One remarkable aspect of the Salton Sea/Slab City area that I did not write into my novel The Slab (because if it included every strange and wondrous feature of that landscape, it would have been a thousand pages long and completely lost all suspense) is Salvation Mountain.
Salvation Mountain lies in between the town of Niland and Slab City. When you come up to it, the first thing you see is a riot of color rising out of the dun-colored desert. Getting closer, you realize that there are words in the color. Closer still, you see that they're religious messages.
I said it was remarkable, and it is. It's mostly the work of one man, Leonard Knight, and it's built with scrap and hand-made adobe and donated paint (100,000 gallons of it, Leonard estimates). It's not just one hill but a series of them, some sturdy enough to walk on, some enclosed spaces to walk inside.
Leonard told me that after he found religion, he wanted to share his faith. Inspired by the sight of a hot air balloon, he decided to make a huge balloon with religious messages on its sides and fly it around the country. But he was no balloon-maker, as it turned out. He sewed and sewed, and then he tried and tried to get the thing airborne. But he couldn't, and soon he realized that if he had managed to get off the ground, the whole thing would have crashed and he likely would have died. He says God was telling him that he was not meant to fly.
Eventually, he made his way to Slab City, liked it, and found a new way to express his faith. He built Salvation Mountain by hand, and is still building it, year after year, layer after layer of mud and paint. He'll be eighty in a few months, but he still works on it every day. He's been recognized as a genuine folk artist, one of the most accomplished ones of our times, and featured on TV specials, in National Geographic, and elsewhere.
Like I said, remarkable.
Here are a few pictures of Leonard and Salvation Mountain, but go to the website for more. Better yet, get out there if you're able. Take Leonard some paint, and drop off a few bucks on the donation table. He's quite a guy, and he deserves a little help.