Slab City – an anarchist RV town or the last free place on earth? That’s what you’ll ask yourself when visiting this small dilapidated campsite in the Californian desert.
Known for its high temperatures, its collection of RV squatters, and the colourful hillside Salvation Mountain, Slab City is a haven for hippie extremists, abstract art lovers and basically anyone who is curious about the whereabouts of America’s free spirit.
Despite the name, it’s not a “city” per se – it’s more of a beatnik shanty town that’s decommissioned and uncontrolled by any governing force. There’s no power, no public bathrooms and no running water to speak of – visitors have to buy all their gear from the neighbouring town of Niland, which is about six kilometres away.
During the warmer months, the area is relatively unliveable due to to temperatures reaching up to 48 degrees during the day, so most squatters are snowbirds – those who move from colder northern climates in winter and migrate southward towards more hospitable climates like California and Florida.
But despite the lack of running water and the desolate landscape, Slab City remains a remarkable part of American culture and an interesting insight into an older generation of liberal freebirds.
For one, it’s is home to Salvation Mountain – an iconic large-scale art installation that covers a hill near Slab City. Made from mud bricks and straw, the mountain is covered in brightly painted Christian iconography with murals, sculptures and bible quotes littered all over the hill.
The folk art piece was created by “slabber” Leonard Knight and is known as an abstract celebration of love, with the words “God Is Love” littered throughout the site. The mountain is 15 metres tall and 45 metres wide. It’s embellished with colourful imagery like flowers, waterfalls, love hearts and bluebirds. It’s really a sight to behold.
Another reason why people keep flocking to Slab City is the feeling of freedom you have while staying there. Living completely off the grid does have it’s perks –there’s no wondering what your ex is doing on Facebook, and no clickable links about the banal lives of celebrities. The campsite has its own communal library as well as a golf course, live music stages, a few social clubs and heaps of powerful art and sculptures to explore.
Slab City is definitely a gateway to another world – a world devoid of rules, but overcome with a certain sense of community. 200 or so people sharing the same communal shower does that to you, I guess.
(Lead image: Oscar Rohena/Flickr)