Leonard Knight, the man responsible for the iconic sculpture Salvation Mountain, visited his creation briefly Sunday.
It was his first visit this year and his third visit since December 2011, when he was placed in a managed-care facility.
“This is something I’ve been promising him as a payoff for his eye surgeries,” said Dan Westfall, Knight’s caretaker and president of Salvation Mountain Inc.
Leonard, as his admirers call him, had a simple message: love each other.
“Everybody love everybody — does that sound OK?” he told the crowd.
Salvation Mountain is Leonard’s tribute to God’s message of love, a message he built into the side of a mountain just outside Slab City in Niland. He methodically molded the structure out of adobe over the course of some 27 years while he lived in a Chevy truck at the base of the site.
Snowbirds, squatters and visitors on their way into Slab City are greeted with an extravaganza of colors and biblical verses that spill down the side of the mountain. “God is love” is painted in its center. A simple white cross is affixed to its top.
Leonard’s brief visit was an opportunity for his admirers to say hello and have a few words with him.
“Leonard, we met you two years ago when it (Salvation Mountain) was recognized by Congress. You were beaming then. You’re beaming the same way today,” said Neil Mallick, a musician and occasional Slab City resident.
While Leonard’s message is straight out of the Bible, his appeal is more broad.
“Three ladies came up from Los Angeles to hear me,” Leonard told the crowd. “You didn’t come here because of hatred. You came here for love.”
And that is Leonard’s entire message.
“Love is the center of what he’s talking about,” Mallick said. “He uses the vocabulary of the Bible but love is universal.”
Somebody asked Leonard how he managed to shape and paint the top of the mountain.
“I was young back then,” he replied.
Leonard is 81 years old now “and with a lot of miles on him,” Westfall said.
Until he underwent cataract surgery, he could barely see. He relies on an amplifier and microphone to hear. But he seemed pleased to be back at his mountain.
“There seems to be a crack in that one but it seems to be holding together,” he said, looking in the direction of the yellow brick road painted at the base of the mountain.
Movies like “Into the Wild” and “Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea” have immortalized Salvation Mountain and increased the number of visitors.
Some worry that the sculpture will be vandalized or fall into disrepair now that Leonard no longer lives there.
Preserving Leonard’s message is important, noted “Builder” Bill, a Slab City resident. Some visitors attempt to add to the mountain, he said.
“They’re taking it like a community hippy project and adding to it,” he said. “He did this having a message to the world.”
Builder Bill said he organizes work crews to touch up the paint and shore up the adobe.
The weather is harsh in the desert, and the summer sun is relentless.
“It needs to be constantly repainted,” Bill said.
And rain — when it comes — softens the mud and causes the hillside to slip, he added.
While locals want to preserve Leonard’s mountain, they wish to build on his message.
“I’m not a religious man. But Leonard’s faith and purity of soul is something you can believe in,” Bill said. “We’re trying to build a town here where people can grow. This is our front door.”
Staff Writer Antoine Abou-Diwan can be reached at 760-337-3454 or firstname.lastname@example.org