Salvation Mountain on the Salton Sea

Our second day in Joshua Tree involved a day trip to Salvation Mountain. Salvation Mountain is an outsider work of art created over the past several decades by Leonard Knight. It’s existed is several different incarnations and the structure itself is always changing. Located in Niland, California on the Salton Sea, this is simply a destination that must not be missed. At one point, Knight estimated that he has used over 10,000 gallons of paint on the structure to keep the stucco, straw and cement protected from harsh desert conditions. Recently, Knight was taken to an assisted care living facility and the future of Salvation Mountain was in question. Once there, I talked with the new caretaker who informed me that there is now a group of people actively dedicated to keeping Knight’s vision of Salvation Mountain alive.

Salvation Mountain is located outside of Niland proper, down a long dirt road leading to a seemingly post-apocalyptic community living off the grid in a caravan of mobile homes, trailers and tents. It looked like something out of Mad Max. The ground is dusty and dry- plumes of red, fine earthen powder lift lazily into the air with every footstep. A man wearing a loin cloth rode a donkey along the road, his skin and taut tanned like leather. Upon entering the compound, a hand painted sign said simply “Welcome. Leaving Reality.”

Leaving the campground in the early morning. Lucas did not have an enjoyable camping experience.

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This was my first look at the mountain. The sun was high overhead making the colors pop from the brown landscape.

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Off to the side of the mountain is a more recent addition made by Leonard Knight– a stucco maze using uprooted painted trees containing secret interactive shrine rooms.

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Travelers leave all sorts of offerings, from personal photographs to drivers licenses, flowers, drawings and letters. They’re addressed to God, mostly.

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Following the yellow brick road, visitors are invited to climb the mountain all the way to the top, next to the cross, and survey the land below.

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Salvation Mountain is truly a religious experience. If I ever have the opportunity to visit again, I hope to camp and spend the night beside the mountain and feel the magic that much more deeply. Leaving the compound, on the back of the welcome sign encountered earlier, was another, more cryptic message: “Warning. Entering Reality.”

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