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Salvation Mountain then and now

Salvation Mountain then and now

1993: Salvation Mountain, a three-story ,  200-foot-long artwork by Leonard Knight, sits at the entrance to Slab City outside of Niland, Calif.

In a Nov. 15, 1993, Los Angeles Times article, staff writer Tony Perry reported:

NILAND, Calif. — When his hot-air balloon with “God Is Love” emblazoned on the side succumbed to desert rot, Leonard Knight knew he needed a better way to spread the good news.

So he decided to paint a few biblical phrases on a hilly mound near the broken truck he calls home in a gravelly and desolate Imperial County squatters’ encampment known as Slab City.

That was seven years ago.

Knight, 62, has been painting brightly colored religious messages and soothing pastoral scenes ever since. And his vision has grown into something he calls Salvation Mountain.

Others call it Leonard’s Mountain, one man’s multicolored obsession, the work of a modern-day John the Baptist who has ventured into the harsh desert to preach repentance.

“I started this mountain with $3 and I was only going to build something eight to 10 foot tall,” Knight said. “People came and said there was old paint and cement at the dump, and I said, ‘Well, sir, if you bring it, I’ll pound it with a sledgehammer’ and make the mountain bigger.

“That’s what has happened.”

Technically, the mountain is a sloping, terraced hill about three stories high and 100 feet long and crowned with a cross. Knight has lovingly sculpted and painted it with “God Is Love,” the full text of John 3:16, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sinner’s Prayer, a painted American flag and scenes of streams, waterfalls, green valleys, flowers, ocean waters and much more.

The venue may seem an unusual one for artistic expression, but Knight has a built-in audience.

His mountain is beside the only entrance to Slab City, an abandoned military base where more than 5,000 “snowbirds” flock every winter in their recreational vehicles, trailers, tents and other modes of portable housing for a rent-free lifestyle.

“Leonard’s Mountain is the first thing you see when you come to Slab City,” said Linda Barnett, 43, who has lived in a trailer at Slab City for five years and provides nightly news bulletins over citizens-band radio. “It reminds us that the Almighty is watching out for us.”

Over the last two decades, Knight and his Salvation Mountain became world famous. In 2002, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, (D-Calif) had the painted mountain declared a “national treasure” in the Congressional Record.

But in a Feb. 26, 2012, Los Angeles Times story, Perry reported that Knight, now 80, is no longer at the site. He now resides at a convalescent home near San Diego. The future of Salvation Mountain is unknown, but as Perry reported, many friends are trying to preserve Knight’s work.

On May 20, 2010, Perry wrote with story “Salvation Mountain: one man’s monument to God’s love.”  Accompanying the story, Times staff photographer Don Barletti produced this audio slide show “One man’s salvation” (note: flash plug-in required).

Salvation Mountain website.

Nov. 4, 1993: Leonard Knight, 62, creator of Salvation Mountain. This photo was published in the Nov. 15, 1993, Los Angeles Times. Credit: Dave Gatley/Los Angeles Times.

April 9, 2012: Photo of Salvation Mountain today with 1993 photo by Dave Gatley in lower left.  Credit:  Scott Harrison/Los Angeles Times

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