Three miles east of the small town of Niland, California lies a truly unique place called Slab City. It occupies an old, abandoned military base. The land (640 acres) has reverted to the state of California who has been trying for years to sell it but without any signs of success. In the meantime, the land has been taken over by campers and others who wanted a place to stay. There may be anywhere from a few dozen to a few thousand people on this piece of desert land at any one time. Most of the people stay a few days, some stay for the winter months but a few are resident the year round. The state, unable to sell the property, now virtually ignores it. Therefore, the only rule for camping in Slab City is that there are no rules. If you feel like standing outside and howling at the moon, go ahead. The neighbors won't mind. In fact if it looks like fun, they may join you.
The first thing you see as you approach is Salvation Mountain. This is a work in progress that has been going on for the better part of 20 years.
The artist, Leonard Knight, is usually available to give you a tour. There is no charge but a donation is acceptable. A donation of paint is preferred.
This was apparently one of the security checkpoint on the original military base. Now it merely serves to point out that you have arrived.
Since there are no rules, you can camp where you like; in groups like this or all by yourself. The road just past the welcome sign seems to be, by custom anyway, the commercial district. Many RVs parked near the road have something to sell. There were at least half a dozen "garage" sales going on. There are also people offering services. There is a "handy man" who can fix most things. There is even a church if you are so inclined.
There are a wide range of RVs here at any one time. From this high end model complete with solar panels and satellite dish to the ones shown below.
The RV in the center was missing front wheels and several side panels and windows. The building next to it was built from salvaged materials; partly from side panels taken from an abandoned RV nearby. The concrete slab you see is left over from the old military buildings. There are a number of these old slabs around the area; hence, the name Slab City.
You may see groups of people with a common interest camping together. LOW is a national club called Loners on Wheels. It is for full time RVers who travel alone. Some groups even hold conventions here. There is plenty of room, no reservations are required and the price is right; FREE.
Here was another group associated with a national club.
The campsite we chose was in between the two extremes. There were people nearby but not too close. There were people to talk to during the day but no one close enough to be disturbed if we ran the generator until 3:00 AM (which we did). The nights were quiet except for the bombs falling a few miles away. It seems the Air Force has an aerial gunnery range nearby. The regulars here say that sometimes the tracers light up the sky like a fireworks display.
Some people need more of the trappings of civilization and put up street signs. That's probably Fred's truck in the background.
Some show indications of planning to stay here for some time. There is enough wood here to last for this winter and maybe next winter as well. The barrel in the foreground is rigged with a chimney for burning trash. Since no one or no organization runs this place, there are no services such as trash hauling. I heard that a few people had gotten together and contracted with a company in Niland to haul trash but only from their sites. I did see a propane truck driving through. He may have been delivering propane to someone although how he ever found his customer is beyond me.
Slab City is a very interesting place. I plan to return in a few years to see if it is evolving or just remaining static.
When we left Slab City, we stopped at a nearby hot springs. It is on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land.
We both enjoyed the water. It was very hot and you couldn't stay in the pool very long. The shower was a little cooler but not much.
The BLM had a Long Term Visitor Area (LTVA) campground there next to the spring. LTVAs charge $25 to stay in their campground for 14 days but most of them have no amenities other than maybe pit toilets. So we drove a few miles south, pulled off the road into the desert on BLM land outside their campground and camped the night for free. We are finally getting some return on our tax money. I love it!