Saturday, December 13, 2008


The famous "hole" where many slabbers bathe. A hot spring empties into and drains out of it. "One of the great showers of my life," many say afterwards.
The "invisible" hand of human territoriality distributes folks nicely. Land disputes are rare. Only John Clarmont, a slab patriarch, has a reserved area respected by all.
Looking east from the LOW area
Some cobble together a home like this one and shade it with army camouflage netting.
And sometimes in departing leave a mess like this--the biggest unsolved slab problem.
Pastor Doug and wife somehow make a life here supplemented like missionaries by outside churches. I pondered whether the harm his doctrines inflict is offset by the quasi meaning he generates.
This club, now under new and enthusiastic owership is aimed largely at discontented LOWs.
Did not get the story on this club.
One of the two bandstands at the slabs with makeshift seating for the audience. Bands play twice weekly for donations.
My favorite slab character Container Charley in his workshop. He is skilled, brilliant, articulate, friendly,artistic, and creative. He found no suitable niche in the world till he came to the slabs and made one for himself in the middle of an acre of trash, transforming much of it into art works. He earns $1000 a month doing specialty soldering. With little overhead he flourishes financially.
Container Charley engaging our WIN hiking group.
Charley's art car which he displays at Burning Man festival near Reno, Nv.
Leonard Knight at work. Could you devote 25 years of your life to your passion?

Bagpipe Bob working with me in preparation for the "INTO THE TANK" experience. Note the Kama Sutra type paintings and the central one of Hindu God Shiva. Bob earned his freedom playing the bagpipes professionally.
220f our group dared to enter the tank and experience the "vortex of sensuality" ritual. (beautifully documented in Diana,s blog: life on the open road 2)

Three miles east of Niland Californis is a square mile of anarchy that everyone calls “The Slabs”, the remains of a short lived marine base named Fort Dunlap. It closed in 1947 and all its buildings were removed, leaving only concrete slabs. Soon afterwards campers began wintering here because it was warm and free. The state inherited the land but had no good reason to drive off the seasonal settlers who by now feel a kind of squatters rights. There are no services here, water, power, sewage or mail and the streets are marginal. Add to this an almost daily BOOM from the nearby bombing range and you wonder why this square mile has become so famous.

The Slabs is the only permanent free campground in America–perhaps in the world.
The big draw is sunshine and freedom. A kind of freedom that few on the planet ever experience:
freedom from mortgage, rent, zoning laws, and most important expectations and government. Hard to imagine but it’s absolutely real. You can come here and live free as long as you wish. Just select yourself a spot from among the thousands available and settle in. Define your territory if you like, as many do with tape, string, sticks, tires etc. THEN JUST LIVE YOUR LIFE. Be a hermit or a social butterfly, no one will pressure you either way. A full spectrum of humanity live here, from tent dwellers to million dollar motor homers; from mentally challenged to super intelligent, from socialite to sociopath. Supplies and services are just a few miles away. The lifestyle here is powered by solar panels, batteries and generators. I estimate there are 400 people here now. During the hellish summer heat it shrinks to perhaps 50.

If you’re the social type, there are four clubs you may join: The LOWs (Loners on Wheels),Traveling Pals, the Oasis and the church group that cluster around pastor Doug and his wife. The LOWs are most numerous but impose a stringent policy of singleness. If they suspect you have “coupled up”, you will be ousted from fellowship. Other clubs have no such policy.
Surprisingly, the number of men and women is approximately equal.

The only business here is solar panel sales and installation by “solar Mike”, a longtime resident and super nice guy. Nighttime often finds him and his harmonica making great music with a local band. One guy cuts hair, another fixes things and “Container Charley” makes a fine livelihood doing specialty electronics work in the giant insulated container he calls home. We were awestruck at the amount of solar power at his command.

A major draw here is “Salvation Mountain”, a huge outdoor artwork constructed of mud, straw and paint by Leonard Knight, a childlike man of simple religious passion. His message: GOD IS LOVE. An estimated 200 people a day come to see it. Sean Penn came and filmed Leonard for the movie.INTO THE WILD.

