If you’ve heard of Salvation Mountain, but never been there, I highly recommend a day trip when you are in Palm Springs. Located 1 hour and 25 minutes away (off the I-10), you will experience a monumental example of “outsider art” at its best. The man-made mountain is 50′ high and 150′ wide. It is made from local adobe clay and donated paint. The overall theme of “God is Love” is everywhere.
The creator of Salvation Mountain was Leonard Knight. He was a humble man who made it his life’s focus to spread the word “God is Love”, he probably wouldn’t refer to himself as an artist, but I certainly would. Leonard Knight was born in 1931 in Burlington, VT. During his life he had a series of jobs (one of which was teaching guitar lessons), but was always drifting. At the age of 35, “he accepted Jesus into his heart and he hasn’t been the same ever since.” After a 10 year failed attempt to make a hand made hot air balloon with his message, “God is Love”, he started to build a mountain instead with a half bag of cement. This mountain (known as mountain #1) grew and grew over the years, but alas, collapsed. The next attempt (known as Mountain #2) was built using native adobe clay mixed with straw and hay to hold it all together. Paint is used to coat and decorate and it also keeps the wind from eroding the designs. To date, about 100,000 gallons of paint (donated by supporters – mostly snowbirds in the area) has been used.
In 1998, Leonard began to experiment with bales of straw and adobe and got the idea to build a hogan for himself – this is adjacent to the mountain. (A hogan is a dome shaped structure made of adobe and sticks.) Leonard was planning to live in this structure, but decided he wanted to continue to live in his truck. When we were there, a family of baby birds was happily nesting in the rafters. I think Leonard would have liked this. As you can see from the photo, people leave little messages here for others – notes, small personal objects, etc…
The construction of Salvation Mountain will probably never be finished. Although Leonard Knight died at the age of 82 on February 10, 2014, his supporters still donate paint and carry on with the work and the restoration. Check out http://www.salvationmountain.us for more information and the official website of Salvation Mountain.
On the way to or back from Salvation Mountain, make sure to take few stops along the way. I highly recommend the “Ski Inn” for lunch and a cold beer. (The patty melt is so good and the house specialty) This is a locals hangout, although, the bartender did tell us that Anthony Bordain filmed an episode of Travel Chanel here. Patrons are encouraged to write something on a dollar and post it somewhere in the bar…why not leave a bit of yourself behind and then make sure you come back in a few years to find your marker! I remember where I left mine, but guarantee I will forget. This will be fun to look for again.
Another interesting stop along the way – right at the tip of the Salton Sea – is the North Shore Yacht Club. This building was designed by Albert Frey in 1959. The building was restored a few years back and is in pristine condition albeit no one is there and there are absolutely no boats in the water (which is polluted). It’s hard to believe that the Salton Sea had a heyday of party-goers and water-skiers whizzing by. Hopefully someday this will be restored. It has amazing potential.
And the International Banana Museum is also a fun stop along the way. Like most people, Trina and I were not lucky enough to catch it during open hours. We were told by the owner of the convenience store (which is next to The International Banana Museum) that “the museum is open when my brother is awake and feels like it.” Feel free to read between the lines there. In any case, enjoy the Banana Sculpture (yes, admittedly very phallic) donated by Kenny Irwin. More on Kenny Irwin in a future blog.
If you are really adventurous, pull over along the side of the Salton Sea. The size of the sea is really unbelievable. My son tells me you can see this body of water from outer space (yes, it’s that large). Over the years, pollution has killed most of the fish and the surface you walk on is littered with dead fish bones. At one point, Trina and I (both wearing sandals) began to sink. I got scared that we were about to get sucked into some Twilight Zone quick sand so we made a run for it. Here’s a tip for you in that area…keep you car windows closed! There are tons of flies and your car will quickly fill up with bugs if you are not careful.
Enjoy the day trip out to Salvation Mountain and if you have any other interesting sights to see along the way, please feel free to share!