Slab City is a unique place. Those of you that have been there before know what I mean. I’m sure you all have your own opinion. It’s not a city at all but a location out in the Imperial Valley of California, just outside the city of Niland, California. It was a Marine base during World War II. It is the home of former “Camp Dunlap” activated in October 1942 as a training base for the US Marine Corps during World War II. The camp was used for training for a three-year period during the war but then later in the 1950s all the buildings were dismantled leaving only the concrete slabs. This is about a 600 acre area that in 1961 was turned back over to the state of California.
No one really wanted to lay claim to this property or take responsibility for it and it became a destination for people down on their luck or just wanting to get away from society. In the 1960s a lot of so called hippies started living here. Also for a number years snowbirds by the thousands came to this area to spend the winter and stay for free in the desert. A lot of them using solar or generators to provide the electricity for they needed. There are no facilities water, sewerage or electricity provided in the area.
It is deemed as the last free space in America. There is no real law enforcement so people that want to live here, can stay pretty much hassle-free and control their own environment. One of the WIN members Tom took us on a guided tour throughout the area, he having stayed here many times over the years. The first place we stopped was the swimming and bathing area. Which is the geothermal spring that a lot of the full-time local residents uses their bathtub. It is a warm natural mineral spring and a clothing optional area. When we pulled up one guy was just getting dressed, but he was totally naked as we arrived. I think if I would’ve went swimming I would’ve come out dirtier than before I went in. As you can see from these photos.
Our next stop was Salvation Mountain.
This is the brainstorm idea of a long time resident artists of the area “Leonard Knight”. He had come here and created their own unique art form.
He was a very religious man and wanted to share his beliefs and so he created this landmark. It is made of straw on adobe and thousands of gallons of paint that have been applied over the years.
Leonard Knight at age 80, in December 2011 was put into a long-care facility as his health started to fail. There were concerns about who would maintain this unique landmark. So in 2012 a group of volunteers created a charity to maintain the mountain. It is now listed as a “National Folk Art Landmark”, and deemed as a place to be protected and saved.
As you can see in this photo they just applied some new fresh paint in this area.
Tom shared stories with us of how it had changed over the last many years.
You can climb up on top and get a view of the desert below and the surrounding area.
And there were a whole bunch unique rooms that were part of the sculpture using tree branches to support the structure.
He had this old tractor that he used to use the help build and maintain it.
And there were a couple old vehicles that are used to live in that he also had painted with religious sayings.
As you drove around “The Slabs” you get a feel for how some of these people live. There were some areas that were fairly clean, but most of it was quite trashy and junkie. But everywhere you looked there was unique artwork painted on old water tanks and other concrete structures still remaining from when it was a Marine base.
Some of the outlying areas where the snowbirds stay were a little less trashy and it would probably be a pretty decent area to winter. The next area we went to visit was what’s called “East Jesus”. This is an area that is a active “Junk Art Museum”. What it is a collection of unique art made out of materials that are junk to most people. Tom took more time to explain what we would see and what to look for in the area.
What I mean by active museum is there is a handful of local artists that are constantly building new art forms and changing the look of the area. When we first entered this section of the slabs, we were greeted by several unique characters, that are the caretakers of this area. Most of them live here year round and generate funds through donations and other projects that they do.
There were lots of uniquely decorated old cars.
This one with all the Barbie doll parts and heads is kind of scary.
I like this elephant that was made out of old tires and other scrap materials.
One of my favorite things was this bus that was painted with this beautiful mural on it.
And this toilet seat was a unique expression of how it feels some mornings when you’re not feeling too well.
Everywhere you looked there was unique pieces of interesting “Junk Art”.
There was this large display of old TVs, that was a satire to the news industry. A unique way of the artist expression of television.
They even had their own airport.
And there were several places where guys were selling unique handmade jewelry of different types. Of course some of the ladies in the bunch had a purchase a few items and that’s how these guys make a living. The guy living in this bus, had a table out of unique handmade jewelry.
It is a very unique place, I’m not sure I want to spend a lot of time here. But my understanding is during the snowbirds season it can be a fun and unique experience. That’s it for this post hope you enjoyed coming along to “The Slabs”, till next time safe travels, Rick