Only subscribers may read this in its entirety. What follows is a free preview, truncated midway through.Leonard Knight’s first message to the world—GOD IS LOVE—was supposed to be airborne, painted on the side of a hot-air balloon. The balloon itself was a minor miracle of persistence, scraps patched together over years. He even built a stove to inflate it, drove the whole contraption out to California’s Salton Sea, about an hour north of the Mexican border. The day was clear, good conditions. But the thing just wouldn’t lift.
Burdened by his failure, Knight prayed. God’s answer was to build a mountain.
Photographer Aaron Huey first met Knight in 2006, during a road trip from Los Angeles to Santa Fe. Knight was seventy-five, and still strong enough to carry a forty-pound bucket of adobe up a thirty-foot ladder, but too weak to carry the eighty-pound hay bales he’d been using to build Salvation Mountain for nearly thirty years. Huey lent a hand, and a dozen hay bales later he experienced his own epiphany. “I’d never met somebody who dedicated his entire life to making one thing. Leonard makes one thing. Leonard makes the mountain. Meeting him made me want to throw away all my things—my computer, my phone, my career, my ego—and help him build his mountain. Instead I moved a few hay bales and promised to come back.”