SLAB CITY: THE PHILOSOPHY
Slab City is found in the heart of southern California's desert. The name is dubbed after the abundance of concrete slabs from military barracks abandoned after World War II. It's one of the last haven's for true off-the-grid living in the USA. Enticing, huh? Residents and snowbirds (campers that migrate south in the winter and north to escape the summer heat) find refuge in the unforgiving desert climate because of the opportunity to forge a new life, escape from modern society, create zany art installations, or even to escape poverty. Regardless of the circumstances, people are driven to this place with no amenities, no running water, no grid electricity, to be a part of a cooperative alternative community.
INTO THE DESERT
Being Southern California natives, my friend Tessa and I hopped into our car and drove into the sunset, deep into the desert to check this fabled place out. Arriving late at night, we pitched our tent under the cover of perfect darkness, illuminated only by the stars in the sky. It was strange to arrive so late, not knowing whether we were infringing on any community camping codes, so we just kept our fingers crossed.
The following morning, we ventured to Salvation Mountain, a man-made mountain constructed by Leonard Knight out of adobe, straw, and paint. Covered in Bible verses and Christian idealogies, the primary mantra is based around the Sinner’s Prayer. Knight’s death in 2014 sparked public interest in maintaining this folk art treasure and is now maintained by volunteers.
EXPLORING THE "CITY"
Into the heat of the summer day, we drove around the various camps established in and marveled at the artwork and the creativity behind all of the creations there. Stopping to read a sign in front of someone's abode, the owner came out to speak about what drove him to Slab City and answered all of our curiosities about the community. He spoke of being driven out of modern society a year before from concerns about the reach of government surveillance.
Other community installments included a vast area with recycled chairs, couches, and the like with a large stage entitled “The Range”. We were shocked to also find a functioning skate park just down the road.
EAST JESUS + WEST SATAN
Some of the permanent residents of Slab City collectively created communities called East Jesus and West Satan, respectively. Thriving primarily off donations from visitors, artists make use of recycled materials to create some truly unique and visionary installations.
Within the East Jesus art garden, these satirical dolphin conspiracy dioramas kept me laughing and laughing. Check them out.