Leonard Knight, the man who built a mountain for God in the middle of the Colorado Desert out of adobe and hay bales, died last night in San Diego at 82. His Salvation Mountain, near the Salton Sea and the notorious Slab City squatter outpost, was famous enough by the end of his life that it ended up in last year's biggest video game. According to a 2013 story in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Knight, a native Vermonter, first came out to California in the early '80s hoping to launch a homemade hot-air balloon—with the words "GOD IS LOVE" on it—on a cross-country flight. "But the thing just wouldn't lift." So he prayed and God told him to build a mountain instead.
Knight spent the rest of his life building that mountain, living in "a broken-down fire truck covered in Scripture" at its base (until about two years ago, when he moved into a convalescent hospital, according to the LA Times), and spending his days building and giving tours to anyone who stopped by. (As Gizmodo notes, he had a donation box and admirers often left supplies, but Knight didn't charge.)
Salvation Mountain became a National Folk Art Site in 2010 and, since Knight left in 2011, has been cared for by a very dedicated group of volunteers. The land under it is state-owned, but "efforts to oust Knight have long since been abandoned," says the Times. Still it's unclear what will happen to the mountain in the long-term.
Intrepid Curbed photographer Elizabeth Daniels was out at Slab City recently and took these photos of Knight's life work. In his own words: "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?"