This week’s Secret of SoCal is Salvation Mountain.


Located in the Colorado Desert near Slab City, Salvation Mountain is the late Leonard Knight’s (1931-2014) tribute to God. As I drove up the dirt path, I immediately recognized the red heart and colorful flowers carefully painted on Knight’s creation. It was amazing to see how many visitors ventured to this seemingly desolate location in Imperial Valley, just to see this colorful, man-made mountain up close.


Leonard Knight themed the mountain around the Sinner’s Prayer, along with other Christian verses. Visitors are only permitted to walk along the yellow path due to structural and preservation precautions. As I climbed the yellow painted path that curved along the mountain, I noticed the intricate detail that derived from Knight’s vision, some hay, adobe, and over 100,000 gallons of lead-free paint.


The Salvation Mountain pictured above is not the first, but second, Salvation Mountain. The first was created in 1980 by Knight, and crumbled due to instability. The original mountain was made from materials found at a dump, sand, cement, and paint. Knight believed that the structural failure of his first mountain was God’s manner of suggesting the mountain wasn’t stable enough for visitors. Soon after the first Salvation Mountain caved in, construction of the second mountain began- Knight’s vision was relentless.


The afternoon I visited the mountain was extremely hot. For this reason, my favorite section of Salvation Mountain was the puebilto-inspired expansion directly adjacent to the mountain, the Hogan. Knight’s inspiration stemmed from the local Navajo’s architectural expertise. The Navajo use adobe and straw frequently in their architecture to help insulate heat- there was a noticeable difference in temperature when I walked from the unprotected area into the Hogan.


There were many concerns raised by the government and locals regarding the preservation of the mountain due to harsh weather and high traffic, especially after Knight went into assisted living in 2011 at the age of 80. While exploring the mountain, it was apparent that there were areas shut down due to need of renovations.


However, there was a volunteer at the site who mentioned that renovations occur frequently on the mountain and lead-free paint donations are always accepted. I highly recommend you take a trip to visit Salvation Mountain– it is a one of a kind experience! Check back later this week for another Secret of SoCal!

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