Leonard Knight spent almost 30 years building a colorful mountain of adobe covered with donated paint in the Imperial Valley desert, near Niland and the Salton Sea. He worked on his creation, Salvation Mountain, every day and often slept there in the back of a pick-up truck, with no electricity or running water and bathing in the nearby hot springs. Knight died in his sleep Monday afternoon at a care center in El Cajon, where he'd been living for two years, KPBS reported in San Diego.
Knight's message was painted across the face of the mountain: "God is Love." The rest of the mountain and the outcroppings Knight built over the years were all covered in Bible verses. Like other outsider artists, (Rev. Howard Finster comes to mind), Knight had a conversion experience. After that, his zeal and a singular focus drove him to create an artwork with evangelical purpose. Leonard had no training as an artist. He learned to make adobe and visitors gave him buckets of paint.
When he first arrived in the desert in 1986, he tried to launch a hot air balloon to send his message of God's love to the world. When that didn't work, he stayed in the same spot and began building the mountain. Today, it's the size of a football field and three stories high.
Westfall said Knight recently told him: "All of my dreams have come true. More than I can possibly ask for."
Thousands of tourists visit Salvation Mountain from all over the world. Visitors run the gamut from hippies to the devout, snowbirds to photographers, and a lot of the just plain curious.
Knight and Salvation Mountain were featured in the film "Into the Wild," directed by Sean Penn, as well as in art books, on CNN, the BBC, and in one of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone mysteries, "G Is for Gumshoe." Sen. Barbara Boxer declared Salvation Mountain a national treasure and entered it into the Congressional record. It has been honored by the American Folk Art Society.
Here's the story at the Imperial Valley Press. Couple of videos, by KPBS and Vice: