Slab City, or The Slabs, is a free campsite and alternative living community located near an active bombing range in the desert city of Niland, California. Previously an old WWII base, Marine Barracks Camp Dunlap, the campsite earns its name for the concrete slabs that remained long after the military base had been bulldozed and abandoned.
There are no rules or fees at the Slabs. The community enacts no laws, and has no running water, power lines, sewage service or trash pickup, giving the place a Mad Max post-apocalyptic look and feel. During the winter months, as many as several thousand campers – mostly elderly retirees – flock there for the warm desert weather and the lack of fees. These seasonal residents, known as "snowbirds," live in a variety of housing structures. Though most come to the area in their RVs, many also squat in abandoned structures such as old inoperative buses, driftwood shacks, abandoned water tanks, or any place that provides a little protection from the elements. A small population lives there year-round, braving the harsh summer months when temperatures can reach above 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
Our niece's review of Slab City:
Slab City is adjacent to the Salton Sea which is just a strange thing too- communities built and abandoned based on the behavior of the rivers feeding it. And Slab is an abandoned Naval base (technically toxic land) so people squat there for free. The winter season can bring as many as 2-3k and only about 200 stay all summer. Everything from ex cons, extremely poor retirees, dirty hippies, misfits. At the Saturday night social event, I had a fellow to my right, a rugged young man studying alternative living cultures in the US for his PhD in anthro-biology or something like that- and to my left, an older white woman who had been "livin' in cages" (prison) the past 7 years until she found heaven at Slab.
I spent one night but jumped ship about 6 hours into the desert heat of day 2. I left my friend who wanted to tough it out. I just couldn't bring myself to actually crap in the hole out back. And then make food. And then lay around in the filth, which was the only agenda for the day. I found a cool motel room nearby and went back for a visit the next morning.
There is no running water, but they've got their community system- one guy supplies water bottles and fills water tanks, (meanwhile "town" is literally 2 miles outside the borders of Slab but some folks just actually never go out into reality) another guy sells solar panels, (so even little shitty shacks made of nothing have solar panels on them), they have a library, two music venues, an Internet cafe, they hold weekly events and "feeds".... But let me paint it properly- there is nothing "quaint" about it. They live in their own trash- I'm not trying to be demeaning- just giving you the raw truth, it's not cute. Its poverty, filth, unsanitary conditions and lawlessness like you've only seen in the 3rd world. And then there's art, everywhere....
There is a fenced off canal they say they bath in sometimes. I noticed police patrolling quite regularly and they said its because the canal is a through way for "illegals" coming up from Mexicali. Well... That AND in less than 24 hrs I saw 2 people get arrested and hauled off, (and thankfully the night I slept at the motel), someone set someone's camp on fire- a woman said it was a huge blaze with propane explosions and all. Apparently the community was fed up with him because he likes to shoot at cars that drive by his camp too fast and last week he unwittingly shot the leg of a woman who was hanging off the back of the truck. He aimed for tail lights and didn't see her. Anyway- he was taken to jail the night before we arrived and the community purged him while he was gone. Can't help but wonder what ensued when he came back to find his camp in ashes.
Had I actually KNOWN the type of lawlessness and unsanitary conditions, I probably would not have gone. So I guess some things are better left a mystery. Reminded me that there are alternate realities all around us.