Slab City, California
After passing through Salvation Mountain, I drove deeper into the desert through an area known as Slab City. Slab City is named for the many concrete slabs and pylons that remain from an abandoned WWII military base. The area is now used by squatters and snowbirds. The area is mostly uncontrolled, and there is no charge for parking or camping, giving it the reputation as “the last free place in America”. In popular culture, Slab City was featured in Jon Krakauer’s “Into the Wild” and was depicted in the movie based on the book.
Because of its peculiarity and reputation, Slab City attracts an eclectic group of individuals, including transients, year-round dwellers, and RVs that stay anywhere from a day to entire winters. The city operates much like other cities. You have the “rich” areas (RVs), “poor” areas (primitive campsites), and “middle-class” areas (tents). People are expected to trade goods, food, alcohol, skills, etc. to get what they need. There are also scandals and rumors, and people are run out of town due to the gossip.
I stayed in a campsite with some local, young squatters. I brought beer, so I was pretty much instantly accepted. I spent the day wandering around and chatting with other campers, including a guy who was living in a boat he hauled into the desert from the Salton Sea. I learned that there are members-only coffee shops, a guy who transmits a Slab City radio station playing entire records at a time, and a “club”. There are hot springs, a church, and a drained pool from the military base that has been converted to a skate park.
As day turned to evening, we all sat around a fire and ate pizza rolls made with homemade dough and baked over the fire. People pulled out their instruments, and beers were consumed in preparation for a rowdy night at the local “club”. The musical talent in the “slabs” was astounding.