Consisting of about 640 state-owned acres of tumbleweed and barren sand deep in the desert of Southern California lies Slab City. Once a WWII Marine Corp training facility called Camp Dunlap, the slabs of concrete that were left behind after the buildings were dismantled in 1956 give the area its name. Located on this parched piece of desert about 200 miles from Los Angeles, 140 miles east of San Diego or 50 miles north of Mexico in the California Badlands you find a community of about 200 year-round residents and a slew of transients or "snowbirds" that go there for the winter months and enjoy the free camping and parking.
Slab City is rent-free for a good reason, no one else wants it. Summer months see temperatures around 120°F, and random dust storms can rage for three solid days. There is no running water, no electricity, no sanitation, and no law enforcement. In fact, Slab City bills itself as the last free place in America.
Slab City looks a lot like the destitute leftovers from Burning Man made a love child with Mad Max. Some Slab city residents, called Slabbers, live there to escape modern society, some just do not want to be found, and others live there out of poverty or want to be left alone. There are a few fugitives, drug addicts, and young nomads akin to modern day hobos or “train kids”, as the Slabbers call them, who come through on a regular basis and just enjoy staying and living in Slab City. They make their homes in tents, lean-tos made with detritus found in the dessert, and broken down buses. But these homes can also be as lavish as a fenced-in compound with multiple RVs and solar power.
On the surface, Slab City looks like a bunch of squatters in the desert, but there is a sense of community. They give free water, and there is live music on a regular basis from locals and whoever wants to join in. There is plenty of opportunity to see inventive artwork made from junk in an area of Slab City called East Jesus.
The term East Jesus is slang for completely off the beaten path in the middle of nowhere. The name is fitting for this unique artist community in Slab City. East Jesus attempts to use and recycle every bit of consumable trash. Tires and bottles make a ring around a broken airplane with a dummy laying along side as the crash's only survivor. All manner of items, including vehicles, televisions, kitchen appliances, mannequins, and anything else are remixed into thought-provoking sculptures and installations. Giant truck wheels have been painted white and serve as the fence around someone's home. Old doll parts decorate the Crybaby Buick alongside rusted cans and a mountain of old whippet cartridges artfully arranged. A wall of broken televisions talk about the evils of fake news and media and comments on the current political administration.
Besides the artwork, Slab City's dwellers enjoy the kind of space and level of privacy that is rare to find in the world today. It is a place where it is easy to be yourself, find a community that accepts you as you are, and that leaves you alone if you like.
So next time you are visiting southern California, a trip to Slab City is something you should put on your radar. You can see the art in East Jesus and visit the gateway to Slab City, the area's crowning jewel, Salvation Mountain. A psychedelic art work made from adobe clay, straw, trees, and thousands of gallons of lead-free paint.
Want to keep the last free place in America alive and well? You can donate money and help keep anarchy alive by donating here. Proceeds go to help clean up Slab City, buy solar panels, and get water to the area.