January 27, Friday
This morning I achieve another first on the road: I leave camp before sunrise. Those of you who follow IO regularly will know how monumental of an achievement that is, usually I’m lucky to be taking off by 10 am.
This startling occurrence is the product of both forethought and luck. I’d hitched up the day before (it really helps to have a boondocking spot where you’re level when hitched up) and squared away the inside of the Casita before going to sleep. All that was left to do this morning was make the bed, eat breakfast, and go. Normally it takes me a while to fully wake up and make breakfast, but being sick has messed up my sleep schedule. I fall asleep early last night and am wide awake at 4 am. I read in bed until it predawn light penetrates the blinds.
The reason for this early departure is the forecast. It’s going to be a windy day, and I’m hoping to arrive in Slab City before it picks up. I can already tell it’s useless as I finish dumping in Quartzsite at 8:20 am and turn onto I10 heading west. The wind is coming from the north and hitting me broadside. It’s times like these that I’m glad I shelled out the money for a good hitch.
After crossing into California and passing Blythe, I turn south onto 78. The road first zig-zags around agricultural plots, then passes through more remote country, rolling up and down worn hills. The horizon is hazy and blowing clouds of dust fly across the landscape in waves.
Around a bend, an undulating line of tan hills appear in the distance and 78 is headed right for it. Cool, I didn’t know there were sand dunes around here. Before long I’m snapping pictures of sand blowing across the road, enjoying the novelty of watching dunes in the process of being made in the steady 25 mph winds.
The novelty quickly wears off as the blowing sand starts accumulating on the road, making for a bumpy ride and poor traction. I slow down accordingly. Where the heck are the lines? What if I get stuck? A little white car zips around me and slams on its brakes as a plow appears ahead of us over a hill, lumbering at a slow speed as it pushes sand off the road. The white car skids out of control on the blowing sand and I swerve into the oncoming lane to avoid it. Luckily no one is coming the other way.
The next four miles are white-knuckle. It never occurred to me that sand dunes might become impassable during wind storms but thinking about it now it makes perfect sense. The experience is a lot like driving in a snow storm, something I avoid at all costs while towing. I count four more plows and caterpillars in those couple miles, trying to keep the way clear for traffic. The technique is different than plowing snow, as all the sand needs to be moved to the down-wind side of the road or it’ll just blow right back on.
I breathe a sigh of relief as the road clears, although I fear how much sand I’ll find in the trailer. At Brawley I turn north and fight the wind up to Slab City. It’s only 10:30 am, but it’s already been a long day. Luckily the driving part is just about over.
Slab City is a mostly seasonal community located on the site of an abandoned World War II Marine Corps barracks. The buildings were carried out leaving behind the concrete foundations that the Slabs gets it’s name from. The area isn’t patrolled by a governing body, so it has a much different flavor than free boondocking locations managed by the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management for instance.
It’s not the kind of place that will appeal to everyone. Beautiful works of art are surrounded by piles of trash and while most of the long-term residents are kind (if occasionally eccentric and mostly wanting to be left to themselves), some places have an edgy feel to them. I personally don’t think I’d want to came out here by myself, although I know solo women who do without a problem.
Fortunately that’s not an issue on this trip. I meet up with my friend Jackie of BlueRoad, and after getting set up in the camp of a friend of hers we take a walking tour of East Jesus, an artist community in the Slabs.
The grounds are full of interesting displays of what has been coined ‘slab art’. Anyone is welcome to walk through the public area (the private areas are well-marked – stay out of them), and depending on the day you might also be lucky enough to get a tour guide to walk you through it.
You are not limited to the carpeted walkway and are free to touch and examine things, in fact part of the exhibit includes a playground, but be respectful.
In the evening the wind finally dies down and I sleep well after having been up so long today.
January 28, Saturday
The reason I came to the Slabs now was to witness the big talent show. Every Saturday evening there is a talent show at the Range, an open theater with rows of old couches and padded chairs for seating and a raised stage at the front built on one of the slabs the area is named for. But once a year in January is the big talent show that runs from noon until midnight.
Jackie talks me into putting my name in, I’m going to spin poi while she plays the guitar and sings.
We come and go from the show all day, being within walking distance is great as it’s easy to come back to the RV for the restroom (the one at the Range is kinda sketchy), to eat and take other breaks. We’re act number 27, and it’s after dark by the time Jackie and I take the stage. This works well for me as my light-up poi are more impressive after dark.
A member of our group gets video and pictures of me spinning and Jackie playing, but I haven’t gotten them from him yet and I don’t want this post to be late, so it’s going up without those pictures for now and I’ll add them in once I get them.
Around 10 pm I come back to the Casita and go to bed, I just can’t make it to the end of the show. Still, nine hours or so of live entertainment in one day was quite the experience. I’m glad I came.
January 29, Sunday
No trip to the Slabs would be complete without a visit to Salvation Mountain.
Salvation Mountain is a visionary art-piece covering a hill near the entrance to Slab City. It was created by local resident Leonard Knight using thousands of gallons of lead-free paint and encompasses numerous murals of Bible verses and Christian sayings, focusing on the Sinner’s Prayer.
The day is warming up as Jackie, JP and I arrive. After a windy, cool, and wet conditions for much of the past two weeks, the weather has finally turned around and it’s looking like 70’s and sunny for the foreseeable future. Perfect!
Right away the scale of Salvation Mountain strikes me. It’s very obvious that this project took a lot of time to complete, and I’m happy that it’s still being kept up despite the passing of the original artist in 2014.
Because the hill is adobe and straw and it’s been so wet lately, visitors aren’t being allowed inside or on top of it. Stability issues. But even the view from the bottom is neat.
While out this way, we also walk to the hot springs, which is bigger than I expected. The water is murky and bubbles rise from the center. You can get in and there are a couple people wading around when we arrive on the cooler end which is near the bridge. As a caution, nudity is acceptable here.
In the evening, our host Mojo whose area we’ve been camping in attempts to teach me good fire-starting technique. Even under her excellent tutelage my attempt fizzles out after about twenty minutes, which is what usually happens when I try to make a fire. She intervenes and salvages it and we end up with a good fire despite all. Well, there’s always tomorrow, I’ll just have to try again! There’s a big crew of us around the fire tonight and we all take turns performing, like a mini talent show. It’s a fun night.