In the middle of the California Badlands in Imperial County just east of the Salton Sea and about a hour and a half from Palm Springs is the Gateway to Slab City, Salvation Mountain. The desert art installation and tribute to God and his gift to the world was created by long time Slab City resident Leonard Knight. Originally from Vermont, Knight tried to spread the word of Jesus many ways. From going from church to church to even trying to build a giant hot air ballon to spread the word of God's love. But it would be his project Salvation Mountain that would eventually have his dream realized.
In 2000, Knight received an award from the Folk Art Society of America, and on May 15, 2002, Salvation Mountain was proclaimed a national treasure in the Congressional Record of the United States. Salvation Mountain has been featured in numerous documentaries, including PBS, BBC, and Vice TV. It was also featured in 2007 film, “Into the Wild.”
Despite all the media love and tourism, Salvation Mountain has faced and continues to face a number of challenges. In 1994, the Imperial County supervisors labeled the mountain a “toxic nightmare.” County officials claimed that the surrounding soil contained high levels of toxic lead from the paint and petitioned to have the mountain torn down. The county wanted to turn the area into a campground and decided that the religious monument on a government-owned campground would create potential litigation and tried to eradicate it. But supporters of the mountain heard about the county's plans and launched a petition drive, collecting hundreds of signatures in opposition of the county's initiative. Knight personally collected samples of the soil and submitted them to a lab for independent testing, proving that the land was indeed non-toxic.
The government is not the only issue. The harsh desert weather conditions continue to take a toll on the mountain’s physical appearance and keeping the monument in pristine condition is a full time job. The mountain is currently cared for by a non-profit organization: Salvation Mountain Inc., which has coordinated volunteers to maintain and protect the mountain since Knight's death in 2014.
Knight had only ever accepted donations in the form of paint, and the site probably contains over 100,000 gallons of lead-free paint. There is no fee to see and walk around Salvation Mountain, but you can donate money here and help keep this unique work of art for generations to enjoy.
Fore information on Salvation Mountain and how to get there, go here.