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North America > United States of America > California > Desert (California) > Imperial County > Slab City

Slab City

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Slab City is community of mostly snow birds, military veterans, anarchists, and neo-libertarians squatting off-grid in the Sonoran desert in southeastern California.

Understand[edit]

The name "Slab City" (also known as "the Slabs") refers to the abandoned concrete slabs that scatter the land. The slabs (and the buildings that sat on their foundations, which have since been removed) were built by the military as barracks for the Marine Corps in 1942 for World War II (Camp Dunlap).

The land is owned by the State of California, but is occupied by squatters. As such, Slab City is often referred to as "The Last Free Place in US America."

Climate[edit]

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 tempuratures 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 Slab City#Drink).

Get in[edit]

While there are other roads into Slab City, it is highly 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.

Get around[edit]

Map of Slab City

Bicycles are the best way to get around Slab City.

If you drive, drive very slow. There are many dogs playfully running around the Slabs.

You can certainly walk the Slabs, but it's best not to do so at night (see Slab City#Stay_Safe) It takes a little over an hour to walk from the Slabs into the nearest town with basic amenities, Niland.

Sometimes Slabbers will organize carpool trips to Niland, Brawley, or Indio in exchange for gas money.

See[edit]

Do[edit]

  • 1 Lizard Tree Library, 555 Rosalie Drive. Read at the Slab City Public Library.
  • 2 Internet Cafe. Charge & surf at the Internet cafe.
  • 3 Oasis Club. Socialize at the Oasis Club.
  • 4 Slab City Hot Springs. Take a dip in the Hot Springs.
  • 5 Salvation Mountain. Climb Salvation Mountain.

Buy[edit]

Many Slabbers have taken advantage of the increased tourism by offering basic services in exchange for donations.

Remember that 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.

Drink[edit]

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--if you get sucked in--would easily result in death, 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 people working for the State (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.

Eat[edit]

Sleep[edit]

Free[edit]

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.

Not free[edit]

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.

Stay safe[edit]

First, police do frequently drive through the Slabs. Of course, in the U.S., it's against their laws to enter your property without a warrant. That said, most camps in the Slabs (excluding the nearby East Jesus, which bought their land from the State) 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, and often poorly trained on how to de-escalate violent situations. Don't become a statistic.

For the reasons above, most Slabbers are also armed (and also dangerous). Many are veterans with PTSD, meth addicts, and people suffering from mental instability. In general, it's best not to walk around the Slabs at night.

It would be a very bad idea to enter someone's squat who 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.

Connect[edit]

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.

Go next[edit]

  • Niland. A small town with basic amenities within walking distance from Slab City.
  • East Jesus. An arts center that was formerly a squat in 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 SpringsBombay Beach  N California 111.svg S  CalipatriaEl Centro



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