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The Last Free Place in America, Slab City

It’s the self-proclaimed, “Last Free Place in America.”

It’s Slab City, a place where residents pay no rent, nor taxes. Technically, the land is owned by the State of California, and the people living here are squatters.

There’s no sewage system, running water or electricity other than that from small solar panels and gas generators.

Makeshift shack with large sign on side, "The Church of Beer" and a chair that "Occupied by Tall Paul" has been painted on the back.
Tall Paul's Church of Beer **

The roughly 150 permanent residents live in a random assortment of old run-down trailers and makeshift shacks.

Many chose this life to get away from the clamor and constraints of modern society. A number have addictions of one sort or another. Some have done things for which they don’t wish to be found.

There is limited law enforcement from the county sheriff. For the most part, residents live by their own, unwritten, code of conduct.

Those residents are not alone though, at least not during the colder months of the year.

Sign in front of a dirt space with a tree, some campers in the background, and wood sign for Mojo's Camp.
If you looking for a place to park you camper next winter, you might check out Mojo Camp. **

That's when roughly 4,000 snowbirds flock here, searching for warmth. Northern Baby Boomers loading up their trailers and running from the cold.

They do it because it’s free. There’s no lot rental in Slab City, like what they would traditionally pay in the snowbird parks of Arizona, Texas and other sites in the West and South.

Somehow, despite what would appear to be some pretty wide differences in attitudes and latitudes, the snowbirds and slabbers peacefully coexist.


Before we endeavor to go much further, let’s get some logistics out of the way.

Slab City is in a remote area, 100 miles north and east of San Diego, in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. The good news is, if you feel the urge to make a visit, there’s more to see than you might expect.

Two barren trees with hundreds of shoes tied in their branches and scattered around on the ground.
You know you're almost to Slab City when you see the shoe trees. **

That’s because it’s just off the southeast corner of Salton Sea, 20 miles from Bombay Beach, that I wrote about a couple of posts ago. You’ll drive right by Salvation Mountain, my last post, on the way and know you're getting close when you pass the shoe trees.

The area was the site of a former World War II military installation used as an artillery range and Marine barracks. The total area is 640 acres with Slab City taking up only a minute part of it.

The base was used for a short few years and, when the military moved out, they took down most of the buildings and left the concrete slabs they rested on behind. Hence the name, Slab City.

In fact, it's believed the first settlers were former Marines previously stationed there during the war.

Winters are quite comfortable, especially by the standards of those of us living in the Midwest. But the summers reach 120 F., with no trees for shade, little for cooling breezes, no running water, and with the limited electricity, no air conditioning.

To be a slabber, you have to really want to be there.

A Place Without a Government

Imagine for a moment, a place without a government. No mayor, town council, water board, public works director. Uncontrolled and off grid.

Large sign, ":Are you ready for the Slab city Hostel."
Looking for a place to spend the night? Check out the Slab City Hostel. **

That’s Slab City.

There are neighborhoods. Reportedly as many as a dozen but I’m unsure who’s doing that counting.

Those neighborhoods are a big reason the slabbers and snowbirds get along.

The snowbirds tend to live in different neighborhoods than the slabbers, though they're pretty much side by side, not unlike a city where the street serves as the dividing line between one neighborhood and the next. Each has its own set of norms and, kinda sorta, looks out for each other.

The Imperial County Sheriff’s Department does drive through once or twice a day, and is on call for emergencies. However, distance between the nearest sheriff’s vehicle and Slab City can be a long way in the middle of the desert so, through no fault of theirs, response times can be a little long.

Residents pick up groceries and other necessities at Niland, a small town of, generously, 1,000 people, four miles down the dirt road.

Darling Daughter and I had lunch at the local Mexican restaurant. The food was good and the people working there were fun to visit with.

Campsite with white picket fencing and a robot that looks like R2-D2 from Star Wars.
Now we know what happened to R2-D2 after the Star Wars fame ended. **

The US Postal Service doesn't recognize it as a deliverable location, however FedEx and UPS do make stops. Even Slab City gets Amazon.

You might be asking how they get money. Though their expenses are are about as minimal as you can get and still be subsistent, estimated at around $100 a month, they still need money.

The bulk receive assistance of one kind or another, whether Veterans Benefits, Social Security or something else.

Some have set up makeshift shops with canvas stretched across poles acting as a roof. They sell their own artwork and handiwork, or whatever they come across that is of some value, to tourists.

A final note, in case you’re curious, there are children living in Slab City. They take the yellow bus to school just like "normal" kids.

I’m thinking a video or two might be the best way for you to get a look at what Slab City is really like:


**I allow use of my photos through Creative Commons License. I'm not looking to make money off this thing. I only ask you provide me with credit for the photo by noting my blog address,, or a link back to this page.


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