• Hannah Smentkowski

East Jesus, California: A Habitable Art Instillation in the Desert

Updated: Dec 18, 2021

A large sign made from scraps that reads East Jesus with an arrow

If you dream of simply living free, making art all day, and being out in nature, the neighborhood of East Jesus just might be the place for you. While it's definitely not a glamorous or easy life out there, anyone looking to live off-grid and throw away their ties to civilization (and decent hygiene) in a community of free thinkers and dreamers is welcome to go join in on the fun!

East Jesus is basically a modern-day hippy commune in the Sonoran Desert just past Slab City, where all they make art and enjoy the simple life. In this post, I’d like to give you some background in this area and show you my experience from visiting this desert community.

 



 

What is East Jesus?


A VW bus sculpture in East Jesus

This artist commune started with Charlie Russel, who moved everything he owned just past Slab City and started creating his art. Through his humble beginnings, he created what is known as a habitable art installation. Everything here is a piece of art. From the homes people live to the live music stage they built in the middle of town.

The name “East Jesus” came from the term “East of Jesus” as in, just past the middle of nowhere and keep going. This town is completely off-grid, with no plumbing or refigeration. With people of all kinds coming to live in a desert community full of artistic like-minded people who don’t buy into consumerism or keeping up with the Jones'.

 



 

What to See in East Jesus


The entrance to the sculpture garden of East Jesus

Driving into East Jesus you can already tell it has a different feel than Slab City. Instead of throwing together items to create makeshift shelters, they use every item in a creative way.

The biggest attraction here is the large sculpture garden at the end of the main street. Here, you will see what this area is really made of.

Most of the sculptures here have something to say, usually something rather angsty about the government or consummerism in America, such as the wall of TVs facing light on how media obstructs our view of the world. There is also a mannequin with a chain around his neck being pulled into the ground by his mountain of stuff, showing how our need to consume drags us down in life. Some of the best parts of this place are the random sculptures, such as dinosaurs, boats, an actual commuter plane and so much more...



 


Staying in East Jesus


A large colorful tower sculpture in East Jesus

You can actually go camp in East Jesus for a few days if you'd like. Though they highly suggest letting them know first with a quick call or email (yes, they do have electricity and Wifi out there). Also, do not arrive after dark no matter what! You will be dealt wit has a tresspasser and they will remove you by whatever means necessary!


A few more things to note, they recycle everything in this town, even human waste, so get used to going in a bucket if you want to stay for a while. They also ask that you pitch in a one time donation of $15 to help out the town. And that you help them out with whatever they need. Just bringing out a couple beers to share and a good attitude won't cut it, you need to support the community if you plan on staying for any length of time.

If you're genuinely interested in parking your camper in East Jesus overnight, you should check out their survival guide here, just to make sure you're up for it.


 


 

A large tower sculpture seen through a car window in East Jesus

East Jesus is such a unique spot for a visit, just remember to be respectful of those who actually live there. Don't leave trash, make a donation, don't get roudy, just walk around enjoy the art and take a few pictures and you'll have a good time. It is amazing how they created their own sustaining homes in a community full of amazing artists, its probably the most unique spot in all of Southern California.


If you haven’t checked it out yet, I also have a post on Slab City the off-grid neighbor to this place. Also, if you’re looking for more things to see in the area you can check out The Salton Sea, an abandoned resort location by a lonely desert sea.


Feel free to comment below, DM me on Instagram, or email me with any questions and let me know if you have visited East Jesus or Slab City, as I would love to hear your experiences.


Until next time,

Happy Trails!



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