Day Trip to The Slabs

Salton Sea Day_118It is five am and I have been awake for awhile now, who knows why. We have been traveling for the last few days, choosing to follow the coastal route through California north from the desert.  We have taken our time, ambling north at a rate of about 250 miles per day, taking advantage of Military Family Camps and Passport America to park for the night in reasonable comfort.  As usual, when I can’t sleep, I thought perhaps I could write about something with a bit more depth than I am inclined to write later in the day when real life is closer than my dreams.

Salton Sea Day_119For many days now, I have been thinking about what to write about Slab City, otherwise known as the Slabs.  It is easy to post the photos, to write about the physical reality of the place.  Many folks on the road in this part of California have done just that.  The physical reality of the Slabs is simple.  It is located in a wide open part of the desert east of the town of Niland that has little to offer except simply space.  On a section of state land that once held the Camp Dunlap Marine Training Center, there is now a free boondocking oasis for RV’rs of all kinds.

Salton Sea Day_125At first glance, entering the area is somewhat shocking, depending on your point of view. Folks who come here seeking refuge because they know about the culture will feel welcomed and safe. Mid America types of RVrs in their big rigs coming here for the first time might be overwhelmed by the apparent lack of any sense of beauty or order. Boondocking types who seek wide open empty spaces might think the place is much too populated. Boondocking types who love the Quartzite atmosphere of daily social gatherings of like minded folks will love it. 

Salton Sea Day_127We had no plans to boondock in the Slabs, but I wanted to see it.  Occasionally I read about folks coming here with their thoughts and experiences, but my view of Slab City has been forever altered by the writing of just one man.  Randy, of the Mobile Kodgers, let me see this place with completely different eyes than I would have ever seen on my one afternoon drive-through. Randy’s blog isn’t your everyday blog of the typical RVing full-timer.  Much like Debra in Bisbee, Randy says things that might make some people a bit uncomfortable, but he tells stories like few people are willing.

Salton Sea Day_136Instead of simply gawking, Randy makes the effort to dig in deep and get to know a place and the people who inhabit it.  I think it is because of Randy’s blog that I have been unable to actually write about Slab City, knowing that I can’t come close to expressing what Randy has found and the stories behind the trash and the once homeless lost people who have chosen to live there.  If you have an opinion of the Slabs and haven’t read Randy’s blog, check it out and learn something.  I surely did.

Salton Sea Day_146After a bit of a disappointing drive around the Salton Sea, we saw a sign for Niland and Salvation Mountain.  Mo had no idea what awaited us, but I told her that we needed to go there and see it in person.  We took the gravel road east and in a short time the multicolored painted mountain appeared.  Salvation Mountain is a story of it’s own, again Randy has written about the artist in depth, in ways you might not find on websites telling the story of this amazing piece of crazy folk art.

Salton Sea Day_144I cannot even come close to writing about Leonard Knight the way that Randy has.  Here is his story about the creator of Salvation Mountain.  It was with awe and respect for all the different people in the world that I walked through the nearly psychedelic interior of the hill.  We walked past great piles of paint buckets donated by every major paint company in America into one man’s vision of the message of God’s Love.

Salton Sea Day_156Deep inside we found four young folks and their dog, taking photos, and they asked me to get a shot of the four of them.  They were friendly, open kids, who had driven from Tucson to spend New Year’s Eve at Slab City.  They looked at me when I asked why they were here with surprise, as if I should know that the New Year’s Eve party at the Slabs was something not to be missed.  While one young woman casually rolled a joint, they told me that Slab City was a dummied down version of Burning Man, only it lasted all year long. 

Salton Sea Day_134There are no police here, and rules of any kind are conspicuously absent, an important feature to folks who choose to come here and stay. Dogs run freely, rigs range from huge Class A’s to ancient trucks covered with folk art. There is a library and an internet café, tucked away in old buses or tin shacks behind cape verde trees.  There is trash everywhere, and much of the trash has been converted to art. 

