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By Laura Stec

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About this blog: I've been attracted to food for good and bad reasons for many years. From eating disorder to east coast culinary school, food has been my passion, profession & nemesis. I've been a sugar addict, a 17-year vegetarian, a food and en...  (More)

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Traveling Solo – Bombay Beach – Slab City

Uploaded: Apr 30, 2022
No more waiting around to live.

Our solo road trip continues. You might recall we were visiting the falling-apart yet artsy Bombay Beach, a possible up-and-coming boom town, due to large underground reserves of lithium, in high demand to build rechargeable car batteries. “We have what some have described as the Saudi Arabia of lithium,” said Governor Gavin Newsom, describing the Salton Sea at a January press conference.

Surprisingly, out here the middle of nowhere isn’t as nowhere as you might think. Internet can be found in places, making it easy-ish to hear that one of my Joshua Tree National Park compatriots would join me early in Slab City. But what did that mean? Where should we meet? There is no there there in Slab City.

Q: You plan to rendezvous with a friend in a small rural town neither of you have been to. Where’s the surest place to meet up?

A: The grocery store. Some small towns have gas stations at either end of town, but usually there is only one grocery store.

Slab City has neither however, so we picked the hot springs. I had no idea what to expect from the hot springs, but knew they were there after exchanging emails with the website. Mystery Man told me to camp anywhere – his writings were so enigmatic. Another nod to the area’s alluring secrecy.

“Keep driving, you can’t miss it.” I asked a number of people along the road and just kept heading east. Decided it was time to invoke solo traveler / marcher magic when I past this scene, thought twice, and made a U-turn.

Coming in at 107° (41C) that day (the temperature fluctuates), Slab City Hot Springs is a naturally fed pond resulting from the San Andreas Fault and a pipe crack below.

Natural hot springs are sacred places to me, but not everyone agrees. A gentleman drives up in a hippy bus with yoga music playing. He lays out crystals and brings hands together in prayer pose before submerging like an enlightened spirit into the hot water, dissolving to become one with. Juxtapose that with the group who speed up next in rusty dune buggy with sand flying everywhere. Yelling loudly, the posse jumps in fully clothed, strips, and squirts blue dish soap out of a plastic bottle all over their heads. The springs were their tub, and I guess I get it -there’s no water out there, and not a lot of money either, but still, it felt like the earth was being violated. First world problems I guess. They keep screaming until departure, leaving their disregarded clothes floating in the water like dead people. I swim over and fish them out. Sigh.

Artist friends told me about this area but I didn’t think to Wikipedia the place before leaving on the trip. Google it and find a lot of information and documentaries about Slab City’s quirky history, challenging daily life and off-the-grid residents that make for really interesting characters in the home movies.

Billed as the “Last Free Town in America,”

this lawless hamlet requires no rent or taxes. A 600-acre community of 2000-ish residents during high season (November to March) and 300-ish in summer when temperatures top 120° degrees (50-55° C). Wikipedia describes a mix of long-term residents who barter and live in community along with younger residents, “sometimes ill-equipped for self-sufficiency who turn to petty theft and drug use.” NPR describes Slab City as state property with California as an absentee landlord.

Just the wide-open desert out here, dotted with concrete slabs leftover from Camp Dunlap, a World War II Marine artillery training base. Perfect for parking RV’s - some spots are well put together; many others look like dumpsites. Think West Monroe, Louisiana meets Black Rock desert. An interesting blend of down-and-outers, free spirits, people looking to disappear, creatives and hippies who never wanted to leave the Burning Man. Edgy and exciting, there’s a skate park, church, bike repair shop,

and a really nice library. Only library in America with no cards or fees. Take anything you want and return it, or not.

Don’t miss the Slab City map on the library wall, highlighting the art exhibits and tourist destinations. Wait, art exhibits?

I finally met up with AR, and we took local advice for that night’s campsite; “Go to Mojo’s. They’ve got showers and it’s good for travelers, even though the cops come at night – they always do.”

Mojo’s is a desert oasis with fun community structures, colorfully painted showers and clean bathrooms (even laundry). About 20 people were staying when we arrived. Pitch a tent and use all the amenities including the outdoor kitchen and social areas ($25 per night).

- photo by AR

Owned by Mojo, a cool, 60-ish woman traveling solo herself, it’s a good landing for single travelers - safe, clean, and filled with interesting characters (i.e. lots of people to talk to when you want social). Mojo is a strong, weather-worn and tanned, sparkly-eyed lady whose been building the place up for six years. There’s a number of cool women who work there, a good sign for solo woman travelers looking for a place to overnight.

Windy as a desert can be when she wants to

- photo by AR

the outdoor kitchen had a wind-block curtain that folded down for nights just like this, We took advantage of the propane stove to cook my favorite dinner of the trip - Vegan Chorizo Sauté with Caramelized Peppers and Onions over Whole Grain and Lentil Couscous (recipe below).

