Tucked away in the southern Californian desert are some stunning art installations, and a community without rules. Salvation Mountain is the most famous of these installations. You can visit Salvation Mountain for free and roam through its landscape admiring decorated cars and its fabricated caves and mountain structure. It’s truly a special place that has an almost mysterious air about it.

Truck with covered bed covered in painted words about the bible, god is love
Photo of decorated truck part of Salvation Mountain grounds Photo taken by Emma Tiemann

The Last Free City

Part of Salvation Mountain’s vibe is probably due to where it’s located—Slab City, aka the last free city. While the term “city” is used loosely in this situation, Slab City is a community of people living completely off the grid in the desert. 

A military training facility, Camp Dunlap, used to be in this area but closed down in the 1950s. The large concrete slabs left behind from the facility are the inspiration of the city’s name. While the population fluctuates with the seasons, there are permanent residents that have been living in the area for years. In the city you’ll find homes, a library, a few spots that sell food, designated roads, plus plenty of art. 

Salvation Mountain

The Salvation Mountain creation took 28 years to build and is now one of the most famous art installations in the U.S. Leonard Knight is the man behind the mountain and was struck with a passion for the love of god while sitting alone in his van. Knight wanted to spread the word of love, but no one was interested in listening to him. His solution: hot air balloons. Knight wanted to build the world’s largest hot air balloon, complete with the message “God is Love.” However the project had its challenges and ended up being unsuccessful. 

Colorful, hand-built sign says
Entrance sign to Salvation Mountain Photo taken by Emma Tiemann

Knight abandoned his balloon idea and made his way to Southern California. It was here he decided to try one last attempt at spreading this message of love, and he built a small hill in the desert out of dirt and cement just outside of Slab City. Over time, this small hill would turn into the magnificent Salvation Mountain creation. Knight would use dirt, clay, straw bales, sand, cement, plus loads of latex paint to create his monument to God’s love. 

Main peak and parts of the grounds of Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain

Visiting The Mountain 

Upkeep of Salvation Mountain is a full-time job, and Knight took the utmost care of his creation. However, since his passing in 2014, the site has relied on volunteer care. Today you can visit Salvation Mountain and even climb to the top of the main mountain peak for no cost, but it’s requested that people donate to the non-profit organization in charge of preserving the site. 

View from the top of the main peak at Salvation mountain. Can see a large expanse of the surrounding desert
View from the top of the main peak