Many of the hikers and travelers in America are at some point have been a part a recreational-vehicle oasis in the middle of the Colorado desert, called the Slab City. Most of you would’ve been aware of its existence after watching “Into the Wild” of 2007, which featured a fair bit of this place and made it more popular. Slab City holds the last remnants of a military training camp of World War II in the form of large concrete slabs spread across the desert floor, and hence the name. It is an informal community of people who have given up their urbane life, or more often than not, lost it to the economy and chosen to live in the desert rent-free, tax-free and away from the hard economic laws of the country. But before Slab city became a recession haven for the Americans, it was a snowbird spot by the people from the Northern Region and Canada and a home to the gypsies who returned every few months. Slab City displays a life that is a little off the beaten path, and a lifestyle that defies the trend of modern civilization with a life without electricity and water. The whole neighbourhood functions under a general rule that you fare well to live in the community as long as you don’t trouble your neighbor. Over the years Slab City has done better for itself in terms of the facilities and activities around. They have pool, skating rink, weekend band gigs and other such social activities to keep themselves entertained. They are away from the society and troubles that mount with it, the reason why one must experience the culture and life in this community.
But among the many who staggered across the desserts, in mid-1980s, to Slab City was a lean and sturdy man, named Leonard Knight with a simple philosophy of ‘God is love’ that he wanted to send out to the world through a massive hot-air balloon he had made with bed sheets. But his hope lay in vain as the hot air balloon could not be airborne despite his repeated attempts in the desert. Stuck in this Southern Californian desert he decided to stay there a week longer, but by then he was gripped by the spirit of the place around Slab City. He soon decided to settle down in a truck which he painted, and built a sort of a house in the back of it, and following which he decided to make some art that made him happy, and expressed his devotion.
He began building what he called, the Salvation Mountain. Knight, a veteran of American Korean war, used this as a platform to express his pent up religious emotions. He said, “We’ve just got to start loving God more, and these things like wars wouldn’t happen. God’s love is the strongest force. It can squash hate.” Probably, this was the inspiration for the name of the man-made structure. Knight believed that humans should never fail in realizing that God and love are the same and love can be found where God is. In the 30 years that Knight worked on his art structure, it grew into a three story high and a 100-foot wide riot of paint, adobe and concrete.
Salvation Mountain is a few miles from Slab City, and hard to miss for its massive structure and bright colours. Under the bright sun of Nilanda and against dull monotony of the desert, this little man-made mountain stands out as a marvel, bright and happy, and must see tourist destination. It has ‘God is Love’ written in bold and bright colour with a cross above it, atop the structure. It carries the universal message of love and biblical messages, which is written all over it and inside it. It has enormous raised letters made with adobe to write messages that Knight wishes to spread to the world and his visitors. Knight has used window slabs to car doors, a lot of adobe and thousands of gallons of donated paint and anything that came his way to build this structure with his immense love for god and people. These have only added beauty to the place and given it an artistic feel and a new perspective to the lay man’s vision of art. It’s also one of the most beautiful living examples of the freedom of expression and religion the law has conferred upon us.
In 1993, Leonard Knight, told the Times people, “If somebody gave me $100,000 a week to move somewhere and live in a mansion and be a big shot, I’d refuse it. I want to be right here. It’s amazing, isn’t it?”
That’s the story of a man who lived his vision. Not many of us can do that. It cannot be true that a piece of art so big, in terms of its size, faith and love, created by a single-man cannot affect a person, probably one of the best reasons for Salvation Mountain to find a place in your bucket-list. Get yourself to see the wonders conviction and faith can do to a person, and taste the freedom this place has to offer to the world.