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).
Thousands of mesmerizing little details and every shade of the brightest colors imaginable makes this mountain of religious devotion stand out brighter than the sun in this very hot desert, giving a simple but clear message to it’s visitors, “God is love”.
The artist Leonard Knight spent 28 years single-handedly pouring his soul into this magnificent artwork. You don’t have to be religious at all to appreciate the effort that was put into making it. In 2002 this site was deemed a National Treasure by the Congressional record of the United States. And a treasure it is. The artist Leonard Knight passed a few years ago, but the mountain is up-kept perfectly by a non profit organization.
It’s painted on a mountainside and supported by lots of hay, tires, cement, wood, over half a million gallons of paint and occasionally car doors. You can climb to the top but stay on the yellow path to preserve the art.
The cross, like a beacon of light, stands tall at the top leading the people of the desert towards it.
To the right of the mountain you can go inside a cave like creation of even more devotion. Windows and lots of framed photographs gives you a peek inside the life of the artist and the history of the mountain.
The trees inside are fascinating art in themselves. Don’t forget to take a moment to look up.
Salvation Mountain has been featured in numerous music videos, documentaries and if you’ve ever watched “Into the Wild” you might just recognize it.
A few things…
– A few cans of latex water based paint donations, any color, will be greatly appreciated if you plan a visit.
– It’s hot! Very hot, and there are no stores close by, so bring drinks and snacks.
Do you ever visit places and think wow this would be a great setting for..? This place, Bombay Beach, would be a really great setting for any post apocalyptic movie imaginable. Every time I visit I think of The Walking Dead and halfway expect to see a horde of zombies coming at me. But … all I am met with is a dusty, bleached, rusted and nearly abandoned town with ‘the lowest bar in the western hemisphere’ and two small convenience stores.
Nearly 300 people call this town home. I’ve seen three of them and a wild bunny.
In 1905 the Colorado river breached a canal that flowed for two years and settled in the dry desert creating the Salton Sea. Birds and fish thrived here and by the 1950ies small resort towns popped up along it’s shores and it became a vacation paradise featuring boating, fishing and water skiing. But by the 1970ies things started going downhill. Runoff from local farms introduced large amounts of pollution to the Salton Sea and it became saltier than the Pacific Ocean. Depleted oxygen in the sea killed off the fish and as they decomposed, littering the shore, the sand became coated in a thick layer of sludge and bones. You still see them there, their rotting bodies, making the salty beach whiter.
The scent? Is hard to describe, but I’d say something close to rotten eggs. Sulfuric gasses are released from the bottom of the lake by ecological shifts creating the stench that can be so potent it can be smelled over a hundred miles away at times.
So why visit? Abandoned places fascinate me. They are a treasure for the curious to imagine what once was. Bombay Beach hasn’t been completely abandoned though. You’ll find a lot of graffiti, some of the ruins are completely blanket in layers of it, poetry, some humor and even art made out of the destruction. Like the Trash Tree below
A fancy locked and chained up gate keeps visitors out of what once appeared to be a glorious gated community right on the water… now, when you peek through the bars of the gate, you’ll see homes that have been ripped apart and splintered into ruins giving you only a faint idea of what once was and how they were cared for and lived in. Now they’re mere canvases for graffiti, mostly crude poetry and art. Even the palm trees that once majestically shaded the entrance booths have suffered.
My favorite spot in Bombay Beach is the drive in theater featuring a blank white truck trailer as the screen. (E Ave close to 4th) What a little love (okay maybe a lot) could do for some of those cars… but in the state they’re in there, they fit their surroundings.
Due to occasional flooding it seems the area closest to the shore is the worst off. One house by a levee appeared to be occupied but the rest are ruins. The sadness of it all is a bit overwhelming.
From here you can walk to the shore. On a windy day the scent from the sea can be pretty overwhelming.
