Leonard Knight must have been very impressed when he saw a hot air balloon fly near his home in Vermont in 1971. When he later moved to Nebraska, he built his own balloon with the words, “God is Love” but never got it to fly. Finally in 1984, Leonard moved to a remote desert town in California called Niland and decided this would be the place to build his testimonial to God.
Four years into building his mountain, Leonard Knight’s hard work crumbled into a heap of sand and rubble. Although Leonard originally wanted to make his structure from concrete, the material was very expensive and he began mixing sand into it to stretch it out. The sand caused the instability. In his own humility, Leonard thanked God for showing him that his mountain was unsafe and began researching how to build a stronger one. He began experimenting with adobe, straw, clay and paint to thicken the base and make it harder. With all of the paint layered on the material, it became rock hard and durable.
After another ten years of hard work, in 1994, the Imperial County Board of Supervisors deemed Salvation Mountain a toxic area and decided that it should be destroyed. A petition was established and samples of the soil were sent to an independent lab in San Diego for testing. The tests revealed that there were no high levels of lead or toxic contaminants and the mountain was saved. Indeed “God Never Fails”…
Most of the writings on the mountain are attributed to Christian sayings, bible verses, and the Sinner’s Prayer but most of Leonard Knight’s philosophy seems to be based on the simple statement of God and love.
The two trucks in front of the mountain were Leonard’s home. His daily schedule would be getting up by 5 AM, working on his mountain till about 10 AM and spending the rest of the day in a little restaurant in the town. In the summer time, the temperatures would climb to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (48.88 Celsius). During the winter, it would get quite cold at night.
In 1998, Leonard decided to build himself a Navajo Hogan so that he could live more comfortably in the harsh desert environment. Of course, Leonard decided he liked his truck better and never moved in.
Leonard Knight added another structure and called it “The Museum”. It was modeled after his failed balloon construction in Nebraska. The large dome areas are supported by the adobe mixture and large tree branches. There are numerous found objects embedded in the walls and painted words conveying his simple message of God and love.
Leonard Knight passed away in 2014 at age 82. Currently, the mountain is being cared for by volunteers and the non-profit organization called Salvation Mountain Inc.
Donations are greatly appreciated.
Lex, Sar and I were honored to have visited Mr. Knight’s creation and will never forget our visit there.
Note: Please do not wear high heels at the mountain.