Happy Monday friends!
It is with much excitement I share with you my long-awaited pilgrimage to Salvation Mountain. You may recognize it from the film Into The Wild when Chris McCandless’ journey led him through Slab City just outside of Niland, California. The artist, Leonard Knight, appeared in the film as well, sharing his life’s message; God is love, Love is Universal, and keep it all simple. You don’t have to be the least bit religious to be overcome by the palpable love present and enamored by Leonard’s nearly 30 years of faithful dedication. It was Leonard’s belief that no one was outside of loves bounds and everyone was deserving of unconditioned kindness. In his own words “If you can’t give from you’re heart don’t give at all“.
A Little Backstory
Leonard came into his relationship with God and Jesus in his thirties. After discovering this connection he wanted to proclaim the simple message of his findings; God is Love. He attempted for years to build a hot air balloon with those very words visibly patched onto the hand sewn canvas. After 14 years of undying devotion to his ballon-in the making, which never made it off the ground, he decided to create a small monument where Salvation Mountain stands today. Leonard had landed in Niland, California and Slab City after ‘visiting’ with a friend in the mid 80’s, a visit that turned into nearly 3 decades of his life. While that small monument ended up growing over 50+ feet it also ended up collapsing due to foundational instability. After almost 4 years of constructing his first monument he resolved to start over building another, more structurally sound mountain.
A Labor Of Love
Leonard used clay sourced from the ground surrounding the mountain, straw bales, tree branches, local junk he collected, and paint, a lot of paint. An estimated 100,000+ gallons of it, much of which was donated. Following a decade of hard work Imperial County Supervisors nearly hauled Salvation Mountain off to the local dump after reporting high levels of lead and contamination which was soon after proven to be false and in 2002 the mountain received National Treasure status! County trash recognized national treasure. What an honor to Leonard’s message and labor of love. Since Leonard’s passing, a committee has been formed to preserve and protect Salvation Mountain, recruiting volunteers to live there. Volunteers, like Ron above, keep up with necessary restorations (like painting) and converse with visitors while keeping a watchful eye on the grounds. The volunteers mirror the mountain. Colorful, devoted, weathered, fascinating, captivating, and full of life is the feeling that emanated through them.
Tears filled my eyes as I stepped out of our truck into the dry, dusty heat of the California desert. It was in 2008 I became familiar with Salvation Mountain and Leonard Knight through the movie Into The Wild. It was merely days before I had left home as an eighteen year old girl in search of something else. And just weeks before I saw the film I happened to be in California and got my first and only tattoo which reads, Love. I resonated with the movie, Chris McCandless journey, and Leonard’s larger-than-life message. For all of my childhood and adolescence I was raised within the Catholic faith but in my search for self, which many would have labelled rebellion, I found a connection more real and tangible to me, one that didn’t need defining or structure or establishment. I was also deeply compelled to find and experience life outside of what was so often referred to as “The American Dream” but looked to me like a template of a prepackaged life and felt restricting, inauthentic, and lacking. So when I saw the feature in the film I wanted to go as soon as possible. 10 years later and I think I have been more impacted at 28 than I would have been at 18 for various reasons.
The colors are vibrant and pastel. Intense yet soft. Overwhelming but welcoming. The overflow and outpour of Leonard’s love can literally be felt by the spirit and seen with the eyes. And though bible verses are painted bold throughout -it is easy to unveil the ultimate message and Leonard’s intent which was not to covert one to any faith but to inspire faith amongst each other through compassion, kindness, and LOVE.
It is important to note that although Salvation Mountain has become well-known amongst travelers, it is home to others. Please respect it as you would want your most cherished and treasured belongings, home, or as you would a church, temple, or national forest. Be polite to the volunteers and follow their reasonable requests AND the yellow brick road! Also, be prepared for extreme temperatures. This is no joke and not to be taken lightly. We arrived in the morning (late April) and it was almost unbearable to stand anywhere in the sun and there is not much shade. Water, proper clothing, snacks, a good attitude, and more water are all necessities and it’s not a bad idea to fill your gas tank before you’re too far out either. Side note: we were 9 miles from Mexico at one point and did have to go through a border patrol checkpoint just something to know before you go. ((Paint donations are still happily accepted and encouraged))
Lessons from Leonard;
♥He did not get paid to do what he loved but the value of his life was worth so much more than any amount of money.
♥He did not seek personal recognition but became the face of the message not only because he was the creator but because he whole-heartedly lived the message he was sharing.
♥Follow your heart.
♥LOVE is colorful and boundless.
♥Dreams take a lot of hard work. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.
♥If at first you don’t succeed. Try, try again. Imagine if he gave up after his hot-air-balloon failed or his first mountain collapsed.
♥You are never to old and it’s never to late to create.
♥Keep it simple.
♥You are LOVED.
Leonard’s hands were an extension of his heart and his art an embodiment of love. At the end of Leonard’s life he said it was time to let the mountain do the talking, to let the mountain spread the message. I hear you, Leonard. I felt the message. The mountain is alive, well, and speaking. Love is the universal language.
“Hate is a losing proposition. It’s not as big as love. Total love is gonna come down, and I see it comin’. God, I see it comin’.” Leonard Knight
Are you familiar with Salvation Mountain? Have you been yourself? What are your feelings? Share with me below!
Thank you all for joining me here and until next time,