Salvation Mountain and Slab City

written by:
April 20, 2011

One of the highlights of my trip down to Borrego Springs and the Anza Borrego desert, was a detour to Salvation Mountain. A kind of folk art monument to god, Salvation Mountain is just outside Niland, California, at the edge of Slab City. It's a massive earthwork project begun 25 years ago by Leonard Knight, a man intent on sharing his message with the world: God is Love. Now, Knight has built up a truly stunning mountain of adobe, discarded tires, and some 10,000 gallons of paint that spreads his profound faith. It was a solid drive through the desert and around the Salton Sea, but this will go down as one of the most astounding things I've seen in my time at Dwell. Check out the slideshow to be astounded.

  • 
  You just follow Beal Road out of Niland and eventually get to Salvation Mountain. I had a small fear that my friends and I would miss it, but this sign was pretty unmistakable.
    You just follow Beal Road out of Niland and eventually get to Salvation Mountain. I had a small fear that my friends and I would miss it, but this sign was pretty unmistakable.
  • 
  Here it is in all its glory. "God is Love" is the main text on the mountain, with loads and loads of Bible verses, religious exhortations, and pleas for salvation. The cross must be 25 feet high.
    Here it is in all its glory. "God is Love" is the main text on the mountain, with loads and loads of Bible verses, religious exhortations, and pleas for salvation. The cross must be 25 feet high.
  • 
  This is taken from another angle and really shows the degree of detail in the paint job. I'm still flabbergasted looking at the images now.
    This is taken from another angle and really shows the degree of detail in the paint job. I'm still flabbergasted looking at the images now.
  • 
  People are welcome to climb the mountain—those are my two travel companions—so long as they stay on the yellow brick road. This is the route we took to get up to the top.
    People are welcome to climb the mountain—those are my two travel companions—so long as they stay on the yellow brick road. This is the route we took to get up to the top.
  • 
  The large lot surrounding the mountain is littered with old cars and trucks and the stuff needed to make and maintain the mountain. Each has gotten the Salvation Mountain treatment of lots of paint and religious slogans. This is the truck where Leonard Knight sleeps. I think I saw him in there through the lattice. I didn't realize it was a bed for anyone when I first approached it.
    The large lot surrounding the mountain is littered with old cars and trucks and the stuff needed to make and maintain the mountain. Each has gotten the Salvation Mountain treatment of lots of paint and religious slogans. This is the truck where Leonard Knight sleeps. I think I saw him in there through the lattice. I didn't realize it was a bed for anyone when I first approached it.
  • 
  This tractor painted with the various books of the Bible was one of my favorite bits of the whole place. I liked that each book has an arrow pointing to the next one in sequential order. It's probably the coolest table of contents I've ever seen.
    This tractor painted with the various books of the Bible was one of my favorite bits of the whole place. I liked that each book has an arrow pointing to the next one in sequential order. It's probably the coolest table of contents I've ever seen.
  • 
  I suppose you can send Leonard a letter if you want to. Though according to the Salvation Mountain website you're better off sending notes or donations to:Kevin EubankP. O. Box 708Niland, California, U.S.A.92257-0708
    I suppose you can send Leonard a letter if you want to. Though according to the Salvation Mountain website you're better off sending notes or donations to:

    Kevin Eubank

    P. O. Box 708

    Niland, California, U.S.A.

