It’s not hard to find salvation at this folk art masterpiece near the Salton Sea.
Leonard Knight began building his mountain in 1985…
…and continued to work on it for the next 30 years.
The lean and sturdy New Englander had been a welder, handyman, guitar teacher, painter and body-and-fender man before moving out to Slab City in the early 1980’s.
He used adobe, straw and thousands of gallons of paint to personalize it with religious murals and technicolor Bible verses.
The site, which draws thousands of spectators every year, was Knight’s life project.
The mountain currently standing is actually the second one built on the site.
The first Salvation Mountain was incredibly unstable and after 4 years, collapsed into a heap of rubble.
In July, 1994, Imperial County hired a toxic waste specialist to test the soils around Salvation Mountain, with results showing high levels of lead toxicity.
Threatened with demolition Knight and his supporters gathered signatures for a second test to be done by an independent party of his choosing.
This test came back negative, supporting Knight’s claim that he used non-toxic paints and that there were no toxins in the soil.
In 2002, Senator Barbara Boxer entered Salvation Mountain into the Congressional Record as a national treasure.
It was also declared “a folk art site worthy of preservation and protection by The Folk Art Society of America.
Knight died in 2014 at a convalescent hospital in eastern San Diego County where he had been a resident for more than two years. He had suffered the ravages of diabetes, along with other ailments of old age. He was 82.
Concern has been raised for the future of the site, which requires constant maintenance due to the harsh surrounding environment.
Many visitors bring paint to donate to the project, and a group of volunteers has been working to protect and maintain the site.
A public charity, Salvation Mountain, Inc., was established in 2012 to support the project.
He may be gone but his spirit is still felt.