At night, Slab City unexpectantly lit up with gathering places and “pirate bars” worth stumbling around in the dark to find. Bring a flashlight and follow the lights.

When we got back to camp, guess who was there? The cops! “There’s this crazy lady who lives next to camp,” we heard the following morning. “We call her the White Witch cuz she always dresses in flowing light dresses. She makes a lot of noise at night and the cops come to shut her up. They often do.”

Hmmm, I wonder where the cops come from?

“How long have you lived here?” I ask a guy at morning coffee.

“A couple months. I was out on the land before, but the guy next to me was a convicted murderer, or so he kept telling me, over and over, so I decided to relocate.”

For breakfast it’s hard-boiled eggs. HB eggs are good travel food. They store well in a cooler and are easier now to find in grocery stores and even 7-11.

Then we head out for the local art stroll to Salvation Mountain and East Jesus. That’s right - an art stroll. In the middle of nowhere. In this dusty trashy place. The area is filled with art. Slab City is falling apart and totally exciting, all at the same time. Surprisingly good place to travel solo for the adventurous spirit. It has all the elements to keep your attention, and a few more.

We’ll pick up our story here next time.

Vegan Chorizo Sauté with Caramelized Peppers and Onions
over Whole Grain and Lentil Couscous

Get your pasta kick in but enhance quick-cooking Israeli cous cous with a perfect balance of added whole grains and beans. They cook within the same time, so add more fiber, vitamins and plant-power to your meal. Serves 2-3

Cous Cous
½ cup Israeli couscous
½ cup mixture of quinoa, millet, buckwheat groats and/or red lentils
1 ½ cups stock (chicken or vegetable)

Vegetable Chorizo Sauté
Olive oil
1 red pepper
1 onion
1 package vegan chorizo
Left over wine to deglaze

Garnish options: lemon, capers

Combine cous cous with grains and lentils of choice. Toast in a dry skillet, preferably cast iron, 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add the stock and tightly cover. If you are camping, it’s windy and your cover isn’t tight, cover first with aluminum foil, and then top with whatever cover or metal bowl you have. Reduce heat to low and cook about 12 – 15 minutes until the grains and beans are tender.

While the grain is cooking, add a tablespoon or so of oil to a second pan and sauté the onion a few minutes till light brown. Deglaze the pan with wine, stock or the beer you are drinking. Add the pepper and sauté again till caramelized. Deglaze and remove to a bowl. Add another tablespoon of oil and sauté the chorizo (some brands are crumbled, others are sliced) till browned. Add back the vegetable mix and season to taste.

When the grains are done, serve under the vegetable chorizo mix. Garnish with lemon and capers, two good additions to your camping pantry.

*A cast iron skillet is good for camping because it can regulate hard-to-control outdoor stoves. It also keeps food warm while you are eating.

CAMPERS NOTE: Find a right-sized cardboard box to store camping pantry items. Oils etc. tend to spill, but so what? Just recycle the box at trips end.

- photos by LSIC unless noted

What is it worth to you?


Posted by jhskrh, a resident of Community Center,
on May 3, 2022 at 12:15 pm

jhskrh is a registered user.

You are a brave woman Laura, We have driven "Briefly" through Slab City, it was a disturbing experience, especially when you learn that there are kids living there (we saw a yellow school bus dropping off kids). It is populated by a mostly transient community of social outcasts (many addicted, mentally ill) who can't or won't conform to the rules of “Babylon" (outside world), yet the dirt roads are graded by Imperial County, and it's regularly patrolled by the Imperial County Sheriff's Office, Fire service is provided by the Niland Fire Department. School buses come from nearby communities to pick up the few children living there, all at taxpayer expense. So much for living off the grid. No thanks.

Posted by Violet Davis, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on May 3, 2022 at 7:30 pm

Violet Davis is a registered user.

I agree with jhskrh.

It is one thing to visit a desert hellhole and another one to actually be stuck living there.

Barstow and Death Valley immediately come to mind...a land of renegade transients, many with either substance abuse or mental health issues.

No thanks

Posted by MyOpinion, a resident of Sylvan Park,
on May 4, 2022 at 9:19 am

MyOpinion is a registered user.

Slab City is not a safe place for solo travelers, if you must go, recommend going with a group in daytime. Skip the overnight stay.
“It's safer to assume that Slabbers are also armed (and also dangerous). Many are veterans with PTSD, meth addicts, and people suffering from mental instability. In general, it's best not to walk around the Slabs at night. Be smart and carry something for self-defense at all times. Non-lethal pepper spray is a great self-defense item."

It is a quirky place no doubt but don't go solo.

Posted by Mike Larson, a resident of Los Altos Hills,
on May 4, 2022 at 9:51 am

Mike Larson is a registered user.

"...populated by a mostly transient community of social outcasts (many addicted, mentally ill)..."

"Slabbers are also armed (and also dangerous). Many are veterans with PTSD, meth addicts, and people suffering from mental instability."

