Salvation Mountain is a Spiritual Treasure & Socially-Distanced Day Trip from LA
Three hours from L.A., way out beyond Palm Springs and the Salton Sea, is Salvation Mountain, one man’s spiritual gift to the world. Proclaimed by Senator Barbara Boxer as a national treasure, this “mountain” is covered in multi-colored paint and proclaims the message that God is Love.
For 25 years Leonard Knight (1931–2014) poured his heart, soul, and over 100,000 gallons of paint onto the hill he built of adobe and straw. Salvation Mountain is covered with Biblical verses and Christian sayings and contains special rooms and alcoves filled with decorative art. If you wish to climb to the top, signs will point out the Yellow Brick Road to lead you up. The other visitors when I was there were assorted hipsters and Goth kids, apparently folk art aficionados.
During a spiritual awakening at age 36, Leonard realized that the answer to life was not complicated: just accept Jesus Christ, repent, and love everybody. He spent several years attempting to spread the word to organized religion which rejected his message as too simplistic. Leonard moved to Niland, California, in 1984 and began working full-time on his masterpiece, living in his truck even when temperatures hit the 100s.
Salvation Mountain was featured in the 2007 film Into the Wild. A photo of Coldplay atop the Mountain appeared on their A Head Full Of Dreams album.
Visiting Salvation Mountain
I’m not sure if the six-hour round trip would be worth your time. The videos on YouTube are so excellent that watching some of them might be enough. If I weren’t writing this book (Guide to Spiritual LA), they probably would have sufficed for me, the actual site being almost anticlimactic after the great filmmaking of the videos.
However, the drive out included unexpected delights. Highway 78 winds alongside the Salton Sea, an eerie, dead, inland body of water which looks as I imagine Loch Ness does and stinks to high heaven from the rotting fish. There are picturesque abandoned restaurants and compounds covered in graffiti from the days it was a real resort, with many intriguing photo ops.
The town of Niland is a rare treasure for an urbanite. You’ll witness a slice of life you’d never see in LA: people renting a space in an RV park for $400 a month, living amongst the deserted, defaced buildings, enduring the Salton Sea stench, bragging with their Trump stickers; the whole town looking like it’s been bombed out. It certainly opened my eyes to people whose lives I hadn’t known about.
And on the other hand, if you don’t go, you’ll miss experiencing Leonard Knight’s passion in person. There is something mesmerizing and humbling about a man with such single focus using his life to spread the message of Love. To be there personally at Salvation Mountain is to stand in awe of his frenzy of love.
Guide to Spiritual LA
This is an excerpt from Catherine Auman’s book Guide to Spiritual L.A.: The Irreverent, the Awake, and the True, available on Amazon or at your local bookstore.
Catherine Auman, LMFT is a licensed therapist with advanced training in both traditional and spiritual psychology with thirty years of successful professional experience helping thousands of clients. She has headed nationally-based psychiatric hospital programs as well as worked through alternative methodologies based on ancient traditions and wisdom teachings.