Monday, March 23, 2015

Slab City - 03/23/15 - Niland, CA

Monday – March 23, 2015
Slab City
Niland, California

We departed the Imperial Dam, BLM, LTVA at 9:40 a.m. We stopped at a Costco in El Centro, California to stock up on a few items, and arrived in Slab City at 2:10 p.m.

Slab City is located just east of Niland, California. Turn east on Main Street in the middle of Niland and drive a few short miles to reach Slab City.

Upon entering Slab City, our initial reaction was that we had just arrived at one of the poorest third world countries on earth. It reminded us of the devastation of civilization as shown in the movie "Mad Max."

Salvation Mountain welcomes visitors to Slab City. It is a work of art welcoming all who come to visit this area. The artwork is made from adobe, straw, and thousands of gallons of paint. Salvation Mountain was created by local resident Leonard Knight (1931–2014) It encompasses numerous murals and areas painted with Christian sayings and Bible verses.

The Folk Art Society of America declared it "a folk art site worthy of preservation and protection" in the year 2000. In an address to the United States Congress on May 15, 2002, California Senator Barbara Boxer described it as "a unique and visionary sculpture... a national treasure... profoundly strange and beautifully accessible, and worthy of the international acclaim it receives".

Concern has been raised for the future of the site, which requires constant maintenance due to the harsh surrounding environment. Many visitors bring paint to donate to the project, and a group of volunteers has been working to protect and maintain the site.

We set up camp in an area near one of the long time residents (referred to as "regulars"). This resident was a senior citizen, by himself, living in a Class C motorhome. He had marked his "homestead" off with the use of tires and planks of wood. He had built a sun shelter along side of his motorhome, using re-purposed materials. He had an old mongrel dog that he let run loose. It was well behaved and stayed close to home. The gentleman passed our campsite in his car a couple of times and waved to us. He seemed friendly enough.

Throughout the afternoon a military refueling tanker flying in unison with a military helicopter made several passes overhead. They appeared to be practicing refueling maneuvers, as evidenced by the refueling boom extending from the tanker down to the helicopter.

There are the so-called "regulars" of Slab City and then there are the transients; the snowbirds who come to the southwestern deserts to escape the cold winters in their home states. The snowbirds travel and live in Recreational Vehicles (RVs) and trailers. These snowbird visitors now number in the thousands and are from all over the USA and Canada. They set up camps from a few days to six months out of the year.

All who live here do not live in RV's... people live what they refer to as a "carefree" existence in sheds, shacks and homes made of bits and pieces of old trailers, motorhomes, converted school busses and wood. Some enterprising residents have created a church, café, library, and WiFi hot spot. One long time resident built a nightclub called "The Range" where aspiring entertainers can perform every Saturday night.

There is no fee to camp in Slab City. There is no drinking water, electricity, sewer or garbage pickup available here, but somehow people make do. People living here, live off of the grid, using solar power or generators to satisfy their electrical requirements.

The "regulars" and the majority of the transients tend to be good stewards of their environment; properly disposing of their trash and sewage. As in any society, there are the misfits who have no respect for the land or the rights of others and do as they please. This is evident in piles of trash strewn about the area and sewage dumped into holes dug into the ground.

Slab City started out as a Marine Training Base in 1942. It was dismantled, buildings sold and removed except for the concrete foundations left intact (thus the name "Slab City" was coined). After a period of non-use, it was used as a campground while men who were hired by a chemical company picked creosote. Then abandoned again, it eventually became a squatters campground for Snowbirds.

During the day it was quite noisy from the barking of the numerous dogs here. However, during the evening they quieted down and we spent a restful night. Some think this is the place to spend the winter - free of charge - in the warm desert. Others feel Slab City is an environmental nightmare and a refuge of crime and criminals. We make no such judgement. Our one night visit was pleasant and without incident.

Appropriate Sign Upon Leaving Slab City

Camping Fee: Free
Camping Site: Just find an open spot!

Total miles traveled today: 136
Route Traveled:
South on U.S. Highway 95
West on Interstate 8
North on California Highway 86
East on California Highway 78
North on California Highway 111
East on Niland Ave. to Main St. to Slab City

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

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