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Slab City: The Last Free Place in America

Updated: Nov 9, 2020

Have you ever wondered what this place is? Maybe you've seen it on TV or read about it in that book, Into the Wild like me and thought does that place really exist? Well it's definitely real and is as kooky and crazy as it looks. Often referred to as the "Last Free Place in America" Slab City, is one of those off-the road pit stops where you can't help but pull over to take a selfie, walk through the crazy art sculpture formations and think to yourself, what the heck are people doing out here?

Slab city Salvation Mountain

About 160 miles outside of Los Angeles, right near the infamous Salton Sea in the Sonora Desert, is where you'll need to head to visit Slab City. Upon exiting the freeway to get here, immediately you'll feel like you've entered the Walking Dead or some post- apocalyptic ghost town. Salvation Mountain (pictured above) is the famous landmark of this crazy squatter town and the beacon in the distance as you approach. If there is one place that is legit middle of nowhere, it's here.

slab city salvation mountain

The mountain welcomes you as you pull up, and at first sight you think you've either entered a hippie town full of transients, or a bible thumping crazy Jesus cult. Well it's maybe a little of both. This town is owned by the state of California, and is largely populated by campers, snowbirds, squatters and those trying to live off the grid. There is no running water, electricity or sewers so it is a wonder how long people can really live out here. The main residents live off solar power, and the closest town is Niland where many go for basic supplies. Welcome to no mans land!

Slab City

So what exactly is Slab City? Back in the day during WWII, it was a US Marine training camp facility for field and anti-aircraft artillery units. Built in 1942, it was fully operational until its closure in 1956. All of the buildings at that time were demolished or removed, with just a few remaining slabs in their place. It was at that time that transient and squatter community moved in and created the city off of the remains.

slab city

Now we definitely know the military base didn't always look like this. Salvation Mountain took on this appearance when artist Leonard Knight started it in 1986 and worked on it close to 30 years before finishing it. Knight originally arrived to this area to use it as a base for his hot air balloon launches. When that didn't work out, he put down roots here and built Salvation Mountain. As time went on, people added to the project creating different sections and residences that you see today. When I walked through it I felt like I was in the land of Dr Seuss!

slab city

Slab City Fun Facts:

  • Slab City residents live without paying taxes or with any law enforcement

  • A visit here is totally free, but residents do welcome donations

  • Other than spotty cell service, Slab City is entirely off-grid

  • Residents share a communal shower powered by a nearby hot spring

  • Salvation Mountain has appeared in music videos for Coldplay, Kesha, and most famously the movie Into the Wild

  • There is a night club on site called The Range with an actual calendar of events!

  • East Jesus is another notable section of the community where residents display artwork

  • Slab City and its communities have Facebook Pages - who maintains and runs them without internet I have no idea!

slab city

Since people come and go here based on the seasons, there is no specific population number on permanent residents. Summers in this desert can be brutal with temperatures getting as high as 120 degrees which is why most people don't stick around. The most popular time is during the winter months of November- March, where people come in the thousands as the cooler climate makes it much easier to setup shop. During my visit here, I didn't talk to any of the residents. Though many were welcoming, I didn't want to intrude or bother them!

Though a fun visit and something I'd wanted to check off my bucket list, to live here seems like a challenge to me! Could you live off-grid in a place like Slab City? How long could you last without running water or wi-fi? It's a whole different world out there!

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