Where can one go to escape the everyday gluttony of the all American consumerism and war torn diet of day to day life? To be really free and live off the grid as long as time and patience will allow. Where the sky seems to be endless and the clouds are full. A place where electricity and services do not exist and convenience is make believe. And the people…Where the people are ugly by normal standards, but stunning in our eyes…and where criminals aren’t as scary as the news makes them out to be. Is there a place that you can run away to and lose yourself only to be found by your inner spirit? Does that exist anywhere? Does it exist within yourself? Can you stand to spend that much time with yourself? Has your society done its job, preparing you to be the hunter, gatherer, nurturer, or provider you were created in the Beginning to be? Can you rise above and open yourself up to just be… Are you willing to step out of the comfort zone and feel this place? When you feel like you’ve hit your wall with shopping, school, activities, bills, work, church, empty relationships, dirty sex, and useless socializing try packing one backpack and head out to a place that offers self redemption and Salvation, the kind you were born with but lost sight of after years of conditioning. We were all born for something…close your eyes and find yourself in Slab City.
Hitting a creative wall, we turned to each other and said we got to get out of here. ‘Kids pack one bag each and throw it in the car. We’re taking off for awhile.’ And we headed west.
For months we had dreamed of going to Slab City after seeing it featured in the movie ‘Into the Wild’. Our close friends, Brye and Salem, live in Palm Springs and so we headed to see them as we arranged for all of us to make a pilgrimage out to Slab City together. Slab City is about an hour and half out of Palm Springs near the Salton Sea, an abandoned area that once promised to be the next big suburbia with it’s glistening resorts and upper class hotels. Thousands of acres now sit rotting away under the Californian desert sun, rusty signs swinging in the dry air squeaking in the vast empty land. The Salton Sea sparkling in the middle of all this providing a beautiful backdrop to this interesting scenery.
The whole place looks like an entire city just got up and left one day and never came back. Driving on the road around the Salton Sea making our way to Slab City, the abandoned cars, signs, buildings, and ancient advertisements lure you back to a time of prosperity and adventure. This place now looks like an outlaw town taken over by the elements of time. It’s a peaceful and quiet drive, each one of us in our own heads thinking about how long we’ve wanted to come out here and now we’re here.
We followed Brye and Salem who drove their RV out to Slab City. This would be the only convenience we would have during our stay. Before heading out here, we stocked up on water and food and charged everything we needed. Everything else we would have to do without. Since the generator was broken in the RV we wouldn’t be able to simply turn it on and cheat a little.
Once we arrived in the Slabs, the kids quickly rounded up firewood for the evening before the sun went down. Brye and Salem had already camped in this same place in the month previous and were guiding us on where to find stuff.
Austin set up the tent as everyone quickly tried to get everything done while we had daylight left. Once the sun goes down we have limited use of flashlights and solar powered lanterns. Greg, Jenn, and Austin all slept in our huge tent and the girls were more than willing to sleep in the RV with Brye, Salem, Elijah, and Faith. The weather was in the lower 40’s at night and it wasn’t much warmer in the RV since running the heater would require precious battery power.
The day we arrived in Slab City was the first anniversary of our dear friend Isaac’s death. It was a painful day, but we couldn’t think of a better way to remember him than climbing up to the top of Salvation Mountain which was located down the road. Salvation Mountain was built by Leonard Knight, an old man living in Slab City for 24 years, to share the message that ‘God is Love’. It was empty when we got there and we had the whole mountain to ourselves. We climbed up the mountain and sat watching the sunset over the desert honoring Isaac as we all thought of our friend. He was a great, great man and we miss him every day.
After getting back from Salvation Mountain, we all gathered around for some dinner and a campfire. The winds are swift all day long and dust and sand are constantly blowing around. The nighttime tends to be calm and relaxing, allowing your mind to wonder and rest.
In the morning, we were eager to take a tour around Slab City and see the crazy RV art and fortresses the residents have been building for years. There are no rules out in Slab City and no government so people come out to claim a spot and build their homes out there using whatever material they have or find. Trash out in the Slabs becomes prized material that is used in various ways to help make stuff like fences, decorations, and art.
It’s a crazy place filled with crazy people, literally. But they make it a fun place to be. And they don’t waste anything. It was kinda scary wondering onto people’s spaces to take pictures because these are people not wanting to be bothered by others.
Some RV’s have been abandoned for years and sit as pieces of beautiful art all along the Slabs.
This is it. This is what you do out in the Slabs. Nowhere to go and nothing to do. A great exercise in letting go and being content. And a freedom to start drinking as early as you want.
We spent hours walking around and playing on the ‘Slabs’. The whole place used to be an old military base that the government just left behind when they moved on. The military knocked down all the buildings before they left leaving only the slabs they sat on.
