California

The Last Free Place in America

I knew approaching this place, something about how people live here is interesting and completely unorthodox. Looking around some areas of this entire desert site I saw RV’s, trailers, and tents with front yards decorated of mostly junks. I later found out that the California abandoned this place and is free to use. It is off the grid. People don’t own the land they settle on. They don’t pay property tax. They don’t run ongoing electricity. No sewer or water system!

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When it comes down to it, residents of Slab City are pretty much squatters. People who struggle to make ends meet. People who are stretching their retirement pensions. People who have nowhere to go. People who get away. People who are lost.

man in front of a house

Driving forward I saw a library, a chapel, and a community center. They do have an established community in this isolated city.  Furthermore, they have an internet cafe, a community group where they discuss issues and misbehaviour, clubs where anyone can go to every Saturday, a skate arena, and a Christian center where they serve food for anybody. A sense of community, it’s that one big factor that draws people to stay in Slab City. Residents here help each others out.

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People’s possession here are from trash others threw away. For them, these unwanted items are their art, decorations, their own assets, tools and equipments, and leisure and necessities. The major attraction here that keep tourists and visitors in is the Salvation Mountain created by Leonard Knight who passed away recently last February of this year.

A military camp during World War II was once located here housing Marines. There are these two big tanks that were once part of the base. When I was on top of the Salvation Mountain, I went to investigate these thanks. I actually saw someone who got a cold feet, returning back saying “it’s farther than I thought.” Based on my step count and panting of my breaths, it was not far at all. What did surprise me is how suggestive the graffiti are.

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At the bottom are people holding hands altogether all around the tank. The images are suited for mature viewers. Parental Guidance is advised. 🙂 At the top are sex-related binding words.

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slab city

As it turns out, the first tank is called “Wheel of Kama”. That’s Kama which pertains to Kama Sutra. The other tank is “Wheel of War”.

You can still see Salvation Mountain from this area, but it is still practically in the middle of nowhere. When I was taking pictures of the tanks and when I got to the back side of the first tank, I was scared of my life when I saw two people. They looked like residents of Slab City and are just basically there. I don’t mean to judge, but I was nervous of something happening. Bottom line is I continued on taking these pictures, and they minded their own business. They have a rule here to respect your neighbor. People who come here for alternative lifestyle also like it because of its people, odd they may be.

The other art installation that tourists go to here is East Jesus. It’s a place where my imagination flew and just drifted away – East Jesus | A Yard of Imagination.

One portion of the yard (I haven’t shared) are these televisions…

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slab city 6 (2)

The heat here in Slab City can be very unbearable. I really was very perplexed on how this city operates. No streetlights, no buildings, no applied laws, no fees, no limits. It’s a badlands. It has this post-apocalyptic look to it. But upon coming here, reading more about it, and even realizing it, Slab City really is for the free-spirited. The Last Free Place in America name truly is warranted. People who came here with nothing are contended with having some things. The sense of community is high. They run things their own. They live out of the norms. I’d be only sounding apathetic if I say people would rather be in this kind of situations. But, people do stay here for a long time because, for them, the outside world of this city is just as bad.

New Tag – Art

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53 replies »

    • Even though I completely see the negative attributes of television, I myself don’t own one, I still think the whole display is opinionative, and it’s the sort of an activist type.

    • Crazy, eh? I actually wondered about it before esp. when we drove to Las Vegas where there’s a lot of empty land, empty space. If you really think about it, this type of place is bound to be. I mean, why not just establish a community of any sort on those empty land that nobody dares and cares to live in.

    • That’s the hope people have here. For them to squeeze those creative juices in hope for the tourists and visitors to notice. The movie “Into The Wild” thankfully somehow made Slab City popular.

  1. I like the idea of the sense of community – and that they help each other out. This sense of community is certainly what is lacking in the big cities, and even suburbs, as people focus on their own concerns and desires.

    • Only because those reaching out for others only happen when situations are dire. It’s a crazy world we live in. I love your comment, Colline. Thanks!

  2. Slab City is certainly a unique place. You captured parts that I had not seen when I was there. I do remember a street sign I saw when leaving that said “dip” and someone had spray painted the word “s@!t underneath. You can see just about anything there but there are certainly some strong messages if you look.

  3. This is a very interesting area for sure. As LuAnn said, you captured a few places we didn’t see either during our visit. We missed the tanks and TV display. I really did enjoy Salvation Mountain. It is such a unique place. I hope Leonard’s followers are able to keep it up. You did a wonderful job describing the last free area:)

    • The TV display is from East Jesus. And that started in year 2006. When were you there?
      Some people are looking after Salvation Mountain. Actually, especially after “Into The Wild”, some people came to Slab City and volunteered to stay in the area just to maintain Salvation Mountain.

  4. Excellent photoessay on this avant garde community; a commune of sorts. Very fascinating. I would have like to explore this utopia/dystopia myself.

    Did you get to interview any of the residents?

    • Thanks, Allan. I talked to two people, but only to ask direction where East Jesus is located at. I actually didn’t know all of these when I went there. I came here mainly for Salvation Mountain. And I’m not the type who reads a lot about the places I go to because I want to have a clean perspective. That’s one disadvantage – if I had known all these about Slab City, I really would of brave it up to talk to residents there.

  5. I’m awestruck by the paintings on the tanks. It looks like art and feels like art and communicates like art. It is art.

  6. I’ve never heard of this place but definitely good to know this exists. Might be worth a visit and I like the graffiti.

    btw, this Prem now blogging back from my old blog, yay! read me on my latest post! yay… glad to be back. 😀

    • Tough, tough life for sure. Very uneventful but I wouldn’t say they don’t get any fun. They are content considering their life status. Thanks for the comment and visit.

  7. Good to know that people in that city still go hand in hand in helping each other out. I was actually thinking of something gore or goth–only scavengers–as I was reading. Turned out the opposite. People are good the way you described them.

    What’s really catching are the graffiti and the Wheel of Kama on top of that Salvation Mountain. Minus the suggestive contents, I see an exquisite form of art.

    I would love to traipse in the place given the chance as this free place is pretty quite interesting. The art forms, the culture, and the people.

    • It is very obscure, unconventional, and really interesting place. I’d be nice to actually talk to people there. I’d be weird to talk about their situations, but to just to have some ‘feel’ of what they’re like.

  8. Wow, is this for real? There are a lot of messages in this community. It echoes the same ones I get when I go to the slums here. There’s a common thread though — amid the backdrop of despair, you sense the simple joys and the kind of creativity that escapes the ‘normal standard’ of community.

  9. I don’t know how I missed this place, thank you for the excellent photography and article, enjoyed it very much!

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