The name "Slab City" (also known as "the Slabs") refers to the abandoned concrete slabs that scatter the land. The slabs were built by the military for the Marine Corps in 1942 for World War II (Camp Dunlap). The barracks and other buildings that sat on their foundations have been removed. During the winter thousands of campers bring their RVs to the area for the season, while a much smaller group remains year-round. The reason why people come to Slab City vary; for some, Slab City offers the chance to live off-grid and outside the bounds of "normal" society, while other residents are driven to the area by poverty.
The land is owned by the State of California, but is occupied by squatters. Its residents often call Slab City "The Last Free Place in America." There is no running water, electricity, sewers, or trash pickup, so residents must provide entirely for themselves.
Slab City sits below sea level in the Sonoran desert. The nearby Salton Sea provides some moisture into the air, but it's generally very hot & dry with summer temperatures reaching as high as 120 °F (48 °C). There is no potable water in Slab City, so you'll want to bring in about 5 gallons (19 L) of water per day per person (see #Drink).
While there are other roads into Slab City, it is strongly recommended that you take Beal Road from Niland as it's paved most of the way. You don't want to get your car stuck in the sand in the middle of the Sonoran desert.
Bicycles are the best way to get around Slab City.
If you drive, drive very slowly. There are many dogs playfully running around the Slabs.
Sometimes Slabbers will organize carpool trips to Niland, Brawley, or Indio in exchange for gas money.
- 1 Salvation Mountain. Salavation Mountain is the creation of Leonard Knight, who over a period of decades created an artwork out of adobe clay and thousands of gallons of paint that covers an entire hillside, proclaiming the message that "God is Love". His artwork is a brightly colored monument that was described as "profoundly strange" in an address on the Senate floor. In addition to the main artwork, Salvation Mountain is surrounded by many other items that have been painted in impressive fashion, ranging from cars to boats to mailboxes. Free, but donations are appreciated.
- 2 East Jesus, 23 Sidewinder Rd (pass Salvation Mountain, turn left when the road ends. take the second left on to Sidewinder (there is an East Jesus sign)). 10AM-5PM. East Jesus is an experimental, sustainable, habitable, art installation. There is no religious connotation in the name East Jesus - it's a colloquialism for the middle of nowhere beyond the edge of services; their off-grid facility operates with no municipal utilities. You can explore their expansive art garden with a free docent-led tour, learn about their numerous and varied sustainability initiatives, and imagine a world without waste in which every action is an opportunity for self-expression. East Jesus was a part of Slab City until the land was purchased from the state. Free, cash donations appreciated.
- 1 The Range, 887 Beal Rd. The Range is an open-air nightclub that hosts musical performances every Saturday night at sunset. The venue provides a stage, lights, amplifiers, and speakers, and anyone and everyone with an instrument and/or a voice is invited to perform. While acts vary during the winter, locals jokingly describe the summer performances as "the same three singers performing the same five songs".
- 2 Lizard Tree Library, 555 Rosalie Drive. Read at the Slab City Public Library.
- 3 Internet Cafe. Charge & surf at the Internet cafe.
- 4 Oasis Club. Socialize at the Oasis Club.
- 5 Slab City Hot Springs. Take a dip in the Hot Springs.
Many Slabbers have taken advantage of the increased tourism by offering basic services in exchange for donations.
Slab City is a community of people living in the middle of a desert, very far from basic services. If you're planning a trip into the Slabs, be sure to stop by a grocery or hardware store and pick up some gifts for the Slabbers. Simple things like bananas, whiskey, and ice will be very much appreciated. Building materials (wood, tarps, nails, etc) and art supplies (paint) would also make great gifts.
Water. Lots of it. Especially in summer, you'll be drinking 1 gallon of water per person minimum. You should budget bringing 2 gallons of water per person per day just for drinking. It's recommended that you bring 5 gallons (19 L) of water per person per day total.
There are a number of camps that will sell ice cold water and other beverages, but you should not expect such resources to be available. Be self-reliant, and bring more water than you need.
Slab City sits between two canals, and there's a hot spring between them. The canal on the north side has a fence around it, and it's a felony to take water from it. It has turbines in it which would easily result in death if you get sucked in, so swimming is not advised, either. The canal on the south is especially dirty-looking. Both canals carry non-potable water for agriculture. They have agricultural run-off in them, which is high in pesticides, so you probably don't want to drink it (even after filtering).
Many people bathe in the hot springs, but police have ticketed Slabbers for doing so without clothing. There is also a "cold shower," which is a hole in the ground where water runs off from the hot spring. Because this water source comes from the hot springs, it's essentially used bath water. In any case, it's very high in iron & sulfur; it still tastes bad after filtering.
You should bring in your own water for your stay in Slab City.
Most people at the Slabs are squatting, so just find an unoccupied plot to call home! Just be sure to evaluate your surroundings before you choose where to set up camp, keeping an eye out for neighbors that may be addicted to meth (usually tweakers' camps are poorly maintained or full of trash).
As always, make sure that you leave no trace when camping in the Slabs. Bury your poop in a hole and carry out all trash, including toilet paper.
If you'd rather be dependent on someone else to give you water and shelter, there are a few camps that will let you stay with them for a fee.
- 1 Cailfornia Ponderosa, Coachella Canal Rd, ☏ . Breakfast available. Chili night and jam session on Tuesdays. Can be booked through Airbnb.
- 2 Slab City Hostel, 92233. Safe, welcoming, and has good cell phone reception.
Police frequently drive through the Slabs. In the U.S., it's against the law to enter your property without a warrant. But most camps in the Slabs are squats: a locked fence won't offer you legal protection, but a locked RV door will. If you see or hear that police are driving though the slabs, it's best to return to your vehicle. Police in the U.S. are armed. (Nearby East Jesus is not a squat as the land has been bought from the state.)
It’s safer to assume that Slabbers are also armed (and also dangerous). Many are veterans with PTSD, meth addicts, and people suffering from mental instability. In general, so it's best not to walk around the Slabs at night.
It would be a very bad idea to enter the squat of someone you don't know (at any time of day), even to knock on their door. Many Slabbers came to the middle of nowhere to get away from other people, and it's best to assume that they want to be left alone.
Be smart and carry something for self-defense at all times. Non-lethal pepper spray is a great self-defense item.
ISPs provide Internet to the slabs via radio antennas mounted on nearby cell towers. As such, any Internet in the Slabs is very poor quality with high packet loss.
There is an Internet cafe in the Slabs that provides power, Wi-Fi, and coffee in the mornings. They accept donations.
- Niland. A small town with basic amenities within walking distance from Slab City.
- Joshua Tree National Park. Popular national park that's just over 1 hour's drive from the Slabs.
- Indio. A nearby city with supermarkets and people with jobs.
|Routes through Slab City
|Palm Springs ← Bombay Beach ←
|→ Calipatria → El Centro