Thursday, October 19, 2006

The man and his mountain

Don’t even ask about our night’s accommodations.  According to Don, the Calipatria Inn was the second favorite place he’s ever stayed.  What was first?  Everything else!  (He’ll show you the pictures.) The thing is, it was only 10 miles away from Niland, which meant easy morning access to Salvation Mountain, one of outsider art’s most incredible environments.

The mountain (and everything around it) is the work of the smiling man above, 74 year old Leonard Knight.  He started back in 1974, with a simple plan to tell people that God is love.  Now, 100,000 gallons of paint later, his rainbow hued peaks loom over the desert floor below.  Which he’s painted as well, in the form of a beautiful blue ocean. 

There are signs all around, reminding us that we should repent our sins, and love the Lord.  But Leonard himself doesn’t preach at visitors.  If you’re there for the art, that’s fine, and if you want to talk religion, he might do that too.  He used to ride his bike around to find raw materials, but now he’s got a car.  No electricity, phone, or water though.  He mostly lives a hard scrabble desert life, painting, meditating and talking directly with “his preacher.”

Turns out we weren’t the only film crew looking for Leonard today either.  A movie (Into the Wild) directed by Sean Penn that was shooting in the vicinity wanted to use Salvation Mountain for a scene or two, with Mr. Knight making a small appearance.  We took him to lunch first, and told him we’d do most of the talking, so he could rest his voice.  Thanks, Leonard.  It’s a take!

Afterwards, we wandered off to see how much of a mess the nearby Salton Sea really is. Plenty of dead fish, and very few people at this bizarre water hole in the middle of the California desert.

Speaking of incongruous, how about the Center of the World?  Did you know it’s in Felicity, just a few miles from the Arizona border?  That there’s a plaque and a pyramid?  And stairs from the Eiffel Tower?  But it’s closed from Easter through Thanksgiving, so we couldn’t really learn the finer details.  That still didn’t stop us from speculating on some of its Francophilic ways during some lively parking lot catch.  Put me in coach, I’m ready to play...

Music in the van--new Madeline Peyroux, REM “Eponymous”, Jayhawks Rainy Day Music” 

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