On the Road to Salvation Mountain

Leonard Knight's masterpiece is a colorful testament to an original artist.

Emily Chavous Foster Arts & Entertainment, Attractions

Salvation Mountain is the masterwork of a true original. 

The desert is a strange and wondrous place. The farther you venture into its wilds, the stronger its siren song — a droning breeze of a beat that captures creatives and compels them to seed deep roots in the vast sandscape. On the surface, to outsiders, the open land on Greater Palm Springs’ periphery may seem inhospitable. But its beauty keeps the artists and the dreamers planted; often, their creations live on long after they’re gone. 

A few dusty roads away from the Salton Sea lies the masterwork of late artist and Army veteran Leonard Knight. After a failed attempt through the 1970s and ’80s at building a hot air balloon, which he intended to use to disseminate God’s love, the Nebraska native found himself in Niland, California. With detritus from the dump and a rainbow of paint, he began to form a mountain to commemorate his sentiment that never took flight. For three decades, Knight lived on-site in a decorated 1939 fire truck and offered tours for visitors.

The 50-foot-high Salvation Mountain, about a 90-minute drive from Palm Springs, is now cared for by local residents and remains open to the public. Interior tunnels, supported by trees, lead to curious, gallery-like rooms with memorabilia, including a plaque from Senator Barbara Boxer proclaiming the work a national treasure.