Located in the lower desert of Southern California in Imperial County just east of the Salton Sea lies one of the spectacularly decorated mountains you will ever set your eyes on: Salvation Mountain. After a road trip to Palm Springs last weekend, I made a quick detour to both Salton Sea and Salvation Mountain on my way back to San Diego; the extra mileage was worth it. The Dr. Seuss-esque, colorful mountain itself was beyond impressive and a must stop, even for those wishing to make a day trip out of it.
Salvation Mountain may feel like it is in the middle of nowhere, but once you pull up to the sign that reads: “God Never Fails” and catch a glimpse of the mountain in the distance, the drive will be worth it. A gloriously decorated landmark awaits the moment you pull into the dirt parking lot at Salvation Mountain, along with a few trucks that have also been beautifully painted.
Salvation Mountain was created by Leonard Knight as a tribute to God and as a gift to the world he created the mountain with a powerful message: “God Is Love”, etched in large letters on the side of the mountain. Leonard’s passion has created this intricately designed “outsider art” masterpiece resplendent with not only biblical and religious scriptures such as the Lord’s Prayer, John 3:16 and the Sinner’s Prayer, but also includes flowers, trees, birds, waterfalls, suns, and many other colorful objects.
The mountain stands at 50 feet high and 150 feet wide, made entirely of local adobe clay and donated paint. The bottom part of the mountain is a tribute to the Sea of Galilee, with a big red heart in the middle and a cross appropriately placed at the top of the mountain. The reoccurring them of “Love” can be seen all around the mountain. A “yellow brick road” staircase will lead you to the top of this painted mountain, providing the ideal photo opportunity to capture this mesmerizing sight. Pictures can’t do this landmark justice, and must be seen to be truly appreciated.
Climb and explore this majestic mountain to fully experience its splendid construction and its natural surroundings. There are a slew of “rooms” to explore filled with bibles, religious quotes, a guest book, and plenty of beautiful murals. A donation station is conveniently located at the bottom of Salvation Mountain to maintain this unique and eclectic monument.
So what exactly happened to the creator of Salvation Mountain? Up until Knight’s death in 2014, he had lived in the back of his truck, sharing his living space with a number of cats without names, undeterred by the brutal head of the desert or the howling winds. “Love Jesus and keep it simple,” he once said, explaining his philosophy of life (source). Salvation Mountain is anything but simple but the love of Jesus is clearly depicted in every square inch of this masterpiece.
Salvation Mountain Tips:
Tip 1: This is a free attraction, however you can still give donations and donate paint.
Tip 2: Plan to come on a “cooler” day or around sunset as temperatures can spike to over 100 degrees on a summer day and mostly everything is exposed here.
Tip 3: Be cautions when coming down the mountain. It may not be wet but it can be slippery. I came down by proceeding to the right along the dirt side of the mountain and found it was much easier to navigate.
Tip 4: Make a trip out of your time at Salvation Mountain and venture to Salton Sea – particularly Bombay Beach – to take in even more diverse sights such as abandoned homes covered in graffiti and frames of what once were houses.
Tip 5: Slab City (Or “The Slabs”, a WWII-era Marine facility where squatters live in buses and vehicles) is nearby and also interesting to see.
From Los Angeles or Phoenix, take Interstate 10 to the 86S (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 and go about a ½ mile to Highway 111. Turn right (south) and go about 42 miles to Niland, California. Turn left on Main Street (which eventually turns into Beal Road) and travel for a little over 3 miles. You’ll pass by a few deserted buildings and eventually will drive into the desert for a few miles. Look to the right, you won’t be able to miss it.
From San Diego or Yuma, take Interstate 8 to Highway 111 north. Niland is about 32 miles. Turn left on Main Street (turns into Beal Road) and go a little over 3 miles to Salvation Mountain.
Address: Salvation Mountain, Beal Rd., Niland, CA 92257