Ask any RVer who’s been brave enough to make the dusty pilgrimage to Slab City USA and they’ll tell you one of two things:
They loved it.
Or they hated it.
With the Slabs, there’s no gray area, just black and white and an assortment of off-grid, live-and-let live temporary insanity that runs amok at this deserted military base on the edge of California’s Salton Sea.
The lack of RV hookups and respectable amenities like pavement and trash collection keeps all but the most adventurous souls away.
But the abundance of community spirit, creativity and sense of freedom keep many coming back winter after winter.
And of course the price. It is the “Last Free Place” after all.
Kept relatively under wraps for decades by frugal RVing snowbirds who flock from as far north as Canada, the Slabs are located east of Niland on a dead end road that terminates at the outskirts of a Navy bombing range.
The Slabs are where you go when you’re running from the law, or just want a free place to wait out winter. Homeless train jumpers running from the law camp out in gully washes next to tricked out coaches with massive solar arrays, while novice full-timers form safe caravans on the perimeter adjacent to the folksy Salvation Mountain.
Cruise around any time of day and you’ll get a firsthand look at some of the best things that a self-made, off-grid society can do;
And creativity flows.
Even if water does not.
Sometimes you’ll also see the worst of what happens when no real laws are implemented. Look around at the heaps of discarded trash and homemade “gopher holes” of waste water mounds and you’ll be convinced that civic rules really exist for good reason.
Many people feel unsafe at the Slabs. And with good reason. On any given day you might find the Border Patrol racing down the dusty roads to chase down nefarious individuals.
While it’s not unusual to witness what happens when one angry Slabber takes revenge on another.
But if you keep your nose out of other people’s business and respect the “live and let live” attitude, you’ll be just fine. The Slabs aren’t as scary as the media portrays it to be and one of the most valuable lessons anyone can learn here is: people are far more kind to one another than we are led to believe.
Although the vibe of the Slabs started changing when Hollywood caught wind of it a few years ago, there’s still many worthwhile reasons to visit. Anyone who isn’t afraid to step outside of their comfort zone should check it out, if only for a couple of days.
Tips for First-timers Visiting the Slabs:
- January and February are the best times for newcomers to visit
- Go with someone who knows the lay of the land. Camping in the “wrong” spot can be treacherous.
- Stay away from boards and tires placed randomly around bushes and edges of ravines; these are gopher holes and you will fall in.
- Stock up on water and conserve it. The closest dump station is at a public rest area located about 10 miles away. You may have to drive further if the station is closed due to overuse.
- Keep an eye on your dog and watch for strays, of which there are many.
- Be a part of it. Walk the perimeter, engage with locals. But keep your camera use to a minimum; gawking is just rude.
- Make it a better place than when you got there by packing out some trash, or donating a book to the library.
Remember, Slab City is definitely not the kind of place you’ll enjoy if you are more comfortable around predictable environments like RV parks and established campgrounds.
But if you have any kind of wanderlust spirit that prompts you to push the limits of what you consider “respectable,” then by all means, check it out and let us know what you think.
Often called “The O.G. of full-time RVing,” Rene Agredano and her husband Jim Nelson hit the road in a fifth wheel trailer in 2007, after their dog Jerry lost a leg to terminal cancer. Sixteen years later they are still traveling and sharing their nomadic adventures at LiveWorkDream. As a self-employed wordsmith, Rene shares her expertise for many RV industry videos, publications such as the Escapees RV Club Magazine, and has authored numerous books, including the Essential RVing Guide to National Parks, and Income Anywhere, a guide to earning money on the road. She has been featured in global media outlets including the PBS documentary “NATURE: Why We Love Cats and Dogs,” The Guardian Sunday Edition, and the Dan Pink book Free Agent Nation.
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