One of my very first road trips in LA was to Leonard Knight’s Salvation Mountain– an outpost of color in the desert east of the Salton Sea. I heard on the radio yesterday that Leonard passed away this week at 82 years old. When I first met him in 2008, he was hunched over and his skin worn with sun. Leonard looked like he could be 70 or 100, perfectly preserved by the dry desert heat, and so I thought it was quite possible he could live forever. With sometimes hundreds of visitors a day, he still moved quickly through trees of stacked tires and passageways lined with adobe flowers made of hay and the muddy desert clay.
The surrounding Niland desert was his art bin. By securing discarded car windshields 40 feet above ground he created a stained glass cathedral; adobe bricks stacked and painted became a museum for trophies and memorabilia; blue and white painted stripes down the mountain created the only waterfall ever to exist in a desert. Though the structure of Salvation Mountain were once-discarded gifts from the desert, the kaleidoscope of colors were donated. We, like thousands of others, would haul buckets of leftover house paint on our road trips to be used on the mountain. It’s these bright colors that are visible from space. But what you can’t see, not until you go to Salvation Mountain for yourself, is that every last surface is covered with Leonard’s proclamation that “God is Love.” Though I’m not particularly religious, Leonard inspired me with his singular dedication to tell the world his one truth. And in fact, religious or not, we can all agree that this world can use more love.
Leonard lived a passionate and full life, and will certainly be missed. Rest peacefully, friend, and thank you for your gift to the world.