Vagabond in America 2016 travel blog

Welcome to Slab City

My rig at The Solar Works

Where is that smoke coming from?

Oh Dear!

At least 911 eventually responded

Found an unoccupied Slab

Pooka enjoying The Slabs

Very few neighbors

Lots of desert

The Slab City Hostel

The Slab City Library

Salvation Mountain (the work of one man)

Leaving Slab City - Warning: Reality Ahead


I’ve traveled around the world five times. I’ve seen slums and ghettos on five continents. I’ve stayed in Bedouin villages in the desert in Africa and remote villages in Asia. But, I’ve never ever seen any place quite like “The Slabs”.

During World War II, the Marine Corp had a training base deep in the desert in southern California. Years later, they dismantled the base. They took down the buildings but left the concrete slabs upon which the buildings had been constructed. Years went by with the area being totally abandoned. Then, some squatters decided to stay there. Slowly, more and more people moved into the area occupying the previously empty slabs and surrounding desert.

Although the area is often called Slab City, it is not a city. It’s not incorporated. There is no public electricity, running water, sewers, toilets or trash pickup service. The residents survive on generators and solar power. Some collect water from the rare rain storms out here in the desert. About a hundred people live here year round. Calling themselves “Slabbers”, they survive the sometimes 120° heat with little or no air conditioning. In the winter, thousands of “snow birds” arrive in their RVs and set up camp wherever they find a suitable location. I know that some children must live here because I saw them get off a school bus but I never met any of them.

To imagine what Slab City is like think of a really bad slum that you might have seen in a movie. Now, populate it with some of the nicest, friendliest people you can imagine. There are numerous artists, musicians and simply drop-outs from society.

From what I saw, people don’t live here because they have no other choice. Most move here because they intentionally reject the values of our materialistic culture. I spoke with young men (in their 20s) who were remarkably proud that they survive on nothing more than what will fit in their backpack. I met another man (there are few women here) who bragged that his home was entirely constructed from abandoned materials he had found. Portions of his roof were built from tongue-and-groove wood that he had scavenged. Other portions were plywood or even cloth. He is exceptionally proud of his total independence from society.

A sign has been painted onto one of the surviving guard shacks as you enter The Slabs, saying: “The Last Free Place on Earth”. Another hand-painted sign as you leave warns: “Caution: Reality Ahead!”

I took this opportunity to have additional solar panels installed on my roof, enabling me to stay out in the wilderness longer without losing the comforts of modern living. I expected to find a rundown old garage. What I found looked much worse. A ragtag collection of old RVs and an old school bus filled with supplies and electronics. If the owner hadn’t been highly recommended to me by several different people that I trust, I would have immediately turned around and left. The owner, nicknamed Solar Mike, assured me that many potential customers who had called ahead for a reservation did, in fact, turn around and leave when they saw the place. As it turned out, I was extremely pleased with both the quality of his work and the price.

I stayed in an area that the locals call “LOW Road” since most everyone staying there is a member of LOW (Loners On Wheels). Although the population changed daily, I counted 14 men and 2 women. By January, this number is expected to grow exponentially.

Would I ever go back? Absolutely! Once you learn to ignore your first impressions and you’re equipped to survive in the desert, it’s a fantastic location. You have no difficulty finding solitude or camaraderie or anything in between.



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