    92257-0708

  • 
  Here's a look at another portion of Salvation Mountain next to the main mountain. It's a kind of warren of rooms and underground caves full of colors and strange objects.
    Here's a look at another portion of Salvation Mountain next to the main mountain. It's a kind of warren of rooms and underground caves full of colors and strange objects.
  • 
  Here's one of the rooms inside the "Museum." It's really colorful and covered in the same kind of Christian messages as the rest of the place. The group of trophies was surprising, however. Some of them are prizes from a local tomato competition.
    Here's one of the rooms inside the "Museum." It's really colorful and covered in the same kind of Christian messages as the rest of the place. The group of trophies was surprising, however. Some of them are prizes from a local tomato competition.
  • 
  Here's a closeup of the same room where you can see how the hay comes through the paint. I don't know if it's to intentionally show off the building material or if they just haven't gotten to paint that bit yet.
    Here's a closeup of the same room where you can see how the hay comes through the paint. I don't know if it's to intentionally show off the building material or if they just haven't gotten to paint that bit yet.
  • 
  The amount of paint needed to make this place is staggering. Here's just a glimpse of Knight's considerable stockpile of colors.
    The amount of paint needed to make this place is staggering. Here's just a glimpse of Knight's considerable stockpile of colors.
  • 
  Adjacent to the main structure of the mountain is this warren of branches that form some kind of technicolor aerie.
    Adjacent to the main structure of the mountain is this warren of branches that form some kind of technicolor aerie.
  • 
  Here's a look from the top of the mountain down onto the treehouse space that Leonard calls the "Museum." It is supposed to have domed spaces and a forest of "trees" made of tires and adobe.
    Here's a look from the top of the mountain down onto the treehouse space that Leonard calls the "Museum." It is supposed to have domed spaces and a forest of "trees" made of tires and adobe.
  • 
  Since Leonard was asleep, I talked for a while with this guy, Mike. He said that he'd been out at Salvation Mountain for a couple weeks helping out. He was high in the branches using the head of a push broom to dust the monument. Dusting seemed a thankless task in the desert, but Mike was really informative. He also noted that he's one of only a couple people who work around Salvation Mountian beyond Leonard, who is in poor health at 79.
    Since Leonard was asleep, I talked for a while with this guy, Mike. He said that he'd been out at Salvation Mountain for a couple weeks helping out. He was high in the branches using the head of a push broom to dust the monument. Dusting seemed a thankless task in the desert, but Mike was really informative. He also noted that he's one of only a couple people who work around Salvation Mountian beyond Leonard, who is in poor health at 79.
  • 
  Here's a good look at the pillars of adobe-filled tires that make up much of the vertical structure of the place. It's a pretty impressive bit of untrained building, and Mike told me that the paint acts both as a striking decorative element, but also seals the adobe from the rain. What little rain they get anyway.
    Here's a good look at the pillars of adobe-filled tires that make up much of the vertical structure of the place. It's a pretty impressive bit of untrained building, and Mike told me that the paint acts both as a striking decorative element, but also seals the adobe from the rain. What little rain they get anyway.
  • 
  This pastel room made of "trees" cobbled together from tires, beams, branches, and the like is still under construction. It also felt like I'd wandered into some Candyland version of the desert.
    This pastel room made of "trees" cobbled together from tires, beams, branches, and the like is still under construction. It also felt like I'd wandered into some Candyland version of the desert.
  • 
  This little plaque is embedded in one of the mountain's supports. I love how the only official documentation in the place is in such an unassuming place. It doesn't exactly scream God is Love, but it's nice to see some outside appreciation for what Knight has done.
    This little plaque is embedded in one of the mountain's supports. I love how the only official documentation in the place is in such an unassuming place. It doesn't exactly scream God is Love, but it's nice to see some outside appreciation for what Knight has done.
  • 
  At moments it feels as though Salvation Mountain was literally just painted onto the ground. And the amount of upkeep is pretty significant. According to Mike, Leonard is getting quite old and can't work the way he wants to on the mountain.
    At moments it feels as though Salvation Mountain was literally just painted onto the ground. And the amount of upkeep is pretty significant. According to Mike, Leonard is getting quite old and can't work the way he wants to on the mountain.
  • 
  I took this photo from the top of Salvation Mountain looking out over Slab City. It's all that's left of an old Marine training ground and is now occupied by folk in RVs, tents, and the like. At one point the state tried to evict the people living there as squatters with a bum rap about polluted soil in the area. Later tests revealed that as a sham and so the community (which can swell to some 2500, according to Mike) remains. It's eerie, though.
    I took this photo from the top of Salvation Mountain looking out over Slab City. It's all that's left of an old Marine training ground and is now occupied by folk in RVs, tents, and the like. At one point the state tried to evict the people living there as squatters with a bum rap about polluted soil in the area. Later tests revealed that as a sham and so the community (which can swell to some 2500, according to Mike) remains. It's eerie, though.
  • 
  I came across this welcome sign to Slab City. It wouldn't be so forbidding if it weren't in a big patch of desert on the side of the road.
    I came across this welcome sign to Slab City. It wouldn't be so forbidding if it weren't in a big patch of desert on the side of the road.
  • 
  Perhaps the oddest bit of our short time in Slab City was this purported "yard sale." Just tables and tables of dusty detritus with no one in sight. It made me imagine a wholly other economy exists there. And I suppose I wouldn't be too surprised if that's the case.Don't miss a word of Dwell! Download our  FREE app from iTunes, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter!
    Perhaps the oddest bit of our short time in Slab City was this purported "yard sale." Just tables and tables of dusty detritus with no one in sight. It made me imagine a wholly other economy exists there. And I suppose I wouldn't be too surprised if that's the case.

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