Visit Slab City – An Artistic Wasteland for the Free Spirit
You can find all kinds of interesting things in the desert. From natural wonders and hiking trails to random junk and massive pieces of art. Many who visit the desert see it as an open and natural canvas that encourages freedom of expression. Just one of the of the many attributes that draws people towards a barren landscape.
Now, imagine choosing to live in an environment like this. A place not defined by physical boundaries or government, with unlimited potential to express both your artistic creativity and inner-self. Sounds like paradise right? Well to some it is!
For many years now, numerous individuals have traveled far and wide to reach this unique version of home known as Slab City, California.
Where is Slab City?
Slab City is located in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, an hour north from the US/Mexico border near the city of Niland. It’s also about 30 minutes away from the once popular, now nearly desolate, Salton Sea.
While Slab City sure feels like the middle of nowhere, it’s actually a perfect location for those looking to escape society and to find new life off-the-grid.
A Brief History of Slab City
Slab City is essentially a small desert city created by a community of people seeking to live independently outside of normal societal constructs. In the beginning, this small village was originated from a colony of “snowbirds.” Which are people who migrate to warmer weather during the cold winter months.
These travelers found consolation in the warmer desert regions high in the Sonoran Desert, where Slab City resides today.
Now an abandoned military base, this area was once used by the government as a training field as an anti-aircraft utility unit. The Fort Dunlap World War II Marine Base was used for about 3 years during the war and over time became deserted.
In 1965, all the buildings were dismantled, leaving nothing but the slabs behind.
Travelers, squatters, and snowbirds eventually discovered this area and moved right in. These seasonal desert dwellers utilize the land by living in left behind trailers and old dilapidated structures.
Ultimately creating a one of a kind community and home for those looking to escape the big city.
While Slab City has no running water, electricity, or plumbing, inhabitants are forced to rely on self sustained energy. Such as solar panels, home grown food, and their own maintained waste system.
The Perks of Roughin’ It
So what’s the draw to live in such a harsh and primitive environment? For many, it’s the freedom of the desert along with the absence of government.
Technically there is “law”, but it’s upheld by the citizens of Slab City. This involves respecting others and practicing love, courtesy, acceptance, and self expression. Something you really can’t find anywhere else in the more populated areas of the country.
To this day, Slab City is a continuously growing community. In fact, it’s become large enough that you can even search and find “Slab City” on Google Maps.
As the years carry on, more and more people have become permanent residents of the land. Only those brave enough to endure the brutal summer months with temperatures that can reach up to 120°F.
Surprisingly, you’d think such a tight-knit and offbeat community would be closed off to new and curious visitors. But what we discovered was a warm welcome and an overall genuine kindness from the locals during our first time to Slab City.
Making it a truly fun and fascinating place to roam if you have the chance to visit.
3 THINGS YOU NEED TO SEE IN SLAB CITY, CA
Now that you have a better understanding of what Slab City is and how it originated, let’s dive in to what do to! This wonderful little town has tons of things to see!
We narrowed it down to 3 top spots that you should definitely include on your list. Best of all, all are free of charge to explore.
1. Salvation Mountain
As you drive towards Slab City, you’ll first be greeted by a large colorful painted mountain on the right. Hello Salvation Mountain!
It’s basically the gateway to the town and is practically impossible to miss.
Salvation Mountain was created by Leonard Knight, an inspired soul who wanted to spread the concept that “God is Love” to as many people as he could.
The mountain is slightly man-made by Leonard himself. He used adobe and sticks to extend and hold up the mountain and hand painted it in half a million gallons of paint.
His creation showcases brightly colored spiritual images and verses that convey his strong message of LOVE.
Outside of Salvation Mountain, there are also abandoned cars, trucks, and even a boat all resting at the base of the hillside.
All of which are covered in detailed artwork that further conveys Leonard’s message.
Take in all the unique artwork displayed by walking around the area below Salvation Mountain. Years ago, you were actually allowed to walk on the mountain itself. Although today, visitors are advised to stay off the artwork in order to preserve the colorful and delicate display.
As a grand entrance to Slab City, I have to say this amazing obscurity did not disappoint. It gives you a distinct taste of what oddities you can expect throughout your day.
2. East Jesus
Shockingly, many visitors come just to see Salvation Mountain and aren’t aware of what’s nearby. Don’t make this mistake! Don’t come to Salvation Mountain and just turn around and go home.
Instead, head up the road a few minutes more, make a left, and you’ll be happy you found East Jesus.
East Jesus is an experimental art garden created by numerous local artists. The message here – A world without a waste, where trash can be turned into art. The museum is free to explore and is open 24 hours a day, year round.
Please be respectful of the art and enter at your risk. Children are not recommended due to the potentially unsafe conditions of some of the artwork.
What can I say about this place? Just WOW. The artwork is unlike any other type of art I’ve ever seen. Everything about it is so unconventional, creative, obscure, and most of all free-spirited. A museum with literally no boundaries.
