PHOTOGRAPHY BY DOMINIQUE ZAMORA
Past the listless palm trees, sugary cocktails and airy resorts of Palm Springs and into the belly of California’s forgotten desert awaits Salvation Mountain.
The perennial art installment was built by the late Leonard Knight over the course of nearly three decades from adobe, straw – a method he learned from the Navajo living in the area – and half a million gallons of paint.
Located a few miles from the apocalyptic Salton Sea with the barren Colorado Desert as its backdrop, Salvation Mountain stands out as a surreal oasis. Walking towards the massive sculpture feels like stepping into a Dr. Seuss story. Colors here mean more than they do in the real world; painted rivers of candy blue and bright lush meadows fill the skyline.
On this particular afternoon, the heat is spectacular. Even in the shade the sun reaches us, sticking to our skin as we try to cool down underneath the whimsical passages and painted tangle of branches.
“God is Love” and similar words of hope can be found throughout the mountain’s various chambers — a message Knight devoted his entire life to. Up until the age of 75, the Korean War veteran (it ended ten days after he arrived in Korea) could reportedly be seen carrying 40-pound adobe buckets up a 30-foot ladder.
Knight also transformed the surrounding trailers and trucks into works of art, continuing his message with vibrant colors and Bible verses.
Although Leonard Knight died at the age of 82 in February of 2014, friends and volunteers maintain the site, which requires constant upkeep due to the harsh environment, and answer questions from curious visitors. If you’re in the Los Angeles or San Diego area, Salvation Mountain is only a few hours away and one of the most unforgettable American monuments.
Still, the mountain’s future is uncertain. To help preserve its beauty, visit www.salvationmountain.org.