Salvation Mountain

Take a break from poolside lounging in Palm Springs and head outside of the city limits for a unique and unforgettable experience.

About sixty miles away sits a multicolored masterpiece known as Salvation Mountain. This isn’t any ordinary mountain, but rather a product of the imagination and creativity of a man named Leonard Knight, who started constructing his manmade “mountain” in 1984 in the Mojave Desert. Using layers of adobe, straw, twigs and brightly colored paint, Knight gradually built a massive art installation with the overarching theme of “God is Love.” Sadly, Knight passed away in his sleep this week at the age of 82, but his creation has left a lasting mark that will endure as a testament to his artistic vision and dedication to his beliefs.

Salvation Mountain - copyright Ciera Holzenthal

Salvation Mountain rose to pop culture relevance with ingénue Kristen Stewart in the foreground of a beautifully shot scene in the 2007 film, Into the Wild, based on the book of the same title by Jon Krakauer. In that scene, Leonard Knight portrayed himself, saying he’s, “contented here in the desert.” In a 2004 documentary entitled Plagues and Pleasures of the Salton Sea, Knight insisted that God erected the mountain and that he was simply a vessel by which the mountain was built. “God Almighty can do anything,” he goes on to say. “And look at the mountain, it’s going better than 10 churches all put together sometimes.” With Salvation Mountain drawing hundreds of visitors a day, Knight was certainly right about the impact of and appreciation for his mountain.

Salvation Mountain - copyright Ciera Holzenthal
Salvation Mountain - copyright Ciera Holzenthal

As Knight’s health had begun to fail in recent years, Salvation Mountain transitioned to being managed under the stewardship of a board. The mountain still sees many visitors and is maintained with the help of rotating volunteers that live there year-round and donations of paint by visitors to help keep the mountain’s colors bright and bold. While now missing its enthusiastic, gospel-preaching ambassador, Salvation Mountain still inspires awe and admiration and is an experience you don’t want to miss.

Salvation Mountain - copyright Ciera Holzenthal
Salvation Mountain - copyright Ciera Holzenthal
Some need-to-know info for your visit:

How to get there:
From Palm Springs/Los Angeles: Take Interstate 10 to the 86 South (just east of Indio). Travel south 11 miles to 66th Avenue (Hwy 195.) There is a big gas station and truck stop on the left. If you miss this turn, you’ll end up on the wrong side of the Salton Sea. Turn left (east) and go about a ½ mile to Highway 111. Turn right (south) and go about 42 miles to the city of Niland. Turn left (east) onto Main Street (which eventually turns into Beal Road) and travel for a little over 3 miles. Look to the East. You can’t miss it!

From San Diego, take Interstate 8 to Highway 111 north until you reach with city of Niland. Turn left (east) onto Main Street (turns into Beal Road) and go a little over 3 miles until you reach Salvation Mountain.

When to go:
Between October and April is recommended. Brave souls may decide to venture out during the summer months, but be prepared for temperatures well over 100 degrees, and we would recommend heading out in the morning to take advantage of (slightly) cooler temperatures.

What to bring:
A gallon of paint to contribute to the upkeep of the mountain (glossy paint and bright colors preferred). Be sure to bring water, sunscreen and a hat for yourself.

Where to eat:
Now that Mexican restaurant Ballesteros has closed its doors, the Buckshot Deli & Diner is the only game in town, serving up good, inexpensive food. 8120 US Hwy 111 Niland, CA 92257, (760) 359-0595.

Another site of note near Salvation Mountain:
Attention Modernists! The Albert Frey-designed North Shore Beach and Yacht Club was a 1960s hotspot where celebrities like the Beach Boys docked their boats. Most recently the building housed the Salton Sea History Museum, but now sits unoccupied as another relic of a bygone era. 99155 Sea View Dr, CA 92254.

Images by Ciera Holzenthal; see more of Ciera’s photos of Salvation Mountain here!


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