Salton Sea Day_129In the midst of the dusty dirt roads, we suddenly realized that an airplane was landing in front of us, and like the other trucks driving around, we pulled over to the side of the road to let it land.  The pilot of the small plane taxied up to his big Phaeton, greeting some fellow campers.  No rules.

Salton Sea Day_142I am pretty sure that Mo and I will not ever choose to boondock here.  Our vision of boondocking is more on the level of wide open and silent, like the area behind the Alabama Hills in California, or the Top of the World Highway in Alaska. We have parked in Quartzite, but not during the high season, and our idea of fun socializing is more often one couple at a time rather than big gatherings of happy hour get togethers.  Still, I am so glad I got to see this place, had the chance to walk inside Salvation Mountain rather than just look at photos, had the chance to watch a little plane land on the dirt road, and to see the myriad types of shelters that so many people call home.

I am glad there is a place like this in the world for those who choose to be there.

Author: kyotesue

Soil scientist/mapper working for 35 years in the wild lands of the West. I am now retired, enjoying my freedom to travel, to hike without a shovel and a pack, to knit and quilt and play, to play with photography and write stories about all of it.

15 thoughts on “Day Trip to The Slabs”

  1. Oh Wow! I've never seen Salvation Mountain before. What an awesome thing. I have been amazed by the whole story. Fascinating and thanks for all the links.



  2. Spent a couple weeks at the Slabs last winter, and we will be back for longer once we go fulltime.

    We have friends who stay there all winter long, in nice RV's and share companionship, meals and a campfire almost every night. I write to them all daily and miss being with them.

    Many come to stretch that meager social security check, or from Canada to enjoy the warmer weather. Boondocking skills are honed and they share fix-it problems and ideas and tools and help.

    Much of the trash you see is NOT from the Slabbers, its from the locals in town— instead of paying the high fees at the dump (which is out on the same road to the Slabs) just drive out to the Slabs and toss it. Some is left behind from people who left, or died. And no rules so nobody has to clean it up.

    If you notice, where people are living, they (mostly) keep their own areas clean and neat. It's the spaces in between where the trash is dumped.

    If you could spend a bit more time, things like the open mic night at the range, (good music) and some of the pot lucks and gatherings are a great way to meet folks.

    We felt we fit right in, even with our diesel motorhome. Don't matter what you camp in, we all sit around the fire and share and laugh and enjoy.

    Karen and Steveio
    (Our Blog) RVing: Small House… BIG Backyard


  3. Like so many others, our first couple days at the Slabs 4 years ago were a culture shock and my camera was drawn to all the trash. By the third day I felt a slight tug of understanding and by the time we left I felt a welcoming pull. We will likely be at the Slabs again shortly to have Solar Mike do a little trouble shooting with our Solar system. Don't know how long we'll stay. Not to long though or that tug and pull could become stronger. The Slabs have a way of doing that to a person….


  4. Oh ~ to have a simple spirit and let it free…..

    I love this blog! I don't know why you struggled with it because you wrote a beauty! I've never heard of either of these places. They sound facinating and a tad bit scary at the same time. So is that society telling me it's scary? I've always thought of myself as a bit of a rebel. I just might have to check these places out!


  5. We've been to the Slabs but have never camped there. However, I just spent the last week in Q with a great friend who spends most of the winter at the Slabs and wouldn't go anywhere else. He tells wonderful stories about his times there and all the friends he has.


  6. to each their own..the slabs sounds like it is a 'melting pot' of all different people..if only the desert could talk..I am sure it would have many stories to tell!!


  7. Being an “easterner” having spent little time in the west outside of the National and State parks, I had never heard of this. So thanks for all the information and pictures.


  8. We did a drive through The Slabs a few years ago and to us it was a fun place to visit but we wouldn't want to stay there.

    Salvation Mountain was fun to visit and lots of photo taking opportunities for sure.


  9. Huh! I'd never heard of Salvation Mtn or The Slabs before reading your post. Appreciate the info – always good to learn something new.

    I don't know whether being awake @ 5am (sigh…) had anything to do with your words, but your post was really excellent!


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