Creator Of California's Salvation Mountain Dies
Visitors often brought Leonard gallons of paint for the mountain. Taken in 2008.
Photo by Angela Carone
By Angela Carone, KPBS
February 11, 2014
Photo by Angela Carone
Leonard Knight in 2008, when he was still living at Salvation Mountain.

Leonard Knight, the creator of the California desert artwork known as Salvation Mountain, has died. He was 82.

Knight died Monday in a nursing home in El Cajon.

Knight spent almost 30 years building Salvation Mountain in the Imperial Valley desert. He built it out of adobe and donated paint.

The result is a surreal, colorful monument that is as wide as a football field and three stories high. It's covered in Bible verses, stemming from a conversion Knight had in the mid-1980s. By 2002, Sen. Barbara Boxer called Salvation Mountain a national treasure.

Knight lived at the base of the mountain, in the back of a truck without electricity or running water. He bathed in a natural hot springs nearby.

Two years ago, Knight entered the nursing home.

Friend and caretaker Dan Westfall said Knight recently realized he wasn't going to live at his mountain again and stopped eating.

"Leonard had pretty much decided that it was time for him to go," Westfall said. "His physical limitations had trapped him for the last couple of months and he just felt there wasn't a whole lot he could do to further his message and his mountain.

A nonprofit has been established to preserve and care for Salvation Mountain, which has become a tourist destination. On a recent Saturday, close to 500 people visited the desert artwork.