When it comes to RVer’s opinions about Slab City, there’s no gray area; they either love it, or they hate it. Since we’ve been visiting “the Slabs” since 2008, you can probably guess how we feel about it.
Located east of the Salton Sea on a plateau above the decaying ex-agricultural town of Niland, this decommissioned military base is a temporary home for thousands of snowbird RVers each winter, including my husband and I. Appropriately named because of the dozens of large concrete slabs remaining after the base was demolished, the Slabs features amenities found in most RV snowbird destinations: visitors are welcomed by a friendly community of campers from all over North America and often other countries, there’s organized and impromptu concerts and entertainment throughout the week and it even has a library, golf course and Sunday church service.
But one thing makes this destination different than any other winter gathering spot: it’s entirely free and there are no services whatsoever.
Dubbed “The Last Free Place,” the Slabs is a free boondocking area where million-dollar RVs camp next to homeless kids living in tents.
The rules are unspoken but made clear as soon as you arrive: keep your nose out of your neighbor’s business and do no harm to others.
Upon first glance it appears to be a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Untidy campers have left behind trash, and abandoned burnt-out trailers throughout the area. These intimidating scenes scare off most people but for those willing to dig deeper the rewards are unforgettable.
Art made from trash.
Free music and entertainment
And one of the country’s best folk art creations, Salvation Mountain
As this old California’s Gold episode shows, snowbirds have been roosting here every winter for over 30 years. During the early times, campers kept it clean and tidy which helped give it a feel similar to other popular RV boondocking spots like Quartzsite or Yuma. But as word got out about this free place, more careless campers arrived. The last decade has attracted a steady stream of homeless people and drop-outs, but these folks will stay out of your business if you stay out of theirs. As a consequence of their arrival, a steady stream of Border Patrol agents and local police officers keep things safe for everyone.
Old-timer Slabbers like the Travelin’ Pals RV club told me how they long for the days when responsible campers stayed there all winter. Thankfully, a new community of concerned snowbirds and year-rounders alike have used the Internet and word-of-mouth to let people know that bad behavior will no longer be tolerated at the Slabs. Based on our visit last winter, things do appear to be getting better.
If you decide to spend a winter at the Slabs, please tag along with a friend who knows the lay of the land. Some camping areas are more desirable than others and an experienced visitor can show you places and things to avoid, such as camping areas that are ground zero for illicit and/or insane behavior and “gopher holes” illegally dug into the desert ground by unsavory visitors too lazy to use the nearest dump station.
If you’re up for an adventure and willing to go just outside of your comfort zone, I highly recommend the Slabs for a brief stop on your winter snowbird adventures. I hope to see you there!
Rene Agredano and her husband, Jim Nelson, became full-time RVers in 2007 and have been touring the country ever since. In her blog, Rene chronicles the ins and outs of the full-timing life and brings readers along to meet the fascinating people and amazing places they visit on the road. Her road trip adventures are chronicled in her blog at LiveWorkDream.com.
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