Slab City, aka The Slabs near Niland, CA on the Salton Sea is often referred to as a Mecca for RVers who enjoy free boondocking in the Southwest during winter months. There are no services, but full-timers, snowbirds and travelers of all types with an open mind and an adventurous outlook can find good times, entertainment, and plenty of impromptu accommodations.
Why Go To Slab City
People go to Mecca for various reasons; Muslims to be precise, since non-Muslims are not allowed to go to Hajj in Mecca, fulfilling one of the Five Pillars of Islam. But I digress. I only bring it up since full-time RVers, snowbirds, transients, hobos, celebrities and international travelers of all types end up at the Slabs that once were Camp Dunlap for many more—yet perhaps similar—reasons.
Basically, I believe it boils down to this. There are two types of people that call to Slab City home, even if only temporarily.
People who Want to Visit Slab City
Slab city is free. It’s warm in winter, and one of those “must-see” destinations for many full-time RVers and snowbirds. Others want to see what those scenes from Into The Wild were all about. Some come to see Salvation Mountain, others out of sheer curiosity. But most come to connect with like minded folks for a good time.
People who Need to Live at the Slabs
Slab city is free. There is no governing authority per se. Some live here because there is nowhere else to go. Others are transients or Rubber Trampers hoping for a little social interaction on the road. Many are running away from something, others find there way here out of sheer desperation. But most come to connect with like minded folks for a good time.
And that’s the thing that strikes me about the Mecca reference. One primary purpose for a pilgrimage to Mecca is to feel Unity, one of the fundamental principles of Islamic Spirituality.
“All men are equal before God as are the teeth of a comb.”
— The Prophet Muhammad
Whether we live in a “fancy” fifth wheel, van, immobile bus, tent or under a shade tree, we are all one of the same Quality Neighborhood at the Slabs. Yet most discussion about the Slabs is divided. You either love it or hate it.
But there I go digressing again. Before this turns into some religiously bent flame war, lets look at some common Slab City shelters and discuss the accommodations, services and amenities available to residents and those passing through.
Slab City DIY Shelters
One thing we all have in common at Slab City, is that we are all self-contained. While some have comfortable solar powered mobile homes complete with internet access, running water and refrigeration, others may be fortunate enough to have a jug of water, some dry ramen to munch on and a strong sense on ingenuity.
That is, after he abandoned the bunker project I helped him get started. More about that in a future post.
And then this happened, after a couple days of steady driving winds. Not sure if the tent was in that shade shelter the whole time or if someone else had quickly moved in after it blew down.
One thing is certain, Slabbers—and even some of us Snabbers—get pretty creative with their shelter building, and are definitely resourceful.
One must become resourceful anywhere resources are limited. Pallets, tires and razor wire are hot ticket items on the Slabs. Those industrious enough to have prepared such accommodations are permanent residents, have been here a while, or plan to hunker down for the summer. Like this guy…
…who ended up being nothing like he may seem. The self-identified host of the Ponderosa was funny, friendly and inviting—despite the appearance of his new compound. We’ll have to check in with him next year to see if he is still sane and just as accommodating.
Where to Park at the Slabs
Looks can be deceiving. And first impressions are everything. So my recommendation for any RVers visiting Slab City for the first time is to do your homework. Too many times, we see “nice” rigs come into the slabs, never turning off the main road, only to promptly flip around and leave. A shame really, to come this far and not stay to experience some genuine Slabber serendipity, or other strange encounter.
Plan on meeting up with someone who’s been there before, or come with friends. Look past the trash, open your minds and your hearts, and have some common sense. Find an open area with other RVs nearby. Stay away from “downtown” until you’ve walked around a bit and made some friends, which isn’t hard with most of these kind folks.
Traveling to Slab City alone?
Most importantly, just look around to make sure you haven’t parked in somebody’s driveway, or on top of their
toilet gopher hole. If you got unwelcome looks, you likely parked somewhere that wasn’t very welcoming.
Slab City Services
There are no services at the Slabs.
You must make your own power, conserve your water, and manage your own waste. If you plan to stay a while without going to dump your black tank, you will need to dig in and join the many who prefer to build a DIY septic system, more commonly known as a gopher hole. But then you can get your own water tower from the Tote Man and never have to leave! Personally I don’t mind the weekly trips to take a long shower at the dump station and pick up some surprisingly good donuts and pan dulce at the restaurant in Calipatria.
RVers will free find a dump station just 10 miles away on HWY 111 just south of Calipatria. You may want to make sure it is still open first. There you will find fresh water. The Niland Chamber of Commerce has a dump station available closer to the Slabs that can be used for a fee. There is one store in Niland, but unless you’re looking for smokes, fortified wine and canned food you may want to head to the market in Calipatria. The closest town of any considerable size is Brawley about 20 miles away, and you’ll find a Walmart further south in El Centro.
Amenities and Entertainment
For a place filled with people who have nothing to do, there is a whole lot of entertainment at the Slabs, with something going on nearly every day—and night—of the week.
Sitting around the Trade Circle one Saturday, Stick Man commented on how there is so much to do…
- Monday: Drum Circle
- Tuesday: Movie Night
- Wednesday: Day of Rest
- Thursday: Spoken Word Circle
- Friday: Radio Mike’s Acoustic Campfire
- Saturday: Live Music at the Range
- Sunday: Breakfast at the Oasis
I particularly enjoyed his mention of a day off, especially after I told him I had to work that afternoon and he said, “I’m trying to avoid that.”
I would add to the list, however, a number of other things to keep visitors entertained at the Slabs.
Check out the art scene at East Jesus.
Experience Salvation Mountain.
Contemplate the graffiti on the tanks.
Watch your tax dollars at work during almost daily aerial shows, military maneuvers and live ammunition training in the nearby Chocolate Mountain artillery range.
Collect some brass and search the desert for unexploded ordnance.
Or just sit back, enjoy your stay and ponder what it means to really fly free!
Slab City: Love it or Hate it?
Have you been to the Slabs? How long did you stay? What was your first impression, and what do you think now if you’ve spent more than a week there?
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