Slab City, USA

Slab City, USA

“Whenever’s clever” 

Jinxy had wrote us back on Airbnb confirming our one night stay in Slab City. 

My best friend Jen and I had been in the car for about 9 hours straight before we arrived. We were tired and working each other’s last nerve. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t enthused. It took too long to get there and in the end the intended destination was this silly, colorful creation Jen had seen in a movie; Salvation Mountain. We didn’t know anything about the slabs when we booked our Airbnb. We got there around 11pm, pulled up to our camp where Jinxy greeted us. In the hot dark we explored our near surroundings lightly.

The most striking find were the stars. They seemed to drop completely out of the sky. She pointed to a spot way above. It looked like a sweep of clouds were passing about a million miles overhead. Jinxy asked us if we had ever seen the Milky Way before. We hadn’t. 

We drug what we needed out of the car- we were exhausted, pillows were the first things to come with us. It was still hot. Probably high 80s in the middle of the night, in the middle of the summer, in the middle of the Sonoran desert. We had a camper that we could sleep in but we opted for the lawn furniture (car seats) that sat out under the sky. There was a breeze and those brilliant stars (our deciding factors). As soon as our heads hit our pillows we were out and slept like rocks. 

Then the next thing I knew, I was baking- and not in a good way. I took a cold shower from a plastic water tank in a makeshift bathroom. Every morning, all summer mornings, a fast heat rolls over the slabs and silently stirs everyone. Signaling the start of another day in “squatters paradise”. Early mornings, evenings, and nighttime are reserved for movement. The middle of the day is spent preserving any remote amount of coolness. 

Abandon Hope © Alayna Smith

Abandon Hope © Alayna Smith

Camp © Alayna Smith

Camp © Alayna Smith

Jinxy woke up under a fort of tarps and wooden posts that extended off of her camper. When she noticed we were up and poking around she suggested a grand tour. Riding around in her white pickup truck, we met a few of the permanent residents.

The ‘slabbers’ are ingenious. Everything that can be reused, will be. They make their homes out of what is available. A patchwork of discarded plywood is a roof, a privacy fence is built from empty glass bottles, an abandoned water tank is a actual oven of a dwelling. Inside that tank, walls are made of a bubblewrap type plastic filled with water to keep the temperature hovering around a comfortable 95 degrees. On top of that tank, a mattress is strapped down- allowing the rooftop patio to be converted into a guest bedroom. 

The entirety of Slab City is a work of art. 

Surviving and creating take precedence.  

East Jesus and West Satan are the neighborhoods dedicated to collaborative art making. Elaborate installations, vivid graffiti tags, and large, loud statement pieces are plopped anywhere an artist can find an opening. We inspected closely the strange, sun seared humor behind it all and wondered how anyone could possibly work in this heat. 

What do they come here for? And why do they stay? There’s no electricity, no sewage, no running water, no trash collection, and no authority. If we would have asked everyone those questions, I believe the answers would revolve around this sense of lawlessness. Perhaps a little bit of lawlessness and a bigger bit of community. Slabbers take care of each other, police themselves, and welcome unknowing, curious travelers (like us) to their secluded piece of liberated paradise. 

Media vs. You © Alayna Smith

Media vs. You © Alayna Smith

Cinnabar Charm © Alayna Smith

Cinnabar Charm © Alayna Smith

Despite my original lack of interest-  that silly colorful mountain of salvation became our beacon to a world of hot wonder. Dubbed “the last free place in America” words and photographs can only merely introduce you to the enticing autonomy of Slab City. 

Jen © Alayna Smith

Jen © Alayna Smith

East Jesus © Alayna Smith

East Jesus © Alayna Smith

Salvation Mountain © Alayna Smith

Salvation Mountain © Alayna Smith


Written by Alayna Smith; Photos by Alayna Smith.

Check out Alayna on her website, and follow her on Instagram.

Need to discover this amazing off-the-grid place for yourself? Slab City accommodations are on Airbnb and offer the best rates around!