Slab City

8 04 2011

We are now camped at Slab City, a sixty year old illegal-yet-tolerated squatters camp in the Colorado Desert in southeastern California. The cross-section of humanity that lives here is wide. Most “slabbers” derive their income from government checks (SSI and Social Security), but there are others out here in RVs that could be traded in for a small mansion.

Welcome To Slab City

Welcome To Slab City

Our Spot

Our Spot

My first impression on rolling in was that this place is reminiscent of Burning Man. It has streets, social clubs, hot springs, a library, and quirky people with names like Gizmo Joe and Builder Bill. Structure somehow emerges from nothing, and the only rule is one of respect. Free space abounds, and people are friendly and non-judgmental. As a sign here puts it, this really is “the last free place on Earth.” I told Ayo that I wanted to come for a full winter.

Sunset From Our Spot

Sunset From Our Spot

Yair In The RV, Taken Without His Permission!

Yair In The RV, Deep In Thought On His Computer

And then reality started to set in. A lot of people here are addicts or former addicts, and many Slabbers are here to escape the law. People here don’t have very much, and some say that theft has started to become an issue – particularly during the winter season when Slab City’s population explodes. Among some of the people we’ve hung out with, petty arguments tend to break out frequently, and there’s a good share of “all corporations and governments are evil” philosophy around.

Slab City Hot Springs

Slab City Hot Springs

Salvation Mountain From The Distance

Salvation Mountain From A Distance

Yair With Salvation Mountain Artist Leonard Knight

Yair With Salvation Mountain Artist Leonard Knight

That doesn’t make Slab City a bad place, it just makes it a place with ups and downs like any other. I think that I might enjoy spending some more time here, but Slab City isn’t for everybody. We’ve met great people, bathed in a canal, borrowed books from the library, seen genius reappropriations of junk, and heard spooky stories told around a campfire. We’ve watched military helicopters refueling midair and have heard artillery fire from the Chocolate Mountains Aerial Gunnery Range next door.

Ayo On Salvation Mountain's Yellow Brick Road

Ayo On Salvation Mountain's Yellow Brick Road

Ayo Atop Salvation Mountain

Ayo Atop Salvation Mountain

Pimp My Ride?

Pimp My Ride?

In case you can’t tell, I’m ambivalent. There are people here that keep me on edge (and that keep other people here on edge), but there’s something fun about being able to choose yourself a free plot of land to do with as you wish and stay on as long as you want to be a part of this fringe community.

Solar Is The Way To Go Out Here (This Guy Has LOTS)

Solar Is The Way To Go Out Here (This Guy Has LOTS)

Gizmo Joe's Place

Gizmo Joe's Place

Slab City's Own Membership Club (Really)

Slab City's Own Membership Club (Really)

*I couldn’t find any solid information on internet access at the Slabs. For the curious, here it is: Verizon works fine for phone calls, with temperamental 3G service. No Sprint service at all. The guys who run The Oasis Club have satellite internet available. You’ll need to negotiate with them, but their members pay $5 per month for a high speed connection.

posted by yair

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15 responses

8 04 2011
ayo

Slab City has definitely been an interesting experience. I’ve been digging the language that people use here.

Here is one small example: A woman was calling to her dog. Instead of shouting “Come, boy! Come to your owner!” or “Come to your mama!” or anything like that, she goes “Where’s your human? Come find your human!” It was SO funny and awesome.

8 04 2011
Michael

We need more slab cities in my opinion. : )

8 04 2011
Diana

Looks like you’ve definitely made yourself at home! It’s definitely a one-of-a-kind place. You also might want to check out Container Charlie. Love the shot of you and Leonard.

8 04 2011
Rene

People definitely have a love/hate relationship with it, us included. We like the freedom, hate the trash, it’s so disrespectful. But there are more good things than bad that can be found in that environment, you just have to look beyond the burnt out trailers.

One thing I might suggest is to get there much earlier in the season when there’s more of a variety of campers. This time of year about the only people who stick around are those who have no other place to go and those who are hiding from the law. It’s not the best place to be after the Prom.

Say Hi to the Library for me, I miss that place. Wish I could stick around to fix it up, it’s really falling apart.

P.S. Verizon access gets worse the closer you get to the Canal (our favorite spot).

11 04 2011
jayhorowitz

I’ve heard similar things, although I’m considering a follow-up post because my attitude has changed a bit and in a positive way.

Re: the library, I got a huge kick out of the Oasis Club having its own separate library! I mean, what would a social club be without a library? 🙂

18 07 2013
Helen

I lived in a small motorhome right behind the oasis in 2006-2007. Right after ” Into the wild was filmed. I am a single mother of three grown children who worked hard for many years. When society became to awful for me i moved into my 18ft trailer and moved to slab city. It was the best move of my life. The people who live there year round are some of the most real people I had ever known. I met the man of my dreams about nine months after I arrived. He had been living on the slabs for about five years. Living at the slabs taught me what is important in life food, water, shelter that’s it. i went to the range and listened to great music by Chance,Kenny Riggs, Builder Bill, and Insane Wayne. I worked worked for Ice and cigarette money by helping One Can tend to her cactus. And yes prom was unforgettable. Phillip and I left and moved to Virginia where my children live for a while and have been quietly traveling around the southern United State every since. I think about my time at the slabs regularly and remember the people who make The Slabs, The Slabs. We will be back one day when it’s time to settle down, But in the mean time it is great to see that all is well at the Slabs.

Helen (commonwealth) and Phillip (Caveman).

8 04 2011
rlewbel

Sounds like slab city could serve as a great petri dish for civilization. This could be how it once was, and how it all led to the structure of law and order that we know, today.

7 05 2012
Vagabonding Adam

The thought of Slab City, its whole ethos and the reports I hear from people who’ve been make it somewhat a necessity for me to go!

I just have to experience a winter there. When you say to arrive earlier what sort of time would you aim to get there?

30 04 2013
ayo

Most people tend to winter there – December, January, February. I think that seasonal folks start heading out by March, so it depends what type of experience you would like.

15 04 2013
Immigration Advice Barking

We’re a gaggle of volunteers and starting a brand new scheme in our community. Your website offered us with valuable info to work on. You have done a formidable activity and our whole community might be grateful to you.

30 04 2013
ayo

So glad that we were helpful – hurrah!

19 04 2013
Immigration Solicitors Rochester

Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit my
comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all
that over again. Anyways, just wanted to say excellent blog!

30 04 2013
ayo

Thank you! I’m glad that you enjoyed! 🙂

23 06 2013
Carlos

information in detail is scarce if not impossible to attain. I want to relocate there but the information on crime is also spotty if not absent. Any suggestions….????

25 07 2013
ayo

My understanding and experience is that there is practically no violent crime and little theft. It’s a more rugged environment as it is on the fringes of traditional society so I’m not sure that I would bring youth or pre-teens there for example, but I wouldn’t have hesitations to live there myself. Check it out and see what you think?

Good luck and keep us posted!

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