Slab City, CA

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.

First light on Dome Rock

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.

See the sand blowing across the road in the side mirror?

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.

There’s a road here, somewhere

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.

*Views expressed in slab art do not necessarily reflect my own views. I’m just sharing what I see.

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.

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Becky

At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.

27 Comments

  1. Ray on February 5, 2017 at 4:39 pm

    All that blowing sand. Time to get the truck a new air filter.



  2. Linda on February 4, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    Becky…My husband and I rode in those Imperial Sand Dunes with our 1987 Honda Quads for over 25 years! Loved camping at the different washes along the railroad tracks. The huge dunes were such a kick to ride!

    You were pretty brave to go to Slab City. We have lived in Southern CA for over 45 years, and know that there are druggies and strange folk at Slab City. We look forward to seeing where you are headed next.

    All the best,
    Linda



    • Becky on February 5, 2017 at 9:57 am

      Linda, I’ve heard that ISD is one of the biggest off-highway-vehicle spots in the country, and I can see why now having visited them.

      Staying safe in the Slabs is mostly a matter of common sense. Go with people you know, and learn (and avoid) the “bad” parts of town. People live differently there, but the vast majority of them are completely harmless and I found the whole experience to be interesting and worthwhile.



  3. Joan on February 3, 2017 at 7:31 am

    Becky,

    Was there about 3 years ago just a week or so earlier. Missed the talent show…did not know about it. My group stayed at the LOWs area and yes, agree with you, as a solo female I would not feel comfortable staying overnight by myself. Really enjoyed all the places you visited, art colony, salvation mountain,etc. Great pics! It is a unique place. After there we headed to Borrega Springs to see the massive sculptures scattered all over the desert. Just amazing, hope you can visit. Great state park there!



    • Becky on February 3, 2017 at 11:49 pm

      Yes I’ve heard a lot about Borrego Springs from RVers over the years and I’ll make it out there some day Joan. Glad you enjoyed the Slabs even if you missed the big show.



  4. JPH on February 2, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    It was nice meeting you at yoga class, Becky.

    Happy and safe travels, and wishing you all the best,
    Jeff



    • Becky on February 2, 2017 at 2:27 pm

      Nice meeting you too Jeff, take care!



  5. Jim on February 1, 2017 at 8:03 am

    Drove by Slab City a couple months ago not realizing I’d missed that place. Slab City, like most of the small communities around there, is likely dieing because of the Salton Sea being allowed to dry up. To go back to normal. This is causing the newer portions of the Salton Sea’s lake bed (accidently created in 1905) to dry up, and lake bed dust to be picked up on the prevailing winds, exacerbating allergies and respiratory issues in residents. Then there’s the fish kills as the lake levels fluctuate making the area smell less than pleasant on occasion. There was a documentary about it not long ago. Most of the residents around the lake in numerous small communities are scrambling to find the resources to move away.

    I pass through that area regularly, it’s both interesting and sort of sad.
    Jim recently posted..Visit to South Beach…My Profile



    • Becky on February 2, 2017 at 2:26 pm

      Well, Slab City is kind of a unique case Jim as it’s essentially lawless (It’s the self-proclaimed Last Free Place in America) and most of the people who spend considerable time there aren’t there because of the ambiance of the region/lake if you know what I mean. There are a lot of eccentrics, hippies, druggies, runaways, vagrants, and generally people living alternatively in ways not acceptable in mainstream society and I imagine as long as the Slabs remains a place for them to be left alone to do their thing, they’ll stay. Just my take on it.

      I’ll agree with you about the Salton Sea though, it’s not pretty and I can understand why other towns in the area are being abandoned.



      • Jim on February 2, 2017 at 3:17 pm

        Oh, you’re right! I’d forgot about that part of the ambience of the city. I’d meant to stay there years ago and never did. My last pass through the area, I simply forgot and missed it.

        One of these days though!
        Jim recently posted..More From San Felipe…My Profile



        • Becky on February 3, 2017 at 11:48 pm

          It certainly is unique and worth a visit even if just briefly to check out the artwork. Hopefully you get to visit soon Jim, take care.



  6. Beverley Hall on February 1, 2017 at 7:22 am

    I am very used to snowstorms with nil visibility up north here. we have developed bigger and better plows over the years and you do well to just follow them during the storm at 10 mph than to risk passing them. Sometimes on very flat land you have no idea if you are still on the road even when the wind had died down.

    I was very interested to learn that the conditions are very similar in the desert. I never knew they had snowplows down there! Are they the same as ours up north? Perhaps the driving skills I have aquired during my years of driving through snowstorms would come in handy down there!



    • Becky on February 2, 2017 at 2:13 pm

      Yes Beverley I was born and raised in Wisconsin so I know all about winter storms and plows, haha.

      The plows looked similar in size and shape to what I saw up north, but I’ll admit I didn’t pay very close attention to them as I was focusing on the road. There were also two caterpillars with scoop shovels on front picking up sand and dumping it to the side, more like what you see with road construction.



  7. Arkansas Sue on February 1, 2017 at 5:03 am

    Sand storm! Slab City! Oh my! Loved reading about your awesome adventure!



    • Becky on February 2, 2017 at 2:09 pm

      Glad you enjoyed this and thanks (to all of you readers!) for following along.



  8. Ron on January 31, 2017 at 10:05 pm

    Oh, what a great adventure. Have read much about Slab City, think I would would enjoy a week or two there.



    • Becky on February 2, 2017 at 2:08 pm

      It’s a very unique place Ron, I enjoyed my time there.



  9. Jodee Gravel on January 31, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    Travelling that area during high winds is not for the faint of heart – glad you made it through safely. My daughter-in-law spins poi and staff – such a great art! Glad you had fun at the Slabs, we’ve yet to make it but are looking forward to our first trip.
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Las Cruces, New MexicoMy Profile



    • Becky on February 2, 2017 at 2:07 pm

      Me too Jodee, what a crazy drive that was. Poi spinning isn’t a very common hobby, it’s nice to hear about others that do it. I hope you enjoy the Slabs when you get there!



  10. Jeff on January 31, 2017 at 5:45 pm

    Star Wars episodes were filmed in the Imperial Sand Dunes, it must have looked other worldly to you in the wind! The Slab City Library had a couple DVDs (take out or purchase) on the building of Salvation Mountain. Pretty interesting. The Mud Volcanoes are more interesting (to me) than the Hot Springs … and you can fit in with your clothes on! Sure enjoy following your adventures!



    • Becky on February 2, 2017 at 2:01 pm

      Didn’t make it to the mud volcanoes this trip Jeff but I heard of them and next time through will make an effort to go see them. Take care.



  11. tom niemeier on January 31, 2017 at 5:04 pm

    You go to some edgy places girl! 🙂 And I would think by now you’d be an awesome fire starter. Cool story about the sand storm. Never heard of plows like that.



    • Becky on February 2, 2017 at 1:57 pm

      Glad you enjoyed this post Tom.



  12. joe calonge on January 31, 2017 at 4:58 pm

    u are brave lol i heard bad thing about slab city. i hope there is some good spots to boondock let us know.



    • Becky on February 2, 2017 at 1:55 pm

      People seem to either love or hate the Slabs. If you’re coming in by yourself and don’t have a group to park with get directions to the “lows” area, as that’s considered a safe place to camp.



  13. Rob on January 31, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    Poi? I had to look it up, the only poi I knew about was the Hawaiian food made from the taro root. It sounds great, I’ll be back to see the photos!



    • Becky on January 31, 2017 at 4:00 pm

      It’s a fun hobby, I picked it up in Quartzsite last January although didn’t get serious until August or so.



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