Below is a photo of Salvation Mountain which is the more famous icon depicting Slab City. Salvation Mountain and Slab City were featured in the 1996 non-fiction book written by Jon Krakauer called INTO THE WILD, which was made into a movie in 2007.
Slab city is an old abandoned military base located in the Imperial Valley of California, three miles east of Niland, near the Salton Sea. During the years of WWII, it was called Camp Dunlap, and was used to train Marines and others for desert warfare. It was closed at at the end of that war. By 1961, the base had been completely dismantled and abandoned. Only the cement foundations of buildings remained, thus the name Slab City. Soon afterwards, RV campers began to occupy the area during winter months to take advantage of the rent-free parking. Attendance steadily grew over the years, and now thousands of visitors return to “The Slabs” each winter to enjoy the relatively mild climate and escape the harsh conditions found elsewhere. In that sense, one could say that Slab City is a sister site to Quartzsite, AZ, which is one reason I was curious to see the place.
Driving around, however, it was clear to me that outside of offering a winter home for RVers… it is a much different kind of place. Far more funky… and a bit trashy.
From researching the ‘net it looks like one of the main problems faced by Slab City is the trash left behind on sites and the human waste, especially in the area in which the tents are set up. In fact, it is advised to watch where you step as there is a lot of dried of feces in back of the tents… due to the low humidity and the nature of desert air, what you leave in the desert stays in the desert, forever. There are a few sites/organizations that are encouraging that people keep the place clean.
Most of what we could see was a bit funky, but I suppose touring the place in April we did not get to really see Slab City. If you were to visit Quartzsite right now you would wonder what all the hullaballoo is about… because the BLM camping areas are nearly empty and the vendors have gone elsewhere. So, I assume that we missed the real Slab City.
The above picture is not very good… it is hit or miss when I take pictures from the car. But I wanted to share that driving through slab city looks like driving through any desert area. Off to left and right are spots for RVs, but are empty at this time of year.