Slab City

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For the unincorporated community in Wisconsin, see Slab City, Wisconsin.
Slab City
Slab City Welcome.jpg
Slab City
Location Sonoran Desert, California (4 miles northeast of Niland, California)
Coordinates 33°15′32″N 115°27′59″W / 33.25889°N 115.46639°W / 33.25889; -115.46639Coordinates: 33°15′32″N 115°27′59″W / 33.25889°N 115.46639°W / 33.25889; -115.46639

Slab City or The Slabs is a snowbird campsite in the Sonoran Desert 156 miles northeast of San Diego, used by recreational vehicle owners and squatters from across North America.[1][2] It takes its name from the concrete slabs that remain from the abandoned World War II Marine barracks of Camp Dunlap.

Several thousand campers, many of them retired, use the site during the winter months. These "snowbirds" stay only for the winter, before migrating north in the spring to cooler climates. The temperatures during the summer are unforgiving (as high as 120 °F) (48 °C); nonetheless, there is a group of around 150 permanent residents who live in the Slabs all year round. Some of these "Slabbers" derive their living by way of government checks (SSI, Social Security, and Social Security Disability) and have been driven to the Slabs through poverty. Others have moved to The Slabs to learn how to live off the grid and to be left alone. Still others have moved there to stretch their retirement income.

The site is both decommissioned and uncontrolled, and there is no charge for parking. The camp has no electricity, no running water, no sewers nor toilets, and no trash pickup service. Many campers use generators or solar panels to generate electricity. Supplies can be purchased in nearby Niland, California, located about four miles (6 km) to the southwest of Slab City.


Photo of the Slab City Christian Center taken in October 2007.

1942: Construction of Camp Dunlap[edit]

Camp Dunlap, in which The Slabs now sits, was expected to prepare the United States Marine Corps for combat duty.

1949: Military operations reduced[edit]

Military operations at Camp Dunlap had been greatly reduced and a skeleton crew continued until the base was dismantled.

1956: Camp Dunlap dismantled[edit]

All buildings were ordered to be dismantled and the slabs remained.

1961: Land conveyed to the State of California[edit]

As of October 6, 1961, a quitclaim deed conveying the land to the State of California was issued by the Department of Defense as it was determined the land was no longer required. The deed did not contain any restrictions, a recapture clause, or any restoration provisions. All of the former Camp Dunlap buildings had been removed. The remaining slabs were not proposed for removal. Later legislation required that revenue generated from this property go to the State Teachers’ Retirement System.

Creosote harvesting[edit]

At some point, a chemical company in Oakland, California hired 20 men to harvest creosote leaves near Niland. Some of the workers moved closer to their work by living in small trailers at the abandoned Camp Dunlap. This was the start of what is now called Slab City.

1965 migration to Slab City Begins[edit]

Riverside County ordered people to leave a camping area at Painted Canyon near Mecca, California. These people had all sorts of living arrangements. Besides the trailers, there were cardboard and plywood shacks, all sorts of vehicles and school buses. Some migrated to what is now Bombay Beach, Georgetown which is south of the Fountain of Youth and the abandoned Marine Training Base Camp Dunlap, now known as Slab City.


Salvation Mountain[edit]

Main article: Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain

Located just east of State Route 111, the entrance to Slab City is easily recognized by the colorful Salvation Mountain, a small hill approximately three stories high which is entirely covered in acrylic paint, concrete and adobe and festooned with Bible verses. It is a project of over two decades by Leonard Knight.

East Jesus[edit]

Bottle wall at East Jesus

East Jesus is an experimental, sustainable, habitable, art installation located in the Slab City area. There is no religious connotation in the name East Jesus – it's a colloquialism for the middle of nowhere beyond the edge of services; the off-grid facility operates with no municipal utilities.[3] In early 2007, Charlie Russell left his job in the technology industry, packed all his belongings into a shipping container sent to a trash-strewn field, and began to surround his two art cars with the sculptures that would become the foundation works of East Jesus. The Chasterus Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit, was formed after his death in 2011 and has since guided the curation and expansion of East Jesus.