I’ve been here many times over the years. I’m comfortable here. My main interest, however is philosophical: What kind of society evolves when government is absent or minimal. Bottom line conclusion:THE ANARCHIST WERE RIGHT; they claimed that functional order would arise naturally from chaos—and it has—somewhat! In 35 years, a kind of system has emerged: territories have been defined, named and largely respected. Serious miscreants are “pressured” into compliance. History and tradition are honored but not mandated. Creativity constantly emerges. One guy has made a serviceable home in an abandoned tank. Now and again, a cleanup campaign will activate residents to tackle the slab’s biggest problem—trash.

Extreme freedom is heady stuff–and quickly addictive. Once experienced, it is like power–hard to surrender. Not everyone can handle it because meaning, when not driven by necessity must be generated out of ones fascinations.

People here rise from bed only when they want to and likewise lay down. They fill their time with their private projects. Some are odd indeed: One man glides the streets in a sail car. Another raised a Llama. “”Queen” raises cactus and vegetables. A sensually motivated guy painted in larger than life figures the whole catalogue of sexual possibilities from the Kama Sutra on a giant abandoned water tank. A tiny lady has built a makeshift domicile from pallets and tarps. A preacher-in-training tells his tales here.

Enough said! Come here and garner your own impressions. It’s free and you are welcome. Myself and 60 of my friends have enjoyed a marvelous 10 days exploring every nook and cranny. One day we borrowed Leonard’s ladders and 24 of us trooped over the walls and down into a giant tank, dry and unvisited in 71 years. We created a ceremony inside climaxed by a bagpiping march round and round. Perhaps we were indeed “resensualized” as I promised. My ex girlfriend has beautifully documented this wonderful experience in her latest blog: life on the open road 2.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


I begin my day investigating this tiny snap together house situated in a stand of tamerisk trees. No mortgage or foreclosure problem here. The builder/owner seemed cozy and contented with his domicile.
The mighty Imperial Dunes--they stir strange yearnings in me. A gargantuan sand box where a hundred thousand come to play,
Exquisite form and feature--reminded me of Ester Williams.
Holtville hot springs---perfect temperature, flowing freely, cleaned regularly--and free to the public.
That barely visible vehicle on the right in the distance is smoothing this roadside to be able to detect alien footprints.
There were more than a hundred of these marvelous sculptures scattered across the desert near Borrego Springs, Ca.
Desert loving, off road sub culture--bigger than you ever imagined.
Ahhhh----I'm Home---down there with my family---The wandering WINs


A day on the road

I once asked a hobo when he was happiest. He said: “When I’m sitting in a boxcar headed out of town.” I can identify, because moving day for me is more exciting than arriving. Many of my companions feel differently.

Anyway, here’s a more or less typical travel day, as I moved from Yuma, Az to Borrego Springs, Ca. to spend Thanksgiving with my travel club, the WINs (Wandering Individuals Network—

My first stop is at the extraordinary rest stop dead in the middle of the gigantic Imperial sand dunes.(six miles wide, 70 miles long) It is much beloved for its good water supply–fresh and free to all. Off road dunes people fill up here for their weekend adventure. Surprisingly it is located within the median of Interstate 8.

This six mile dunes crossing required incredible feats of engineering. For years the only way to cross it was by a difficult plank road. Even more difficult was the All American Canal which also crosses the dunes here. The easy route for the canal would be a few miles south but that would dip into Mexico and give others some control over the precious water. America paid the price, dug through the dunes and now 90% of the Colorado River is diverted 40 miles west to the green fields of Imperial Valley, where 10% of the nation’s vegetables are grown.

My next stop is at Holtville hot springs, a fine tub of hot flowing water; hot enough to do you good; mellow you out. Boondockers cluster here for the winter, building rituals around daily soaks. Canadians seem to be over represented. On this day a lovely Hispanic lady with curves more graceful than a racehorse posed for my camera.

In El Centro Wal Mart I supplied myself for an extended desert stay. North on Hwy 86 I pass through a Border Patrol checkpoint. (Always located at strategic choke points) The officer always wants to hear you speak. You can imagine why.

West on Hwy 78 I stop to investigate a huge cloud of dust. The Border Patrol is dragging a smoothing apparatus down the roadside. They do this so that footprints of illegals crossing in the night will show.

I stop at Ocotillo Wells to appreciate the vast subculture of off road recreation.

I stop again to photograph the art works scattered across the desert near Borrego Springs. A rich guy (Avery) bought up the desert and commissioned the sculptures.

Settling in among my friends in the Anza Borrego desert. It’s been a good day and unlike tourist, who just see the sights, I see what I see.