Route 66 Days 15 and 16: Slab City

We drove all evening to get to Slab City in Southern California. Slab City isn't on any maps. It's not actually a city either. It's a WWII Marine barracks that was abandoned and bulldozed by the government leaving a grid of concrete slabs. Today it's a free place to stay for any RVer, drifter, or refugee from society that doesn't mind living under a hot sun in the Colorado Desert.

All I knew is it was 3.5 miles from Niland, California. We knew this because Liv just read the copy of 'Into the Wild' in my car, the book about Chris McCandless, who spent some time in Slab City. While on the AT, Liv and I talked briefly about someday coming here to "live on the cheap under the sun", so this was a necessary stop for us.

With Liv asleep in the passenger seat, I sat in the car on the side of the road looking over our map and flipping through the 'Into the Wild' book to find more clues to where this place might be. A border patrol officer pulled over to see if we needed help. The idea of land that anyone is allowed to live on for free seems so unimaginable in the US, that when I told the cop I was looking for Slab City, I half expected him to say, "Get out of our town hippies... and get a job!". He gave us directions instead.

It was too dark to see much of Slab City on our first night. There are no streetlights, or electricity, or any other municipal services for that matter.  We found a spot to park under the starry sky and waited for morning to explore the area.

When the sun came up we pulled out of our spot to visit Salvation Mountain and take a drive to the Salton Sea, but apparently the most solid place to park a car in the desert is not on a series of tunnels left by some burrowing desert mammal. Our tires sank into the loose dirt and sand. We piled flat rocks under the tires to give us traction, but the more we tried to get out the more we sank until the bottom of the car was nearly resting on the ground.

There's a comradery with those that live at "The Slabs". Within minutes four people were there helping us out. I got the impression that a tight-knit community existed here who took care of each other. Driving through, you may just see a post-apocalyptic looking ramshackle of worn-out RVs, tents, trailers, or other pieced-together homemade dwellings, but there are good people here. People that have learned to live a happy life with only the bare necessities. And it's nice to know that if you need a place to stay, you can always go to Slabs. I may be back here some day.

After hiking to the Salton Sea, we took a walk to Salvation Mountain, a colorful art installation made of straw, telephone poles, adobe clay, car doors, and hundreds of gallons of multi-colored paint. A man named Leonard Knight transformed this small patch of drab brown landscape next to Slab City into a colorful eye-catching message of Love. I really hoped to meet Leonard, who can be seen in the movie 'Into the Wild', but in December he was placed in a long-term care facility for dementia. We roamed inside and on top of the massive art project, then found a place to car camp on solid ground for our second night.

03-18-12: Salvation Mountain03-18-12: The Salton Sea03-18-12: Liv on Rock Hill, Salton Sea03-18-12: Salvation Mountain03-19-12: Entering Slab City03-18-12: Inside Salvation Mountain
03-19-12: The Range at Slab City03-18-12: On Salvation Mountain03-18-12: Salvation Mountain Mailbox03-19-12: Love All Serve All03-19-12: Leaving Slab City03-18-12: Salvation Mountain
03-18-12: Behind Salvation Mountain03-19-12: Our Second Night in Slab City03-19-12: Slab City Sign03-18-12: Salvation Mountain Paint Cans03-19-12: The Sun Works03-18-12: Climbing Salvation Mountain
03-19-12: Slab City Resident03-18-12: Yellowbrick Road03-18-12: Salvation Mountain03-19-12: Slab City Resident03-18-12: Salvation Mountain03-18-12: Salvation Mountain
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A Backpacker's Life List by Ryan Grayson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.