Salvation Mountain, California

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.

Welcome to Salvation Mountain. ©Victoria Lise 2018.Painted vehicle at Salvation Mountain. ©Victoria Lise 2018.Sinners prayer mailbox. ©Victoria Lise 2018.

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.

Deserted at Salvation Mountain. ©Victoria Lise 2018.Volunteer, Ron, touches up paint at Salvation Mountain. ©Victoria Lise 2018.Vision and artwork by Leonard Knight. ©Victoria Lise 2018.

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.

Painted adobe at Salvation Mountain. ©Victoria Lise 2018.Cans of used donated paint. ©Victoria Lise 2018.Leonard Knights artwork. ©Victoria Lise 2018.

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.

Victoria Lise and dog, Styx in Salvation Mountain Museum.National Treasure, Salvation Mountain. ©Victoria Lise 2018.A Labor of Love, Salvation Mountain, California. ©Victoria Lise 2018.

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.

Victoria Lise with the Sea of Galilee, Salvation Mountain.God Is Love, Leonard Knight's Life message. ©Victoria Lise 2018.Inside Salvation Mountain's adobe like structure. ©Victoria Lise 2018

Be Courteous

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))

The Yellow Brick Road, Salvation Mountain. © Victoria Lise 2018.Salvation Mountain from the Top. ©Victoria Lise 2018.A Sea of Color, Salvation Mountain. ©Victoria Lise 2018.

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.

One mans 28 year mission, Salvation Mountain. ©Victoria Lise 2018.

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

Great video footage of Leonard can be found here, here, and here. Please do watch for yourself!

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, 

Happy Trails♥

Instagram | Bloglovin’


  1. Diane Marie Theaker

    Thank You Tori for sharing the info on Salvation Mt. and most importantly sharing and spreading the LOVE!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awh thank you so much for taking the time to read it and look at the photos! I am so appreciative! Xox


  2. Harry marc walls.. very nice work


  3. Harry marc walls.. very nice work

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so very much! I’m so appreciative of you taking the time to check it out!!


  4. Wow, looks very cool, I’d love to see it in person 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It really is incredible and so unique!! If you get the chance I definitely recommend checking it out. It’s sure to brighten ones day! Wishing you a great week

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is absolutely beautiful. I love that Leonard kept the message short and sweet Jesus loves you. Such a great example of following your heart and everything else will work out in the end.
    Keri Elaine

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Keri! It is an incredible piece of art and devotion and so beautiful in person! Truly an inspiration! Wishing you a wonderful day 💜


  6. “The overflow and outpour of Leonard’s LOVE can literally be felt by the SPIRIT and seen with the eyes.“ {underline😁} wow loved loved the way I vicariously traveled there through your own overflow of appreciation for LEONARD AND HIS LEGACY. I felt the HEAT OF HIS PASSION AND YOUR CHILD LIKE REVERENCE …and certainly the LOVE ❤️ The Pictures Are So Vivid and Alive. I love love knowing of all his failed attempts! So many Great Lessons in just one human being. Love Truly does conquer All and LOVE is another word for God…This was so beautiful and eloquent 💕💕💕

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow! Thank you so so very much!! I feel honored to have experienced it and in turn kindness + love like yours – a real domino effect!!! Love conquers all!! Yes!! That sums it up perfectly!! Thank you, thank you, thank you! LOVE YOU xo


  7. Debi Walls

    Amen Tori can’t wait to experience salvation my myself I wouldn’t have know about without you spreading the word god is love let’s all love one another ♥️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can wait for you to experience it either!! xoxox


  8. Hello-Cali

    Thanks for sharing your Salvation Mt. trip, I recently went there not too long ago. I had the urge to do a get away. I picked my daughter from school and just headed out in that direction. Really not kowing what we had in store for us. Its moments and lil adventures such as Salvation Mtn and the ppl who create such beautiful heart felt places with dedication that makes me enjoy life everyday. Lifes little tresures secrets.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my goodness thank you for recounting your adventure with your daughter to Salvation Mountain! That is so special and so spontaneous! I can only imagine what it would be like to see a place like that at a young age. I resonate 100% with what you wrote about lifes little treasures that invoke joy and gratitude daily. They make life worth living! I am so grateful for you taking the time to exchange your experience going to Salvation Mountain. These little convos make me enjoy life everyday! Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. […] For more wildlife click here | For more old buildings or Timeless Treasures as I call them click here and here […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.