Salvation Mountain


They say the media is the message. For Leonard Knight, 78, it holds the message, too. His media — a hand-built straw and adobe hill in the California desert — is painted like a giant birthday cake with Bible versus, hearts, flowers and other symbols.

It's at the entrance to Slab City, a self-governed, off-the-grid community of people living in tents and vehicles.

Knight, who lives in a gutted Chevrolet truck year round, has been here since 1984.


In his former life, about 50 years ago, he was "running from the church."
"One day I said, 'Jesus I'm a sinner, please come into my heart.' I kept repeating it. 'Jesus, I'm a sinner.' And I became Paul instead of Saul," he says.

A giant advertisement of God's love for sinners it may be, but the paint-covered hill has drawn ire from various groups who insisted it was toxic and should be bulldozed.

Salvation Mountain volunteer and Slab City resident A.J. Pixler, 23, (below, right) told me Knight used money he received as an inheritance from his mother to pay for a counter study showing the mountain was not leeching harmful levels of chemicals. IMG_5604

His art project seems to be safe, now. In 2002, Congress declared it a national treasure.

It's also received widespread exposure in the 2007 movie "Into the Wild" and through an appearance just months ago on GoogleEarth, which more than tripled the number of visitors Knight says he sees each day.

James Rantesescher, 16, (pictured on the left) of Indio, Calif. has known Knight for most of his young life and was watching over the place while Knight had lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Niland, the nearest town.

"The United States needs this message right now," Rantesescher told me. "Because right now we just live in a civilization that is steeped in fear. And love is the opposite of fear. God is love. It's a simple, yet powerful message. "