Monday, July 02, 2007

They don't all live in New Orleans

This is Salvation Mountain, a rocky hill on property owned by the state of California about five miles east of the town of Niland at the southeastern corner of the Salton Sea. The site has served for years as a giant canvas for folk artist and classic American eccentric Leonard Knight. (Click on any pic to view it larger.)
The Vermont native started building and painting Salvation Mountain after he found Jesus during a visit to San Diego (why not, they do call it paradise after all). He started work on his first unusual religious project while living in Nebraska. Leonard sewed a hot air balloon bearing the words, "God is love," but the balloon rotted before he got a chance to try flying it.

Leonard now lives in a small trailer that sits next to his mountain sculpture. We found him napping (maybe we should have checked for a pulse) in the shade inside one of the cave-like rooms he has created inside his monument.

Who could blame him. It was blazing hot in the mid-afternoon sun - at least 115 degrees.

Leonard uses a wide range of materials to sculpt the mountain, including cement, sand, tree limbs, hay bales and old car windows.

One of the rooms serves as a sort of shrine with imbedded charms that reminded me of Mexican milagros.
Most of the charms contain pictures of the mountain or news clippings about the site.
Nothing seems to escape Knight's brush, including his collection of vintage vehicles strewn around the site.
In earlier years, some locals wanted to tear down Knight's work because they thought it was an eyesore and environmental hazard. But in more recent years the mountain has been recognized for its artistic value and even has been protected by Congress.Getting there: Head east on Main Street in Niland, cross the railroad tracks and continue straight on Beal Road for another two and a half miles. Click on the map to make it larger.

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