Yesterday, after leaving Bombay Beach we continued driving south to Niland, CA. Turning left on to Main Street, we drove a couple of miles into the desert to visit the famous “Slab City.” As you enter the “city” you pass what appears to be an old guard house, informing you that you are “almost there” and calling it the “last free place.”
The first thing you see as you enter Slab City is Salvation Mountain, which can be seen in the picture below. We’re not sure who the person on the bike was, as they were completely covered with long pants and a hooded sweatshirt (the temperature was over 90). Please excuse the bugs marking up the windshield.
Salvation Mountain is an art installation made from adobe, straw, and thousands of gallons of paint. It was created by local resident Leonard Knight, and encompasses numerous murals and areas painted with Christian sayings and Bible verses.
Scattered around the parking area are old vehicles covered with religious sayings. Leonard Knight lived in the vehicle below for many years while building his mountain.
On one side of the “mountain” Leonard built some dome shaped rooms, calling the area a museum. The walls are covered with religious references and “shelves” hold trophies Leonard was awarded for events at local fairs.
Two years ago, our blog friends Paul and Marsha visited Salvation Mountain and enjoyed a tour of the facility with Leonard Knight. Unfortunately, Leonard’s heath has declined and he is suffering from dementia. He is currently living in an assisted living facility near San Diego. We were told that someone brought him back to the mountain yesterday to celebrate his eight-first birthday.
Just a short drive down the dirt road from the mountain is Slab City. Slab City or The Slabs is a snowbird campsite used by RV owners and squatters from across North America. It takes its name from the concrete slabs that remain from the abandoned World War II Marine barracks of Camp Dunlap. Several thousand campers, many of them retired, use the site during the winter months. These “snowbirds” stay only for the winter, before migrating north in the spring to cooler climates. The temperatures during the summer are unforgiving (as high as 120 degrees); nonetheless, there is a group of around 150 permanent residents who live in the Slabs all year round. Some of these “Slabbers” derive their living by way of government checks (SSI and Social Security and Social Security Disability) and have been driven to the Slabs through poverty. Others have moved to The Slabs to learn how to live off the grid and to be left alone. Still others have moved there to stretch their retirement income.
The site is both decommissioned and uncontrolled, and there is no charge for parking. The camp has no electricity, no running water, no sewers nor toilets, and no trash pickup service. Many campers use generators or solar panels to generate electricity. Supplies can be purchased in nearby Niland.
Some “campers” mark their territory with old tires and whatever else they can find. Unless an area is marked off, you can park anywhere you want, for as long as you want.
Slab City has many of the benefits of other communities. Below is a picture of “The Range.” The Range is an open-air nightclub complete with stage, lights, amplifiers, speakers and tattered couches and old chairs for seating. Every Saturday night at about dusk, the locals and visitors meet for a Talent Show that features permanent resident musicians and anyone else who wants to get up on stage and perform. The venue is run by an old time resident of 14 years named Builder Bill. Donations are welcome to help pay for the gas for the generators.
Don’t look for us to take our motorhome to Slab City anytime soon. Sitting in the desert without water, electricity, or sewer just doesn’t appeal to us.
We have a few more days in Indio and the Coachella Valley and have a few places to visit before we move on. More on that later . . .