Dismembered mannequins, a mammoth made from random junk, a wall of cynical TVs, a sunken house, chandeliers of plastic geese heads, and a handmade bowling alley are just a few of the extraordinary art installations you can expect.
The charm of East Jesus is the diverse displays of warped art portraying personal views of history and modern day society. It’s a sense of organized chaos where you can feel the passion and imagination dripping from each individual piece.
At least, that’s my take on it and how I felt wandering the gallery.
Truly, it’s a beautiful thing seeing the minds of others portrayed through their artwork without any limitations or judgement of what’s being created.
3. The Library
If you’ve come this far, then you must go a little bit further to see The Library. This community library runs on donations and is open 24 hours a day.
You can find it further down the road, a little deeper into the residential area of Slab City.
The Library is what you would expect plus a little bit more. Made out of tapestries and repurposed materials, you’ll find a wide selection of books, board games, old DVDs, and even a bar. Tables, chairs, and couches are also scattered throughout the area for those wanting to sit and relax.
While you could read books here, it seems like it’s mainly a place to hang out, chill, and chat with the locals. Maybe even have a few drinks!
We found a lot of nostalgic items in here such as old Nintendo 64 game controllers, retro board games, and other memorabilia from years ago. Books were covered in dirt and cobwebs and many of them look like they haven’t been read since placed on the shelves.
At the end of a long (& maybe hot) day, The Library makes for a fun and unique place to take a breather and get a break from the sun. Bring a book, play a game, or mingle with the staff.
I can guarantee it’s unlike any other library you’ve experienced.
BONUS SPOT – Bombay Beach
This location isn’t in Slab City, but it’s close by! If you have an hour to spare, I highly recommend including a stop at Bombay Beach. This deserted “beach” is just 30 minutes from Slab City, right off the shores of the Salton Sea.
Be warned though, this is far from a “scenic” place to watch the sunset.
Before you go, it’s good to know that the Salton Sea isn’t actually coastal water.
In short, Bombay Beach was a once high trafficked luxury vacation spot situated along one of the biggest accidental water spills in California. This accident was caused by an overflow of water from irrigation canals dug from the Colorado River. An effort was made to increase the water flow for farming which overwhelmed the canals. This lead to water overflowing into the Salton Basin for as long as 2 years.
Over time, the dry lake bed eventually formed a gigantic artificial lake, known today as the Salton Sea. Small vacation spots sprung up around the lake, one of them being Bombay Beach. An extremely popular tourist attraction until the 1970s.
Bombay Beach In Ruins
Bombay Beach quickly deteriorated once the salinity of the Salton Sea dramatically rose. Mainly due to the lake not having a natural outflow of water. This increase led to an unfortunate apocalypse for both fish and birds alike. Diseased fish died and birds died from eating the diseased fish.
The result? An abandoned beach littered with fish skeletons, bird corpses, and an unforgettably rank smell.
Despite this tragic (and smelly) scenery, Bombay Beach is still a fascinating place to visit if you’re into deserted locations with a strange history. The “sand” that makes up the beach isn’t really sand either. It’s a weird mix of mud, dirt, and fragments of fish bones.
Walking to the water front on this terrain is a nerve-wrecking adventure in it’s own. Each step is slippery with your feet sinking a good couple inches into the moist mud below. (Gross but oddly exciting)
Outside of the beach, you can walk around what’s left of the town. Abandoned buildings, old structures, and some strange art pieces are found lying around. A similar vibe to that of Slab City, where trash becomes art. Even an old discarded boat in the parking lot was converted into a lovely art decoration.
There are still some residents living in the area, so be courteous and stay off their property.
The setting makes for the perfect post-apocalyptic vibe. A need to see place for those who love exploring the more offbeat and ominous landscapes. Kind of reminds me of the abandoned healing center off Zzyzx Road in the Mojave Desert.
I’m strangely in love with these creepy desert-y historic places!
Why Slab City is Unlike Any Other Adventure You’ll Find in the Desert
If you’re looking for an unconventional adventure in California, then look no further than Slab City.
This off the grid excursion is a breathe of fresh air, excluding Bombay Beach. It’s invigorating exploring a land that’s separated from societal norms, discrimination, and even modern day laws. Personal beliefs and customs are hard not to be challenged in such a radically different culture.
No matter where you go, you’re surrounded by colorful, complex art that is both baffling and inspirational. There is a lot to learn and take in just from wandering the streets of Slab City.
We couldn’t help but question our own personal life choices upon leaving such a free-spirited community. Definitely a unique place that we feel everyone should experience for themselves. Either once or many times more, depending on how it sits with you.
A lifestyle for some but most certainly not for everyone.
I can honestly stay Slab City is one of the most interesting desert locations we’ve found in California! You don’t want to miss it.
For more of our favorite desert locations, be sure to check out our post on our 8 Best Desert Spots in Southern California. Places we know and love that we find ourselves revisiting time and time again.
Have you been to any of these spots in Slab City? What do you think of your experience here? Tell us below in the comments!
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