The Last Free Place in America

Slab City Welcome Monument — Smithsonian Magazine

It’s called Slab City — a communal residence for people who have dropped out of society. It is home to an eclectic mix of vagabonds, squatters, hippies and kindred free spirits. There is no running water or electricity. Except for an occasional visit by the county sheriff, there is no law enforcement. Residents adhere to one abiding principle — live and let live.

Slab City arose on the site of a World War II military compound known as Camp Dunlap. United States Marines trained here for desert warfare in North Africa. When the base was decommissioned in 1961, the Marines took everything with them, right down to the concrete slabs.

The state of California and Imperial County were granted jurisdiction over what would become Slab City. The initial plan was to sell the land for commercial development, but the failure to develop nearby Salton City  — due to flooding of the Salton Sea — caused the state and county to shelve those plans.

The first residents to move in were hippies and the Flower Children of the turn on, drop out, make love generation. Over the decades, the community grew to include artists, transients, nomads and the homeless.

Government agencies adopted a hands-off policy. There is no infrastructure or amenities except what the community provides. No taxes are collected and rent is free. People who live here are industrious. They have a library, internet café and sculpture garden.

No library card is needed. Books do not have a due date. 

Slab City is powered by generators and solar panels. The area sits atop a geothermal gold mine. The natural steam pressure is the source of prehistoric, volcanic mud pots and mineral springs that provide healing benefits.

Jerry Brown was the last governor (2019) to give any thought to Slab City. His unofficial opinion was to simply let it be. The Beatles would surely agree.

Images granted Fair Use by Creative Commons for non-monetary presentation.

Folk art — Smithsonian Magazine
Outdoor lounge — LA Times
Communal living — Roadtrippers
Sculpture Garden — Spectrum News
Makeshift skateboard ramp — KPBS
Folk art — Desert Sun

Library — Slab City image

Leonard Knight’s Salvation Mountain

Salvation Mountain — Salvation Mountain, Inc.

Salvation Mountain is a popular destination for visitors to Slab City. Leonard Knight (1931-2013) was the folk artist responsible for this attraction that draws tourists from around the world.

His original motivation was to fly across the country in a hot air balloon, promoting the simple message of love. When Leonard arrived in the desert southwest, he discovered that the balloon didn’t work so he decided to drop anchor and build an artsy interpretation of a balloon — Salvation Mountain.

Visitors can walk through the structure which features a meditation room and guest area where people may leave a personal message or memento.

Slab City is one of those bucket-list destinations that you really have to see to believe. Keep in mind that the former Camp Dunlap is adjacent to a still-active military reservation where the Blue Angels train, and the Navy conducts live bombing missions. RV’ers and campers are welcome, but don’t stray too far from the public spaces. Restricted areas are clearly posted.

It truly is the last remaining free space in America.

Leonard Knight’s home — stock photo


Copyright © In Pics and Words

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