Thursday, February 20, 2014

FUN in LA: Salvation Mountain

To be honest, I don't even remember when or where I first heard about Salvation Mountain. It's possible that I first saw it during it's cameo in Into the Wild, or in the A Beautiful Mess archives, or that I just saw a picture on tumblr somewhere. The first time that I thought of it as a place that I could actually go see was when my mom and I went to Palm Springs in 2012, and I wanted to make a detour to see it on the way. We were planning on going, but we ended up just staying in Palm Springs where there was air conditioning. (I don't know why we always end up going into the desert in August, but there you go. Driving out to the middle of nowhere in temperatures over 110 degrees doesn't always seem like the best idea.)

So what I'm getting at is that I've wanted to see Salvation Mountain for about 2 years now, so I was very excited when I brought it up to my friend Isabel and she said she wanted to see it too. We decided on a day and made plans to trek out to Niland to see Leonard Knight's creation. I was so sad when I heard just days before our trip that Leonard had died, and that news cast a different light on my experience of the mountain. It went from a piece of art to one man's life's work.

It took us about three hours to get down there, and the last hour of the drive there was literally nothing around. Just road and desert. When we finally caught sight of the mountain it was this big splash of color rising out of the emptiness. We walked all around it, inside it, and climbed the mountain and I was just blown away by it. Just the sheer size of it is incredible, and then you realize that one man built the whole thing and it becomes that much more mind-blowing.

There are signs on the mountain designating it as an American Folk Art site, and Isabel said something I thought was really interesting, that Salvation Mountain felt "very American." She talked about how the monuments and tourist attractions in Europe are usually religious, and this was like the American counterpart. I liked that a lot, it got the American Studies minor part of my head buzzing. I totally agree with her. I think in relation to the European cathedrals and shrines that were built as tributes to God over hundreds of years by thousands of people, it does seem really fitting that the American version would be built by one man all by himself out in the desert. It was hard to shake the John the Baptist vibes I got from the place too; a voice crying out in the wilderness that God is love.

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