Driving in the California desert, on a desolate road about 80 miles south of Palm Springs, a strange sight comes into view. From a mile or so away, it looks like a candy-colored explosion against the side of a mountain.
Closer, the colors begin to take shape and form. It's a massive painting, with the hillside serving as a canvas. Even closer, words appear -- religious messages.
Welcome to Salvation Mountain, just outside of Niland, Calif. It's the vision and creation of Leonard Knight, a simple man with a simple message: "God is love." And those are the words atop the mountain, under a giant cross.
Chris Epting for AOL News
Salvation Mountain rises out the California desert with colorful religious messages.Since arriving here in 1983, Knight has tirelessly worked on the giant-sized folk art, painting not only biblical and religious Scripture but also including various trees, bluebirds, flowers, waterfalls, suns and many other colorful objects and scenes.
He got the call of religion in the late 1960s, and in the early '80s arrived at this site with the intent of launching a hot-air balloon with a religious message emblazoned on it. However, the balloon would not fly, so instead Knight was inspired to create the now-famous work of art known as Salvation Mountain.
The main part of the sculpted and painted hillside is 50 feet high and 150 feet across, made of local adobe clay packed into the hill and then painted.
Next to the hillside is another part of the masterpiece, a multitiered "museum" made from bales of hay covered in adobe, and then painted. The "rooms" and nooks in the museum structure are all decorated with more colorful messages of love and faith.
Those who make the desert trek, after climbing the yellow brick staircase to the top and then touring the museum, are often afforded the chance to speak with Knight, who lives in a donated '51 Chevy truck that's parked near the base of the mountain.
There's no heat or air conditioning in the vehicle, and so Knight just braves the extreme desert climate.
As to what keeps him going each day as he works on painting the mountain, Knight told AOL News, "I just meditate about God and Jesus mostly. I think about what the world will be like when everybody knows God loves them. The most rewarding aspect of the mountain is all the love that people give me. I love everybody and it seems like everybody loves me back. I believe good gets better and love gets bigger and I believe the whole world is going to love each other and God and Jesus."
Kevin Eubank, who lives near the site, has taken care of Knight for the last 15 months.
"People get inspired when they visit here," Eubank told AOL News. "It doesn't matter what faith you follow, or even if you don't. People from all over the country, including celebrities, sports figures and religious figures, all come here to experience what Leonard has created."
Knight is 79 years old, nearly deaf and nearly blind, but he still paints here every day. "I just move the ladders and he does the painting," said Eubank. "I've known Leonard for more than 15 years, and I don't think there's anyone else on the planet like him. His faith, dedication and just basic sense of goodness are something to behold. That's what draws people out here."
Sponsored LinksAs far as funding, people make donations so Eubank and Knight can buy paint and supplies, and they welcome any and all contributions.
Although the folk art project sits on an unauthorized portion of state land, Salvation Mountain was placed under protection in 2002 when Sen. Barbara Boxer designated it within the Congressional Record as a "national treasure."
Additionally, Salvation Mountain was featured in the 2007 film "Into the Wild," as well as several documentaries, including "Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea," "Desertopia" and "Mountain