Slab City

Slab City – where living “off the grid” (way off the grid) is normal

Now and again you hear of people giving up everything and going into the desert to go “live off the grid”. I always wondered “where” that is and how they do that, but  never really bothered to research it. I will admit that I had imagined, naively I should say, there would be solar panels, perhaps poor WiFi, small and/or primitive dwellings, that sort of thing, but always “assumed” this place would have basic facilities such as sewer, water and electricity.

Boy was I wrong…

Linda and I heard about a place called “Slab City”, located out in the middle of nowhere, in an inhospitable part of the Southern California desert, where summer temperatures easily reach 120F (48C). Once the location of a WW2 camp, all that remains now are some concrete slabs, from which the place gets its name.

With our interest having been sparked (I know we have weird interests), we set out  to find it… and did!

What a place! It is really hard to define, but “post-apocalyptic” certainly comes to mind. Like a scene straight of a “Mad Max” movie, this place is occupied with as diverse a community of people as I have ever seen. Sure, there was the odd fancy motorhome or RV (the place is destination for “Snowbirders”), but by far the most common sight to see are ramshackle dwellings, old rusted out trailers, tents with lean-tos built with pallets, corrugated roofing sheets or old shipping crates. Among all this are a plethora of tire-less car wrecks, garbage, broken bottles and all kinds of stuff you can really only refer to as “crap”.

Old rusted car in Slab City
Old rusted car in Slab City
This old trailer in Slab City is someone's home . .
This old trailer in Slab City is someone’s home . .
Others live here. Anything with a "roof" is used.
Others live here. Anything with a “roof” is used.

Then, among all this, are a few “artistically” laid out plots or trailers decorated in unusually artistic ways or “buildings” crafted in eye-catching designs, using anything that can be found (usually for free) in the vicinity.

While this makes for a visually interesting visit to people like us, to the folk that make Slab City their home, it is all quite normal and an inexpensive way to extend their home while expressing their inner creativity. Obviously, there are lots of folk who really like the abscence of any building regulations and rules. While the area is owned by the state of California, it is generally “left alone” with no real governing body to oversee things. Perhaps put in the State’s “Too Hard” basket, the place has been allowed to grow into a haven for people “who don’t quite fit in mainstream society”. A place for people “down on their luck”, outcasts, or just people who simply don’t like having to comply with rules and regulations imposed by “mundane” things like “mortgages”, “rent” “being politically correct” and other  things that you and I would consider normal.

These people have decided to forego all of those things and have chosen to live in Slab City, with no rent or title deeds or even a fixed address. As there is also no water, sewer or even electric, they need to be creative to survive living there year round – hence the odd constructions seen around the place, all providing some manner of shade, cool in the summer and protection during the cool nights of the desert.

Old car "decorated" with thousands of "things" found in the desert
Old car “decorated” with thousands of “things” found in the desert

There is a “code of conduct” in Slab City, “leave us alone and we’ll leave you alone”.

Sounds reasonable . . .


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