Slab City Pt. 1

The first time I heard about the infamous “Slab City” was in a book I bought a few years back called “Self-Made Worlds.”

The first time I heard about the infamous “Slab City” was in a book I bought a few years back called “Self-Made Worlds.” The book featured many eccentric residences and communities from around the world and on the cover was a picture of a place in the California desert called Salvation Mountain.  Salvation Mountain is a sand hill turned magnificent art installation near the Salton Sea that was built by Leonard Knight over the course of 30 some odd years.  The book also mentioned a squatter community just beyond Salvation Mountain called Slab City. The “Slabs” as it is affectionately called by the locals, is a decommissioned military encampment on the Salton Sea that has become both a year-round and winter home to RV campers who seek refuge from the rat race.  Over the years I began to see more and more stories pop up on the internet about the Slabs. The residences of the Slabs, Slabbers, were mostly portrayed as meth-heads, addicts, and crazies who lived among trash in a hostile land where you wouldn’t want to find yourself after dark or even at all according to some.  What I found there was completely different.
In early February I found myself working on the west coast in Los Angeles before heading to San Diego.  At the end of my trip there was a free day so I decided to see how far the desert community was from me.  The three and half hour trip wasn’t a deterrent so I set my alarm for the following morning and made the trek out into the desert.  What followed was an 8 hour day spent at the Slabs that was nothing short of a sensory overload.  The vibe of the community was like nothing I’d ever felt. Scattered across a few square miles were RV’s, buses, and rudimentary shacks that served as peoples homes. Every soul I met was amazingly kind and treated me like family. I was invited inside numerous homes and had great conversations with so many of the community. I quickly realized the respect everyone had for one another had made this lawless society virtually crime free.  A civilization that lacked electricity and many other normal amenities was more advanced than our own in so many ways it seemed. 

  Every person I met offered me shelter from the sun, water, and great conversation.  Points of interest and people to meet were continually suggested by the Slabbers as I tried to shoot as many photos as I could in my short time there.

A visit to the art community of East Jesus quickly had me realizing I needed at least a month at this place to properly document all the creativeness put into every facet of this section of the slabs.  I was continually asked by all my new friends if I’d be around Saturday for the show at “The Range.” Unfortunately I wasn’t and my heart sank even further as the sun went down and I got to check out the amazing outdoor live music venue that is the Range.  For 8 hours that day I completely forgot to eat and I never even looked at my phone.  My rental car sat untouched the entire day unlocked, windows down, and out of sight in a place often compared to the old wild west.  I was constantly overwhelmed with how great all the people were, both young and old. Most stayed at the Slabs only for the winter months while it wasn’t too hot.  Everyone lived off solar power and/or propane tanks, spending little or no money over the course of their time there.  Community dinners were offered most nights at the “Oasis” free of charge and any supplies you might need could be bartered for or made with existing resources.  A place regarded as an “apocalyptic dustbowl full of crazies who subsist on what’s left of their wits” by the uber-hip haters over at Vice magazine wasn’t anything close to what I found. Humanity had prevailed in a place with no police, no rules, no bills, no corporations, and no government.
  As the sun dropped and I realized the trip back to San Diego needed to be made, I couldn’t help but feel like my time there just wasn’t enough.  I didn’t get to check out the hot springs, the homemade skate park, a show at the Range, Radio Mike, the fitness center, the clothing optional shooting range, Bombay Beach, Cuervo the shirtless man with two donkeys, dinner at the Oasis, nor countless other things suggested by the locals.  I entitled this Journal entry Slab City Pt. 1 for a reason, there is definitely another trip to the Slabs in my future. A huge thank you goes out to all the Slabbers I met including Peter, Sandi, Mopar, Sam, James, and Dan and his beautiful family.


  1. Shannon

    You have such an incredible gift- both your eye, and your ability to connect with people on a deeper level. Totally awesome, hope you get to go back!

  2. Radio Mike

    Way Cool. Nicely done!

  3. damon redd

    beautiful work.

  4. Chris McEniry

    First and foremost, is there a place more “Bear”esque than this? Me thinks not. Excellent work, please submit this to the photo dept. at the NY Times and as many CD’s and AD’s as possible. Proud of you And how you are developing. Congrats on a brilliant piece of photojournalism. .