Ever since the movie “Into The Wild” came out Slab City has gained quite a lot of popularity. The movie has put this little corner of the southern California desert on the map and into the minds of a global audience. Although Slab City still keeps much of its original “charm”, its now not uncommon to see tourists wondering about the major “sites” of the area. Despite its rise in popularity its still a unique and fairly wild place. So if you are interested in checking it out, here are some pointers and FAQs that might help you plan your trip.
WHAT IS SLAB CITY?
Slab City is a community in the Sonoran desert located in Imperial County in southern California located 4 miles east of Niland, CA. It’s known for its eccentric off-the-grid culture and trash-art. It is the remaining concrete slabs of the dismantled and abandoned Marine barracks of Camp Dunlap. The Marine barracks were dismantled in 1956 and given back to the State of California in 1961.
WHO OWNS SLAB CITY?
Slab City is currently owned by the California State Teachers Retirement System. Although no money is generated from this property.
Slab City is an odd mix of RVers, snowbirds, squatters, artists, drunks and druggies. Most of these “slabbers” are retirees that spend the winter months here. There are some permanent residents that can somehow survive the intense heat of the summer months.
WHY DO PEOPLE LIVE IN SLAB CITY?
Good question! Most people in Slab City are retirees or people on disability trying to stretch their government checks. Normally they might travel around the country in an RV and stay in various places that may or may not charge a fee. Although there are many places in the United States where you can park your RV for free (BLM Land), most of them have limits to how long you can stay. Slab City has no limit to how long someone can stay, so it makes a good place for those who don’t want to constantly move. All that someone needs to do is set up camp and have enough food and water to survive.
In recent years people have deliberately moved to Slab City to participate in its unique culture. They come to escape mainstream society and live off the Grid. Many of them come to create art in the middle of the desert.
HOW TO GET TO SLAB CITY:
- Start from Niland, CA off Highway 111
- Go East on Main Street
- Continue on Beal Road about 3 miles
- Your first major stop will be Salvation Mountain
- Continue past Salvation Mountain
- Slab City (where people actually live) is about another 1/2 mile
Yes. In my opinion Slab City is safe. People seem to be friendly and used to seeing visitors. In fact, in recent years Slab City has become something of a tourist attraction. As a result, it has commercialized to some extent. When I was there, the first car I saw parked at Salvation Mountain was a Porsche 911. I saw one resident selling jewelry on the side of the road and even an asian couple taking wedding photos near an Art Car. So yeah, it’s not an undiscovered place anymore.
Despite all that, there have still been reports of people getting robbed or assaulted. There tends to be a lot of drug and alcohol use here. Hey, what else are you gonna do in the middle of the desert? So stay aware of your surroundings and don’t piss anyone off. After all, this is their home.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN SLAB CITY:
- Salvation Mountain
- East Jesus
- The Range
- Pet Cemetery
- Slab City Hostel
- Slab City Hot Springs
- Garbage…lots of garbage
CAN YOU CAMP IN SLAB CITY?
Yes, camping is free and anyone is allowed to camp for as short or as long as you want. Tents, cars and RVs are all okay to use. You just need to find a spot that is not already taken.
There IS NOT: Water, food, sewage, electricity, trash removal, healthcare or law enforcement. You are off the grid here.
There IS: A number of solar panels in use, an internet cafe, a library and a lot of trash and dirt. But that’s about it.
WHAT TO BRING:
For a simple day trip, you probably don’t need to bring any gifts, food or beverages. But if you are planning on spending the night, it doesn’t hurt to have some beer or whiskey to pass around in order to make friends. Remember you are a guest so you want to be on everyones good side.
In terms of your own survival, you will need food, water shelter, transport and probably shade. It can get hot there!
WHAT NOT TO DO:
- Do NOT drive off into the desert. Roads can quickly turn into sand traps
- Do NOT leave your trash behind (cigarette butts included), despite what it looks like there
- Do NOT come empty handed. You may want items to help make friends