Leonard Knight, the man who gave us Salvation Mountain—the roadside attraction near the Salton Sea, which was immortalized in the 2007 movie Into the Wild—has passed away. Leonard, who was 82, died peacefully in his sleep at the Eldorado Care Center in El Cajon.
As I’ve written before, for my money, Salvation Mountain remains one of the quirkiest yet most fascinating sites in the desert. Leonard, a deeply religious man, started creating this 50-feet-high and 150-feet-wide adobe monument to his faith in the mid-’80s on government property adjacent to “Slab City,” a former marine base that was torn down leaving only the cement slabs. It was constructed using a technique that integrated straw with sand and cement to give it strength, and Leonard used more than 100,000 gallons of donated paint to cover it with both religious and patriotic symbols and sayings. California senator Barbara Boxer has called the kaleidoscope of colors and textures—replete with meandering paths that allow visitors to climb to the summit, and myriad rooms and grottos filled with left mementos—a national treasure.
Leonard has always said that the ardent fans of Salvation Mountain will preserve his life’s work through volunteerism and donations, and so far, it looks as if that prediction holds true. But it may not forever. So if you have never witnessed this man-made extravaganza, do it now while you still have the chance. It’s open 24 hours, which means you can go and pay your last respects to the man day or night.