Slab City


On the few bike tours I’ve ridden, my elevator speech to the question regarding “the best part of the trip” includes a favorite natural scenic landscape and a fun cultural experience.

On the Turkey Tour, my favorite cultural experience was visiting Slab City.

I like the summary of Slab City is Krakauer’s Into the Wild.

The Slabs functions as the seasonal capital of a teeming itinerant society — a tolerant, rubber-tired culture comprising the retired, the exiled, the destitute, the perpetually unemployed.  Its constituents are men and women and children of all ages, folks on the dodge of from collection agencies, relationships gone sour, the law or the IRS, Ohio winters, the middle-class grind.

And, my favorite visual summary is the school bus converted into a sailboat trailer.

I imagine the resident(s) live in the yacht year-round, roughly half the time on water and the other half on a school bus in the desert.

Here is dre’s map of our Turkey Tour.  Slab City, or the Slabs, is near the far east point, Point F.  From this view, I think the Salton Sea looks phallic.

The Slabs are three miles east of Niland, CA.  Niland is a small town located within a few miles of the Salton Sea with a couple of restaurants, a gas station, a grocery store, and a laundry mat.

I find the amount craftsmanship very interesting in the Slabs.  Not just a sailboat on a school bus, but the way so many people are able to live not only independently, but also communally.

Most people reside in RVs.  Actually, if you look around the internet, it is frowned upon to camp in a tent.  The reason for the frowning is not the more common American housing value but in disposing human waste.  Like other biodegradable wastes, human wastes take much longer to biodegrade in harsh climates like the desert.  Junk waste is actually the biggest problem in Slab City.  There’s a lot of trash from transients, broken down cars, tires, regular trash trash, and dumping from Niland townees.

A part that I found interesting was the amount of solar cells there.  Virtually all of the RVs have renewable solar power.  Around a campfire, I learned the buzzwords in solar power: inverters, modified sine waves, and true sine waves took the cake in addition to the other more traditional electrical words.

I think it’s neat how independent these people are.  They don’t pay “rent” or pay for utilities like electricity and water.  Water is free behind the gas station, bee tee dubs.  In addition to that, the campfire we found included retirees making fun of home-buyers.  I don’t express the thought much because it’s tireless to someone with closed ears, but in society I am apart of the minority that thinks taking a large bank loan, in hopes of “my” housing value increasing is a bad investment.

Note that I don’t say it’s bad to have a house; there are pro’s.  But, I think a loan is a bad investment so much that I view it is as a liability and a speculative gamble which I’m not interested in even if you rent out a room or whatever. (In my opinion, an apartment building is more of an investment than a house.)

Anyways. . . it’s always nice to find your other birds of the same feather to flock together.  It was just a passing comment around a campfire, but it put a little smile on my desert chapped lips.

The community of the Slabs felt comforting.  In our short 24 hour visit, people constantly introduced themselves to us and our claimed patch of dirt in the range of young seniors, middle aged, young adults, and even a boy of about 10 years of age.  We were fortunate enough to make a connection earlier in the bike tour which catalyzed our ability to eat a great traditional Thanksgiving dinner which later led into the campfire.

Even without that catalyzed close knit experience, I think it is place worth spending some time to either winter over, stay a night, or even check out Salvation Mountain during an afternoon of your Southwest road trip.  It may pull you out of your consumerist and isolated housing comfort zone; it may give you renewable energy ideas; you may find cool trash or all the books you want to take home in the library; but, it will help your craving for a shower.

If you are interested in more pictures from the Slabs as well as the rest of the Turkey Tour, check out dre’s picture journal on the ‘book.

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1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    Russ said,

    Hey there,
    Looks like a great trip! This is really similar to the route we’re planning right now. Hope to meet up with you. Let us know if you’re cool with a homestay for a night or two.

    Best,
    Russ


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