The Range is the community stage where talent shows and live music is hosted by volunteer residents of Slab City on Saturday nights. It was also featured on the movie ‘Into the Wild’ along with some of the actual residents there. Austin couldn’t wait to perform on this stage since the movie is one of his favorites. The night of the talent show Greg, Brye, and Austin went early to check it out and came back to the RV thinking that we might ought to skip it. Apparently there’s some wild characters hanging around and from the stories they already had, it promised to be well worth the risk!
The seating at The Range varies from old movie theater to airplane seats. Old couches and recliners also make up seating facing the stage. It’s very elegantly set up for the crowds who come to the shows every Saturday, even though the furniture is something you would see in an alley or trash dump. Nothing is wasted and everything is used.
The Range stage.
Austin thinking he could rock this place.
Off the side of the stage is one of the many beautiful trash piles that are all over Slab City. Somehow the trash out here is not just trash, it’s like art enticing you to come and pick a piece out.
Sunny taking a break and taking it all in.
Faith hanging with Sunny as they steal the show with their own Slab City beauty.
We found this piece of a sign in one of the many trash piles and decided that this would be our Slab City souvenir. It now hangs in the backyard at Case del Austin a la Cabo.
The lonely road to the Library in Slab City.
The Slab City library is a rare find in the desert. Complete with rooms and rooms of books from fellow travelers and residents, the library was built by random pieces of recycled materials found laying around the land.
We spent tons of time in here walking around finding old books and magazines and letting the kids run around the back porch that served as a true Slab City hangout to sit and read.
We lived out of the trunk using the bumper for a bathroom sink as we brushed our teeth and groomed for the day. We had sections for food, clothes, and bathroom stuff for the trip making it very easy to live out of. It was a very organized and was usually over filled with Trader Joe’s stuff since we don’t have one in Texas.
This is the Slab City shower, no joke. There’s a sign in the parking lot that reads ‘If there’s a car here, don’t approach!’ People climb down the hole stand in the bottom and shower. Even though they have no idea where the water is coming from, they are happy to have a shower in the desert. Not me, I’d rather be dirty than crawl down here and get in this. The bottom was gross and dirty with years of algae and smelled. I cringe at the love acts that have probably occurred here.
That’s as far as we let the kids go down.
Brye and Salem took us over to some thermal mudpots that are in the desert near where we are staying. They’re all over a piece of land and are bubbling and creating giant hills of mud. Some of the hills were over ten feet tall and the mud from within was warm like inviting you to stick your hands in and play in them! The kids bounced around from hill to hill as they played and got themselves covered in mud.
Full moon rising over the mountains in Slab City.
Austin playing the talent show at The Range. The whole show is run off of generators including all the lights and worked amazing well! It’s hard to believe that you can pull a show like that off out in the middle of the desert running off of old generators. The people came out of all their RV’s and gathered to listen to the folks who were playing. It was a mix of tourists and residents giving way to many interesting and diverse conversations. People were dancing and handing out glowsticks walking around meeting all the new people of Slab City. Everyone brings a cooler with their beer and stands around catching up with each other. The smell of pot is thick and the people are happy. Dancing under the stars outside in the middle of nowhere.
We met Nick from Lousiana, who came to live with his mom after having a hard time in his hometown. He was a tough kid, but full of life and loved to rap. He talked our ears off and followed our group around enjoying the attention that we were giving him. He was a sweet kid and needed a lot of love.
Austin and Bill who built The Range. He was also in the movie ‘Into the Wild’ and Austin was excited to meet him. He used to be a builder and moved out to Slab City for a more simple life.
One of the many fortresses in Slab City.
We stayed in Slab City for three days which felt like weeks. You get up first thing in the morning because the sun is so bright that you start your day around seven and don’t go to bed till well after midnight. The days are long and filled with an emptiness that somehow satisfies you even with nothing to do. After living outside all day long and sleeping in the cold at night, you feel like you’ve already been out here forever. Without showers, electricity, fresh water, and contact with the outside world you are completely lost out here making time irrelevant. After packing up we decided to head to San Diego and Brye and Salem headed back to Palm Springs. We said our goodbyes and headed off into the world again. Driving for hours back into civilization we pulled over in the suburbs of San Diego to grab a bite to eat, our fist convenience in days. Walking into a crowded Subway, we were quickly overwhelmed with the people and pace of the life we left behind for Slab City. We literally came to a stop in the doorway after entering the store trying to find a groove in the world again. Standing there, we were filthy from days without showers, sand and dirt all in our hair, and our clothes worn from the elements of the desert. The people of San Diego are quite different and now we were the outlaws and less desired in our culture, just like those beautiful folks back in Slab City. We stood in line, ordered our food, and decided to eat our lunch in the car sitting in the parking lot.