If one is interested in seeing something very different and having a break from the formal attractions like museums, national parks, monuments, and the like, then Slab City certainly offers something different. Slab City is not a city, instead, it is an off-the-grid community.
It is inhabited by people who seek an alternative way of life away from the hustle and bustle of modern society. Many of the people living here are snowbirds who can bear the heat of the sometimes scorching Sonoran Desert in the Imperial Country in California. Visiting Slab City is an easy day outing from Palm Springs, the more adventurous of people can even stay here.
History Of Slab City
The squatter settlement of Slab City is on the site of a World War II Marine Corps training camp called Camp Dunlap. It gets its name from the concrete slabs that remained of the camp. The area that is now Slab City is on the former artillery training range for the Camp.
- Former: Built On A Former Military Camp
- Where: About An Hour South Of Joshua Tree National Park and Palm Springs
By 1959 the training base had been decommissioned and the buildings had been removed. Almost immediately the squatters started to move in, some of these were people looking for free camping spots outside of Palm Springs. See here for more information about visiting Palm Springs.
Population Of Slab City
The population is mostly seasonal with most people coming as snowbirds in the winter. The summer population is believed to hover around a low of 150, while in the winter the population balloons up to around 4,000 (reportedly the population peaked in the 1980s reaching around 15,000). The population that the settlement draws is said to be the likes of anarchists (locals dub the community as one of America's last free places), retirees, outcasts, eccentrics, artists, and the like, according to a Washington Post report. It has also been reported that most of the winter population is over 60 years old.
- Population: 4,000 Winter Months - 150 Summer Months
- People Who Live There: Mostly Retirees And Snowbirds
Visiting Slab City
One can easily just drive into Slab City. While this settlement is off the grid and nothing is formal or government-approved, it does have a number of attractions. These include a free lending library, an outdoor music venue (called The Range), the iconic Salvation Mountain, a skatepark (built inside a military base swimming pool), a hostel, and an internet cafe.
- Accommodation: There Is A Hostel - Don't Expect Normal Hostel Accommodation. Consider It An Off-The-Grid Artistic/Anarchist's Hostel
- Off The Grid: Remember This Is Off The Grid, There Are No Services, No Power, Sewage, Garbage Collection, or Even Building Codes
If one plans to visit Slab City and stay the night in the "accommodation" there, don't expect five-star accommodation. Expect camping or accommodation in a ramshackle trailer with a bed. At one of the local restaurants, one can pay $150 per month for two meals a day and a weekly shower (water is a valuable resource this far out into the desert).
Easily the most recognizable landmark is the Salvation Mountain. This impressive work of art was built by a local resident called Leonard Knight. It is made up of adobe bricks and a whole bunch of junk - like old tires, windows, and car parts. Then it is all coated in thousands of gallons of paint. The hill is bamboozled with scores of Christain sayings and Bible quotes.
Due to the harsh desert climate, it requires constant upkeep and it is common for visitors to make donations to keep it - sometimes donations in the form of paint.
Salvation Mountain stands guard and welcomes everyone visiting Slab City. The crowning words are "God Is Love" and is designed to share the artist's devotion to peace, love, and a higher power. In addition to all the Bible verses, one will find many birds, flowers, hearts, and trees adorning the monument.
- Size: Salvation Mountain is 150 Feet Wide
East Jesus is another odd attraction in the settlement. This is an experimental, sustainable, and habitable art installation. The name "East Jesus" isn't meant to have a religious connotation but rather is a colloquialism for the middle of nowhere. It features a variety of experimental art as well as performance art, photography, and sculptures.
The locals call the settlement lawless, but it's not the Ok Corral style shoot-out lawless. Staying here is strange but there shouldn't be any issues with safety. For another desolate California attraction, see Death Valley and why it's worth visiting.