Salvation mountain was a most profound experience. Not just creatively or artistically but also spiritually. It is a site, situated in the midst of desert sands and nothingness. A mound of intensive hues and stirringly heartening words. 

Praise to a higher being. Adoration for God with an enduring message of love.

I’ve never been someone you’d consider religious by any means. Especially as a child growing up I always felt rather uncomfortable and repelled being inside a church. And while I still feel slightly awkward inside a Catholic parish, the last few years have seen me adopt a path of spirituality and embracing the Universe/God. So venturing out to such a locale was celestially moving. 

There is such an acute sense of positive energy buzzing through every square inch. From the site itself to the rays of sunshine illuminating the spectrum of colour. To the gentle breeze that tickles and nuzzles exposed limbs. Even if religion or spirituality is not your thing, purely witnessing such a feat and creation in the physical is bound to impress, because the sheer devotion and love of one singular human being is magnificently evident in his labour of love.

The journey commenced on incredibly high spirits, despite the drive being a little confronting at times. To an untrained eye it is one of seemingly insipidness. One of aridity and the occasional dotting of palm trees. Don’t get me wrong, the drive was very much enjoyable, despite my rather bleak description. I was simply in a state of eager anticipation, impatiently desperate to see a grand peak of opalescence in the horizon. But alas nothing but dusty browns and contrasting cerulean skies for miles. At times I wondered if perhaps my unreliable navigation system was leading us astray, as it had on many prior adventures. But the cacophony of vehicles ahead and behind ours lead me to believe that we we’re travelling in the right direction.

And we were.

Excitement spikes suddenly as you traverse from a traditional road onto one of dirt. The journey shifts from velveteen to something resembling more of a jaunt at a theme park. The choppy and uneven road continues for some time until finally there it is, slowly developing from beyond the horizon. A maze of exhilarating vibrancy springing forth, assuring and promising sanctuary to those who seek it.

And as if the Universe had read my mind, like a stereotypical scene, a shirtless young male male with cascading dreadlocks appears on the side of the road, head arched to heavens, deep in thought, arms extended far beyond as if to clutch an invisible energy. Fingers closed save for the index and middle ones, the recognised sign for peace being shared to all who passed him by. An unintentional greeting, but a most welcome embrace, a promise of things to come.

Driving into the grounds the site itself really makes you pause. The grandness and volume of such a place is truly breathtaking. This is one mans work; one mans tribute to God. His love and desire to promote peace and love. A project that began back in the 1980’s by Leonard Knight, painstakingly cared for to this day. 

The mountain itself is created with clay and adorned with numerous messages of love and praise. You’ll also find it embellished with a number of paintings and sculptures like florals and waterfalls. Around the mountain various vehicles and trailers are dotted throughout, all enhanced with Leonards signature artwork and messages of hope. You are at liberty to wander and peruse the grounds, just make sure you stick to the yellow pathways and not off them. It was a little disappointing and saddening watching fellow tourists traipsing about freely, despite numerous signs directing and pleading for you to remain on the designated coloured path. At times it actually made me mad, how nonchalant and careless people were being. Treading on on areas with obvious signs of heavy paint erosion. 

The signs are there for a reason, to protect the mountain itself. 

Aside from the mountain there are various chamber like tombs to further explore. This section is located right beside it. There are three large catacomb like caverns to one side. Each with a different theme and all embellished with words and clippings from many visitors over the years. You could spend hours in each one, not just to admire Leonard Knights artwork and devotion but in examining all the small mementos and forget-me-nots that people have left behind. From business cards to photographs, programs and sharpie scribbles. Even old library cards and driver licenses. It was a place for hope and worship; for those who had lost someone or something. Who too wanted to contribute to Leonard’s vision.

Sadly we’d forgotten to bring along a pen to inscribe our own initials and well wishes. I’d contemplated leaving behind my own business card but decided against it. For me, placing my own felt too impersonal and more like I was promoting myself. Not to say that others who had done the same had those intentions. It’s just my white and grey design felt overly stark and detached.

To the opposite side of these three tombs lies another immense mound holding a vast array of thoroughfares. Upon entry you’ll find the story behind the mountain and The Folk Art Society of America’s recognition certificate; both framed and prized. There is no real starting point in here, you simply allow the Universe/God and your limbs to carry you through the tunnels of color and affection. Gradually making your way around.

The inner workings of these grottos are rather intricate with many a sight from the ground up and well into the sky where you find a maze of rainbow hued branches, entwined gracefully. There are some parts that feel as though you are amidst an art gallery, a point of interest encircled by colour. The complexity and elaborateness within the interior of this second mountain is fascinating. Every inch of space has been thought out and decorated accordingly. Every unconventional structural piece festooned with a flurry of colour. Each piece spotted with vibrant hues, creating a tangled web of artistic awe.

We we’re fortunate to arrive when we did; being one of the first vehicles out of the long line of many. The dirt road seemed to slow many down, mostly those driving sedans. We managed to view the main attraction sans the cluster of tourists that soon followed. It was rather peaceful, especially when making your way to the top of Salvation Mountain. The view form a height gives you another appreciation for the work painted below, as well as a different perspective. From here that expression “feeling on top of the world” does not go astray. More than ever did I feel that personified.  

I’d strongly recommend Salvation Mountain to anyone willing to travel off the beaten track. It is ever so inspiring, regardless of religious beliefs or artistic inclinations. It is a place for young and old, even mans best friend. Yes, dogs (I presume) are welcome here (as I had mentioned previously here). I managed to squeeze in a cuddle with an adorably pint sized Jack Russell. His human family did not mind. Personally, I think he was attentive and sympathetic to my own inner yearnings for my fur baby. 

The whole experience of that day is one I am not likely to simply forget. From the mountain and it’s messages of hope and love to the actual road itself. One I found to be rather charming and whimsical. This is the kind of Americana I’d been dreaming and writing about (here and here) for many a year now. Desert sands and tumble weeds alongside railway lines and locomotives, all encased within those bouldered giants perched along the horizon; the kind I had so come to admire and adore.

This post may have been slightly on the image heavy side but trying to find reasons to cull the majority of these photographs back proved to be too difficult a feat. This raw explosion of colour and true labour of love behind the mountain was something I fervently tried to document. As if in doing so I was able to capture a mere hint of Leonard’s own tenacity and passion to transport back with me.


sonia // daring coco

metaphoric love child of debbie harry and stevie nicks. weaver of words. infatuated with shoes.

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