After ten years of relentless toil, Leonard and his mountain began to gain some notoriety. It was especially noticed by the Imperial County Supervisors. You see, Salvation Mountain as it had come to be known, was at the entrance of Slab City (the Slabs), a community of "snowbirds" (visitors who live in the northern United States and Canada and travel to the warmer southern states for the winter) and local squatters occupying the old dismantled and abandoned Fort Dunlap World War II Marine training base. Only the concrete slabs of the barracks and Quonset huts remain. Because the land was government owned and because so many people were camping there without paying taxes or rent, the county thought it would start collecting a user fee. They also figured that there might be a conflict with a "religious monument" at the entrance to a county campground. So in July of 1994, their solution was to hire a toxic waste specialist to come out and take samples of the dirt around Leonard's Mountain to test for "contaminants." Even before the test results were back, they cordoned off the area and labeled it a "toxic nightmare." The tests predictably came back claiming high amounts of lead in the soil. The county petitioned the state of California for funds to tear down the mountain and haul it away to a toxic waste disposal dumpsite in Nevada.
Local residents, and snowbirds alike, did not see that as an option for Salvation Mountain and their friend Leonard. Hundreds and hundreds of signatures were collected on circulated petitions. Thanks to the help of many old and new found friends, Leonard dug soil samples from the very same holes as the "expert" had used and submitted them to an independent lab in San Diego. No one was surprised when the new tests reveled that there were no unacceptable levels of any contaminants -- especially lead -- at Salvation Mountain. The mountain stands today as a reward to the determination of many and the tenacity of one.
In 1998, Leonard began experimenting with bales of straw and adobe. He got an idea to build a Hogan (the domed-shaped home of adobe and sticks used by the native Navajo) using bales of straw and adobe that would insulate him from the 115+°F (46°C) heat of the desert summers. He stacked the bales up to form a 10-foot high domed room. He covered the whole thing with adobe and painted and adorned it in his typical style. He never, however, moved into it still preferring to live in his truck.
A few years ago, Leonard started the "Museum." It is an incredibly ambitious project. It is modeled after his original semi-inflated hot-air balloon. When finished, it will include several large domed areas supported by "trees" that Leonard builds from old tires, wood scavenged from the surrounding desert, and, of course, adobe. It is his current work-in-progress.
The Mountain continually evolves. The blazing year-round sun, the wind, and the sand take its toll on the painted surfaces of Salvation Mountain. Patching and painting are constant necessities. Paint colors are limited to the paint that gracious people donate to him. He uses the "ugly colors" for patching and toughening. He saves the "pretty ones" for top coats and final decoration.
Leonard sees the finished Museum holding many pictures and artifacts from the beginnings of the mountain, the struggle with the county Supervisors, and his art and creations up to the present day. One of his favorites is a plaque that he received from Senator Barbara Boxer of California documenting a May 15, 2002 entry into the Congressional Record of the United States proclaiming Salvation Mountain as a national treasure.
It is Leonard's hope that his message of LOVE will be seen all over the world and that all people everywhere will show more love and compassion for their fellow man. He truly believes that love is the answer to a peaceful and harmonious existence.
Leonard will probably never be finished with Salvation Mountain. His imagination is limited only by his own perception of the capabilities and powers bestowed upon him by God.
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