Salvation Mountain, One of the Great American Destinations

Sitting on a (Salvation) Mountain

A couple of years ago I was wandering in the desert and pulled into the town of Calipatria, Calif.  It was a weekday morning in June, around 9 a.m., and I wanted to take a walk and get some water.  I went into a store and this biker dude behind the counter started talking to me, asking me where I was from etc. I told him I came to the desert every summer to hike, and he reminded me that Salvation Mountain was still active but that Leonard Knight, the fine character who created it, was ailing and in a home.

Supplies at Salvation Mountain
Leonard died Monday but Salvation Mountain, a painted hillside in the middle of nowhere, will probably endure. I went out from Calipatria to the place that day in 2012.  A video crew, with talent trailer and a box truck of gear, was setting up to do a promo for a Web company. Other than that, I had the place to myself. I walked up to the top of the “mountain” and further on to the water tanks at the back of the lot, which are fully engulfed in spray paint art. Graffiti seems too stuffy a term for the excellent work.
The first time I went to Salvation Mountain was

in the late 90s, and Leonard was out there. It was early evening and

Water tank art

I had heard about some resentment over the attention the mountain was getting from the residents of Slab City, an encampment just down the road a bit.

Slab City is a place for people who just want to keep away from everything. They have their various reasons, but it’s an amazing little power generator place, with community activities and an informal system of governance. That is, don’t fuck our shit up here. 
Some of the people had threatened Leonard. He wasn’t taking it personally.
“Ah, they’re just talking, they’re just looking for something to say,” was how he shrugged it off when I talked to him that night.  Slab City looks pretty scary at night, and some of the people who reside there have had an acquaintance with the criminal justice system.
But he was an easy-going guy, sitting in the middle of nowhere and pretty happy about it.  He had no power, no running water and no worries.

 

 

 

 

I wasn’t working on any story, I was just curious. I left with some postcards of the mountain that Leonard gave me, a few of which I still have.  Salvation Mountain is one of America’s great destinations and Leonard Knight can rest knowing he did something cool on his own terms.