My Visit: Slab City California

17 May

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I have been interested in Slab City for years, and I FINALLY went there! After driving for several hours, through a green mountains, speckled mountains and then, at last, bare sandy desert.  I missed the street entrance 3 times to turn into Slab City, because the road isn’t marked. There is a very small handwritten sign. The closest town, Niland is very desolate and poor. I stopped in a gas station to ask for directions and there was a sign that read “no credit please don’t ask”. It was very close to being a ghost town. I knew I’d found the road, when I saw an old military post that was spray painted with “Slab City –> you’re almost there!”.

Finally, in the distance I saw Salvation Mountain, I’d arrived! I pulled my car near the mountain and chit-chatted with some Canadian lesbians that were stopping by as well. Leonard Knight, the owner wasn’t there, but there were signs that said to take a look around – so I did. It was immediately clear that Leonard really lived here which is almost unbelievable because Slab City is a barren desert. Salvation Mountain is huge and underneath/inside the mountain is painted as well. There are winding tunnels and caves, even windows. It was really amazing, and it was clearly a work in progress – tons of open paint jars were scattered around the base of the mountain. Inside one little cave, was a box filled with notes. I picked some up to read, assuming they were left behind by visitors, but they were Leonard’s own notes from friends and even a clipping from a news article on his mountain (photo above). The whole place was surreal and amazing.

I decided to drive around town. The place is filled with wanderers, hippies, retirees, vagrants and permanent residents. There are shacks, trailers and tents everywhere. It’s entirely free to stay because Slab City is abandoned military base (and got it’s name from the slabs of cement that were left behind). I passed a pudgy couple digging through a pile of clothes and shoes sitting on a slab that read “Good Karma. Free clothes, take ’em and leave ’em”. They smiled, big, toothless smiles and waved at me. I waved back and kept driving. I found the stage where the community has their daily shows at sundown. Anyone can go up and sing or perform. This spot was featured in the movie, ‘Into the Wild’ (clip).

While leaving I passed, Bombay beach, another tiny trailer/mobile home community that’s on the Salton Sea. I’d never heard of the Salton Sea before this trip, it is a below sea level, very salty body of water, in the desert. Its pretty amazing to see, because there is nothing around it but desert. No communities, no boats. It’s bizarre. The whole trip was very eye-opening. Like stepping into another world. Slab City isn’t for the weak of heart, but it had character and is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been.


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