Slab City, The Last Free Place.
A free life, off the grid… no property taxes, no bills. What do you think?
The last lawless town where you can live freely and be whoever you please is located about two hours from the coast in Southern California in the desert where temperatures can easily reach 120. Here you can bring whichever shelter you desire, plant it, make roots, put a fence around it and stay. But completely lawless? According to a local resident, that’s a rumor. Slab City does have a few rules and a local group of guiding leaders, but they’re lenient.
Who lives there? Around 4,000 people. Snowbirds, artists, free spirits, criminals, off the grid squatters and those who wish to hide, but also millionaires, tired of the stress and wanting to escape regular corporate America. The city started taking shape in 1956 when the U.S. Marine Corps abandoned Fort Dunlap and left behind concrete foundation slabs. These slabs were used by nearby workers for parking their RVs and with time the area grew.
No power lines, no fresh water and no garbage pick up… but you’ll gain nearly total freedom. The housing is anything from RV’s to tents and temporary shelters made out of lumber and tarps.
We were invited in for a visit by a local. He didn’t want pictures taken, but gladly shared stories about life out there. I must admit I was skeptical and a bit terrified before going into Slab City, but seeing his set up changed my mind. When we first entered his sanctuary he wanted to know if I was enlightened (if I wasn’t he’d happily help with that!!). Then he asked us to plant garlic with him which we did in the sun in 110 degrees… He was fully self sufficient. He had a huge garden, a homemade very impressive solar oven where he cooked his meals and a pond under a tarp shelter with over 300 fish in it. This pond also served as his bath. And when we neared it and he started taking his shirt off I quickly came up with an excuse of why we suddenly had to leave. A bit disappointed he asked us to return anytime. I did sneak a photo of a corner of his garden below.
When we left this very friendly man, a world traveler and author (I saw his book on a table), I felt a bit sad for him. He seemed really lonely and desperate for company, and even though he loved the freedom of living out there, it is far from everything.
So who owns it? California, but it is so far away from everything that it seems almost forgotten. If you’re interested, you simply show up and claim your piece of land. Our friend out there, said he claimed his right in the middle of a road which upset his neighbors, but he put up his fence anyway and stayed. The future there is uncertain, however, as rumors tell stories of the land being divided up and sold. A fear, the free out there carry in the back of their minds as they battle the very high temperatures and the challenges of total independence.
Is it safe to visit? Before going I had been warned and heard many horror stories of drug addicts and violence out there, but it seemed perfectly safe during the day. I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to visit alone at night. The biggest fear there, though, is the thought of the size of scorpions that must come out at night looking for food…
Do be careful though, there are many stories of robberies and tourists being hunted like animals out there. Go with a group and be prepared.
Slab City is located right next to Salvation Mountain (previous post).