salvation Mountain has welcomed visitors for decades.  Built on land that used to be Camp Dunlap, a WWII Marine artillery training base, this monument is at the entrance to the infamous Slab City just east of downtown Niland.

Salvation Mountain overview

Salvation Mountain overview

Slab City, or just “the Slabs,” is a sort of squatter’s camp for various types of folks, all of whom live off the grid on whatever patch of land they claim for themselves.   Some are artists, such as the community living in what is called East Jesus, which is on the same road as West Satan and the Mike Bright Memorial Dumpster.  (Previous blog post.) The monikers might sound scary, and the look of the place won’t ease your mind.  But it’s a live-and-let-live kind of place.


Salvation Mountain, however, is a world unto itself.  An excellent example of Outsider Art, Knight’s creation amazes with its incongruous combination of complexity and simplicity.  What kind of man would continue a single-minded passion for so long?  What kind of creative spirit would choose the medium of straw bales, adobe, and discarded latex paint to amplify his central theme, “God is Love?”  Nearly everything that can possibly be painted, including old station wagons and trucks, has been intricately decorated – down to the nooks and crannies.  An hour isn’t long enough to really experience the artistic genius of Leonard Knight.  And it truly IS an experience.


Apparently his vision has great appeal to visitors of all spiritual persuasions, each of whom take away their own meaning – as they should with all great art.  It’s hard not to feel a little more compassionate, and a little more enlightened, when one is in the presence of such an unrestrained expression of joy.


Outsider Art refers to creative works of people outside the mainstream, who experience the world differently from most – such psychiatric patients, autistic savants, and social outsiders.  The art is spontaneous, untrained, and often complex, produced primarily to satisfy the artist rather than to exhibit.


No matter what your own spiritual beliefs, or your opinion of Knight’s sanity, a visit to Salvation Mountain is bound to inspire respect, and perhaps even fondness, for the artistic vision that came straight from his heart.























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  1. Pam Leonard said,

    Looks like a fun place to shoot, but my favorite is your “selfie” since we seldom see your face on the blog!

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