Salvation Mountain – Calipatria, California - Atlas Obscura

Salvation Mountain

A hand-built folk art installation covered with messages of God's love. 

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At 150 feet wide by 50 feet tall, Salvation Mountain is really more of a painted folk art mound. The faux mountain was created by Leonard Knight after a lengthy attempt to build a hot air balloon painted with the message of God’s love failed to launch. Knight believed that God wanted him to continue spreading a message of love in this hostile desert environment and began work on what would become known as Salvation Mountain.  

Constructed of hay bales, house paint, window putty, adobe, and anything else Knight could salvage, Salvation Mountain was crafted over decades as Knight lived out of his truck without electricity or water at its base. The current mountain is the second one built on the site. After four years of work, Knight’s first mountain, built with a giant pile of sand as its base, collapsed in a dirty heap of trash. Knight has been described as warm, dedicated, intelligent, and  completely aware of and proud of his personal eccentricity.

Visitors to the site were once encouraged to donate paint for Knight to use as he added to the structure. While visiting is still encouraged, paint donations are no longer accepted. It has been estimated that over the years Knight used over 100,000 gallons of paint, applying it liberally to help keep the mountain standing and to protect it from the desert elements. Knight used the paint to sculpt Bible scriptures, paint trees, flowers, suns, bluebirds, and many other colorful objects on his work.

Years ago, the local government, hoping to tear down the religious monument and collect payments from those making a home on nearby government-owned land, declared Salvation Mountain a “toxic nightmare” and threatened to bulldoze it. Fans of Knight’s work petitioned to have Salvation Mountain declared a work of religious art and made immune to destruction. A toxic waste specialist took samples of the dirt, and the resulting tests validated that the area around Salvation Mountain contained a high amount of lead, likely due to the donated paint that Knight used to coat his work.  

Leonard Knight passed away in 2014, and Salvation Mountain is now watched over by friends of the artist.

In 2002, Senator Barbara Boxer entered Salvation Mountain into the Congressional Record as a national treasure.

Know Before You Go

Salvation Mountain is located south of I-10, about five miles east of Hwy 111 at Niland, and approximately 90-minutes by car from Palm Springs.

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