East Jesus sculpture garden entry

Made from discarded material that has been reused, recycled, or repurposed, East Jesus encourages visitors to imagine a world without waste in which every action is an opportunity for self-expression. Assemblage and mixed-media art covers nearly every inch of the interior and exterior. Sculptures and installations are constantly in development throughout the campus, and the musical performance space holds a PA, stage lighting system, even a studio grand piano.[4] There is also a solar power system, a full kitchen, and a battery bank made up of expired batteries that were disposed by telecom companies.[5] Photography, multi-media art, performance art, writing, and music are an integral part of the larger fabric which the collective artists are continually weaving. East Jesus is a living, growing, and ever-changing artwork that embraces the varied voices of the thousands of contributing artists who have added to the installation. Every day, residential staff give dozens of free tours and host visiting artists and overnight guests.[6]

The Range[edit]

The Range is an open-air nightclub complete with stage, lights, amplifiers, speakers and tattered couches and old chairs for seating. Every Saturday night at about dusk, the locals and visitors meet for a Talent Show that features permanent resident musicians and anyone else who wants to get up on stage and perform. The venue is run by an old time resident of 14 years named Builder Bill.

In popular culture[edit]

  • It was featured in the NPR radio documentary program Hearing Voices episode "Small Town" the week of November 11, 2009. The segment's synopsis is "This town in California never did exist, though it's full of folk who live there: an unofficial RV Park and home to the homeless thrives in culture and community.[7]"
  • It was one of the settings featured in the 2007 Sean Penn film Into The Wild based on the same named Jon Krakauer recounting of Christopher McCandless' odyssey that ultimately led to his death in Alaska in August 1992. In the book and movie, McCandless spends time with itinerant residents of Slab City and strikes up a relationship with a teenage girl.
  • A parody of the city was featured in the video game, Grand Theft Auto V, as Stab City. It is portrayed as a run-down trailer park filled with a gang of bikers.
  • Vice created a YouTube video featuring Slab City called "Living Without Laws: Slab City, USA".[8]
  • Below Sea Level (2008), a multiple award-winning documentary film by Italian director Gianfranco Rosi was filmed in Slab City. The film documented the lives of a small group of otherwise homeless residents, living in RVs, buses, tents, etc. The film was shot over a 5-year period.
  • It was featured in "G" Is for Gumshoe, a detective novel by Sue Grafton, in which a missing person was last seen at her residence at Slab City.
  • It is visited in the BBC documentary American Nomads.
  • In September 2015, Slab City was highlighted in the Season 8 episode "The Last Free City In America" of the YouTube comedy series Good Mythical Morning.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Perry, Tony (December 18, 2011). "Slab City, a trailer park utopia, thrives in remote desert". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2015-03-25. 
  2. ^ Motlagh, Jason (February 3, 2012). "Slab City, Here We Come: Living Life Off the Grid in California's Badlands". Time. Retrieved 2015-04-20. 
  3. ^ Yuki Toy. "ロサンゼルスから東へ320km 砂漠の共同生活地区「イーストジーザス」に住む漂流者たちの生活に潜入レポート – 自由って何?". ロサンゼルス発 ジャパラマガジン®. 
  4. ^ Johnson, Robert (November 21, 2014). "13 Rules For Surviving The East Jesus Artist Community". Pixable. Retrieved 2015-04-20. 
  5. ^ "6 Reasons You're Picturing the Post-Apocalypse Wrong". Retrieved 2015-11-11. 
  6. ^ Bastow, Clem (September 25, 2014). "Here’s What It’s Like To Live In A Sustainable Art Installation That’s Being Slowly Swallowed By The Desert". Junkee. Retrieved 2015-04-20. 
  7. ^ "HV076- Small Town : HearVox". Retrieved 2010-11-19. 
  8. ^ "Living Without Laws: Slab City, USA". YouTube. 
  9. ^ "The Last Free City In America". YouTube. Good Mythical Morning. 1 September 2015. Retrieved 1 September 2015. 

External links[edit]