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Message on a Mountain

Music Video / Film

Posted by Helen Driver, 27 March 2008, 18:32    Permalink    Comments (6)

Salvation Mountain
Leonard Knight's understated creation, Salvation Mountain. Photo: Rosa Weber

Situated in the desert by the Salton Sea in Niland, California, Leonard Knight's man-made mountain of hay and desert clay provides a three-dimensional canvas for Knight to paint his messages of life, love, God and Jesus. Salvation Mountain is an oasis of biblical scriptures come to life in a monumental folk art creation that, since 1967, has been attracting visitors from far and wide.

Salvation Mountain detail 1
Detail of Salvation Mountain. Photo: Rosa Weber (can you spot her friend?)

In the late 60s, Knight, a then unbeliever, prayed for Jesus to enter his life. One day he began to utter "Jesus, I'm a sinner. Please come into my heart" and after praying for enlightenment, it finally came and changed him. Knight decided to spread his new-found message in a hot air balloon with “God is Love” emblazoned on the side.

Unfortunately, the hot air balloon crashed in the desert, but Knight, seeing this as an act of God, decided to transfer the same message from his balloon to the desert itself. Forty-one years on, his message has evolved into an expanding Eden-like world, celebrating life, love and worship. He brings waterfalls, flowers, trees, bluebirds and colour to what would otherwise be a barren and bleak land; a colorful swatch on the map.

Salvation Mountain detail 2
Detail of Salvation Mountain. Photo: Rosa Weber

In a sense, what Knight has created is a kind of interactive Mountain, a piece of artwork that you can touch and walk on, that changes depending on perspective. Knight is the founder, resident, artist and tour guide, happy to show people around, only accepting paint as a donation to help him continue building his empire.

He has left his world open for people to observe and participate – "I like to give postcards, and I don't want to insult anybody," he says. "If I insult anybody, it's when I'm shaving in the morning!" For Knight, the ethos of giving is the driving force behind the project.

paint and structure
Knight's paint palette. Photo: Rosa Weber

"It's amazing that one man created this mountain in the middle of the bleak desert; it seems like the work of many," writes Rosa Weber, who recently visited Knight's temple. "The mountain is the only reason why one would go to Niland and he gets hundreds of visitors every week. He's the nicest guy, greeting us with hands covered in paint."

interior shrine rosie
One of the Salvation Mountain shrines. Photo: Rosa Weber

Knight says that despite the fallout from the Iraq war still rippling through the US and the country's economic problems, he feels free and liberated, embracing the United States as a wonderful nation. "I have no rules whatsoever, and they're lettin' me do my thing. Beautiful! Freedom! And in the United States of America we can do that. God, I love the United States!"

However, on the flipside of Knight's unflinching optimism lie the county supervisors that once labeled Salvation Mountain a “toxic nightmare” and tried to bulldoze it down. They were met with opposition from supporters of the site and, indeed, Knight himself who had a series of soil tests made to prove that the mountain posed no danger to the environment or the people. The supervisors were forced to drop their campaign to demolish Salvation Mountain and remove Leonard Knight – to this day the project continues to grow and this remote part of the desert has become a thriving attraction to curious visitors, entranced by Knight’s colourful world.

knight thumbs up
Leonard Knight, the creator of Salvation Mountain. Photo: Rosa Weber


is this the same mountain in INTO THE WILD movie ??

beautiful landscape!
2008-03-28 11:17:49

well, this must be the case of kitsch being harmless.
tom waits once wrote a song called "Chocolate Jesus", i think it pretty much sums up this man's work.
2008-03-28 23:58:46

I'm not into all of his Jesus, God and America lovin' but the guy is really nice and his commitment amazing. A couple of years ago I made this short for school on him because he's just so damn rare a person. If you want, you can check it out. Don't know if this will work BUT click here

And he told us he had been there for 20-some odd years. It could very well be 41 years - he is crazy.
2008-04-01 04:41:08

I saw him on a documentary, cant remember what it was called, but it was about lonely people in the desert,
You could see he Loved what he was doing, but I sort of felt sorry for him all alone for so long... Just him and his dog. Amazing what hes done though. Sort of wont to go there now, But i live allll the way in New Zealand :)
2009-07-01 23:00:40

I think this is amazing. He loves the Lord and this is his way of telling the world of all the greatness of God.
pastor sarah layshock
2011-06-05 21:30:45

When I was a child living back in the Appalachian hills, it was common for someone to herald in white paint on the bare side of a mountain ,in large letters, PREPARE TO MEET THY GOD or JESUS IS COMING SOON. it was while I was looking for one of those images that I ran across this one.
chris elkins
2011-11-01 17:18:15

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