This sounds like an ideal place to resituate all of the homeless in California.

Posted by Miriam Lange, a resident of Cuesta Park,
on May 4, 2022 at 10:07 am

Miriam Lange is a registered user.

What a craphole and anyone who would actually want to live there must have rocks in their head.

On the other hand, it was interesting to learn that there are places in California that are no different than a backwards 3rd world country.

Posted by Laura Stec, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on May 4, 2022 at 10:44 am

Laura Stec is a registered user.

I often feel these blogs are therapy. Commenters work out their own issues. What we write says things about us. How we interpret and respond is our reaction, not that of another. Our comments reveal OUR inner thoughts, fears, motivations, feelings, or lack there of. If I write with fear, then I am revealing I am fearful. If I write with positivity, then I am revealing I am positive. If I write something funny, then I show I have a little funny in me. We learn about ourselves through writing. What inspires you to comment and why? Pay attention to how you reacted and name the emotion you. Feel. best, fastest, cheapest therapy around. I feel better already

Posted by Ariel Fine/Ph.D., a resident of another community,
on May 4, 2022 at 11:42 am

Ariel Fine/Ph.D. is a registered user.

@Laura Steve

Dealing with everyday life is therapy.

As a practicing clinical psychologist, I concur that those who choose to reside in Slab City do so as a means of dealing with life on their own terms.

Slab City is obviously not for everyone but it apparently provides a comfortable haven for mentally ill individuals and substance abusers who are are incapable of dealing with life in more conventional environments.

Chances are Slab City will never become a noteworthy vacation venue for the masses and rightfully so.

Posted by Ariel Fine/Ph.D., a resident of another community,
on May 4, 2022 at 11:43 am

Ariel Fine/Ph.D. is a registered user.

Correction: Laura autocorrect spelling oversight/error.

Posted by Bob Taylor, a resident of Woodside,
on May 4, 2022 at 12:02 pm

Bob Taylor is a registered user.

I would consider driving through Slab City just to show my somewhat spoiled children that there is much to be grateful for.

Slab City would be an eye opener and the prospects of actually having to live there would be met with extreme resistance.

And so in many ways, your travelogue is an educational experience on how the underclass lives.

Posted by Sally Pierce, a resident of St. Francis Acres,
on May 4, 2022 at 12:34 pm

Sally Pierce is a registered user.

"What a craphole and anyone who would actually want to live there must have rocks in their was interesting to learn here are places in California that are no different than a backwards 3rd world country."

Having been to both Rwanda and Gambia I concur with this assessment and suspect that if Slab City offers any overnight accomodations, it is probably a bullet-riddled, rusted-out camper shell (sans pickup truck) or a delapidated trailer enhanced by empty booze bottles and discarded beer cans lying about.

As for therapy, this is the kind of place that someone might turn to in order to effectively fall off the face of the earth.

Posted by Larry Jenkins, a resident of Rengstorff Park,
on May 4, 2022 at 3:50 pm

Larry Jenkins is a registered user.

What per cent of the local population is fully vaccinated against COVID and are there any Airbnb offerings other than...

"a bullet-riddled, rusted-out camper shell (sans pickup truck) or a delapidated trailer enhanced by empty booze bottles and discarded beer cans lying about"?

Do they have a Slab City Visitors & Convention Bureau?

Posted by Tristan C., a resident of Stanford,
on May 4, 2022 at 4:43 pm

Tristan C. is a registered user.

I read somewhere that Slab City is named after concrete slabs left by the military and there is no local government or close proximity to healthcare facilities.

Though the Imperial Valley Sheriff's Department occasionally patrols the area, most crimes remain unreported.

SSI, Social Security, and meth sales are supposedly the area's primary source of income and Slab City is considered home to many ex-felons, fugitives, and poorer retirees who have foresaken a more mainstream existence.

No wonder there is no Denny's, Safeway, McDonalds, or a BofA branch.

Posted by Rick Fontana, a resident of North Bayshore,
on May 4, 2022 at 4:56 pm

Rick Fontana is a registered user.

Palo Alto has i

Posted by Rick Fontana, a resident of North Bayshore,
on May 4, 2022 at 4:57 pm

Rick Fontana is a registered user.

Palo Alto thanks has its own Slab City, that trailer court in Barron Park.

Posted by Rick Fontana, a resident of North Bayshore,
on May 4, 2022 at 5:01 pm

Rick Fontana is a registered user.

*L* Pardon the bad writing as I got called away to shoot a rack of pool.

Meant to say/write: Palo Alto has its own Slab City, that trailer court in Barron Park.

Posted by Alan, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on May 5, 2022 at 11:13 am

Alan is a registered user.

I can think of some places I've been where - in hindsight - I thought: there were real risks to my personal safety, something bad could've happened. Maybe I shouldn't have taken the risk.

But I did, and I had the good fortune to come away with an interesting memory without harm.

Sometimes luck is good, sometimes it is bad.

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