Old power lines hang useless from poles…
Recently artist are starting to buy up some of the old property around town to make galleries and art exhibits like the botanical garden and the opera house below.
A few tips…
– Watch your step everywhere you go. There’s broken glass and sharp objects scattered all around.
– Be alert and bring water. It’s hot!
– The residents are often up for a quick chat. Great stories can be heard at Ski Inn especially one about a visit from Anthony Bourdain.
– Many documentaries and films are made on the Salton Sea. I recommend watching them but also take the time to go check it out for yourself. It’s definitely worth a visit
– And finally, a little warning. Circling the Salton Sea is a great day trip. We stopped at Salton City on the other side. The ‘sand’ (layer of sludge and fish bones) on the shore there, close to the water, suddenly gave away under us and we sank quickly. Getting back up and out was scary and not easy. Thankfully we had lots of water to wash it off afterwards.
– There’s an annual event called Bombay Beach Biennale festival for the arts in April every year including opera, ballet, film screenings and music bringing a bit of life back to Bombay Beach.
You should be having fun! Like laughing and letting yourself feel that tummy tickling sensation, swinging and basking in childhood glee, while remembering that favorite swing from way back when.
The hard part here, yes there is a hard part… the secret!! How to find this swing. It is one of the hidden Secret Swings located somewhere on the coast in San Diego. Should I tell you how to find it? Would you want to come swing with me? Because there’s plenty of room for two. And then after our sides hurt from laughing, tell me all those stories, those favorite memories of that swing from back then? You and that swing… And how the neighborhood boys threw snowballs at you while you were swinging as high as you could, which almost made you fall off. So then you got so mad you went and got your friends and you made hundreds of snowballs and you threw those perfect snowballs back at those boys at extreme speed and with perfect aim? Yes stories like that… it’s a great place to sit and talk while looking at that view… oh that picturesque view… is just breathtaking facing La Jolla Cove.
Legend has it that a local artist takes the swing down every once in a while and creates a new one and that he/she sometimes even moves it to a different location. Once there were 3 of them next to each other. I’ve seen this one dressed differently and with different messages on it, but who this secret artist is is still a mystery.
Love and appreciation. It’s the little things …
No one is supposed to talk about where it is, secrets are supposed to stay secrets after all, but maybe a few hints might be okay. Shh… don’t tell anyone. But if you ever happen to go to Birch aquarium in La Jolla, which is definitely worth a visit, and …
… park all the way at the end of the parking lot, then you might see this tiny little wooden bridge, that you could cross if you’re a little adventurous. Then climb up the hillside until you see a really big beautiful tree…
Now go out there and have some fun!
My mom, the best mom in the whole world of course, thinks I should be more personal here on this blog. She also loves gardening… so I thought, in honor of her, and Mother’s Day, I’d take you along on my (almost) daily walk around the neighborhood and show you some of my favorite things that I get to see and some of the stuff that just makes me smile…
It’s the little things, right? When I go on these walks I focus on everything around me and turn off the thoughts. Being in the moment and taking in all the beauty, sounds and scents around me brings me such peace and is the best start to the day for me.
A few more favorite trees…
My favorite is the Plumeria but they’re not in bloom yet. They’ll be coming up in a blog soon!
And then a few (including a mailbox) that just fascinate me!
I’m a big bird lover and I especially love watching these loud, emerald, red-masked parrots that come to my neighborhood to nest.
Parrots are not native to California and it is thought that these may have been relatives of pets that were brought here once and then released. Others think that they migrated from Mexico, Central and South America.
The tree they’re sitting in here is also really cool. It only blooms for a short time and most of those blooms are eaten by the parrots.
In the last photo here below of them the adult was feeding the now almost full grown chick. I wish I had gotten video of that but they only stopped for a few minutes.
I like to call this my backyard. I love coming here and sitting on these large rocks to watch the sunset. My favorite time of the day…
I’d love to see your neighborhood. If you have a similar post please share in the comments.