• Hannah Smentkowski

Slab City: The last truly free place in America

Updated: Jan 8

Slab city basically looks like one of the modern art pieces where someone piled a bunch of garbage together and called it a masterpiece. It's a large slab of desert in Imperial County California where you have no water, sewage, or WIFI, just your RV and whatever you bring in it. This is the last lawless place in the whole country, but not to worry you'll be safe checking it out for the day (I'd be a bit wearier at night though). In this post, I'd like to give you some background on how this city got started and what you can expect if you visit.

How Slab City Started

Slab City got its name from the left-over cement slabs left when the Marines tore down Fort Dunlap. When some nearby workers heard there was a vacancy in the area, they moved out there as a semi-permanent way to live near their job site. Once word got out, other people nearby looking to live cheaply, and off-grid, started to come to check it out. This created the Slab City we know today.

As for its lawlessness, this city governs itself. Just like the last survivors of the apocalypse, if you act up, the community will throw you out. This area is home to mostly retirees, but artists and drugees looking for that off-grid lifestyle flock here too.

What to Expect

In Slab City you can find anything you would in a normal city: a library, community center, bar, local shops, and even a skate park. The only difference is that every building is simply a compilation of scavenged junkyard finds or dilapidated RVs. This is what makes this area so eclectic, with nothing better to do than to scavenge and create art pieces and more buildings, this area gets more creative as the years go on.

When driving into the city you'll be greeted by the local vendors selling jewelry and t-shirts, you'll also see some of the artwork they've created from random trash they find around. While I felt uneasy going at first, with the growing popularity of this area it has now become more of a tourist destination. So no need to worry about seeming nosy or bothering anyone, as long as you don't make an ass out of yourself you'll be just fine.

Salvation Mountain

This is the first piece of desert art you will see and trust me you can't miss it. This 50ft tall mountain made of hay, adobe clay, and paint was created by Leonard Knight starting in 1984. This sculpture started as a passion project, and with the help of many volunteers and donated supplies, he was able to create something beyond his vision.

The mountain was created to spread the word of Jesus Christ, the art piece is covered in bible verses and messages of love and peace. In the areas surrounding it, you will see multiple cars, trucks, and tractors painted in the same style.

This piece is constantly being preserved to this day, and if you have some old paint buckets taking up room in your garage, they are still taking donations.

So that is Slab City, and if you're in the area for the day I suggest you also check out East Jesus (a hippy commune just up the road) and The Salton Sea (an abandoned resort by a desert sea). None of these areas take too much time to soak up, and they are very close to each other, so I highly suggest doing all of them in one day. Hopefully, this gives a good overview of the famous Slab City, and another reason to come visit Southern California.

Let me know if you have any questions regarding Slab City or if you want to know more about what to see in the area.

Until next time,

Happy Travels!


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Hey there! My name is Hannah Smentkowski, I'm an adventure travel photographer and a huge plant nerd! 

Here, I share my traveling, camping, and hiking adventures in hopes of inspiring other anxious introverts to go outside and explore.

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