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.


Nomad said...

Having read posts on various blogs about this place, in the last week or so. I find it fascinating how everyone conveys a different perspective of it.

I really enjoy following this blog and I think you have developed an excellent living space.

Anonymous said...

Another fascinating read. Seems to be that beauty is found in the freedom as it is not obvious in the enviornment.

Anonymous said...

What an advertisement! You didn't mention the generators, how despicable real desert rats are, the blowing dust, the uninteresting scenery, etc.

I think campers who head to this dump for the first time after reading advertisments like this are going to be disappointed.

That said, it was a good write-up, and was fun to read.

Randy said...

Thanks all for your comments. To Anonymous 1: wish I'd said that "beauty is found in the freedom". Great summary of the point I was feeling.

To anonymous 2--(ever cranky in Silver City) As usual, you're right. It is true that the Slabs are an acquired taste. Consider anonymous 1's comment.

Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention in your list of all the freedoms this "anarchy" has that school buses come in to get the children and the police patrol, however rarely. In a true anarchy, the strong will eventually control the weak...'tis the nature of the beast! Good write-up anyway.

Hugs, Sharon


Nice pics! I like your page, I found it from the nomadic home blog. I will definitely be back. I have added you to the list of links on my page,
Happy travels!!

Anonymous said...

That place reminds me of this movie: . It is about sustainable living in the desert.

diane said...

This is a very interesting read, I find it hard to leave, carry on our wayward son.

scott said...

Great informative post... I'm curious about this place and I'm hoping to check it out this summer.

Randy said...

Scott: Summer is the worst time to visit the slabs because most folks go to cooler places. Even so, you'll get the flavor of anarchy.