Slab City

We expect that anyone who has spent some time living the RV or converted van (or in our case a Tacoma with a Camper Shell) lifestyle has inevitably heard mention of Slab City or “The Slabs.” A good portion of the one of the RTR seminars was dedicated to talk of where people were going to be heading next and one group of people was getting together a texting list of those interested in spending any part of February there. After assurances that the texts would be brief and infrequent we overcame our reluctance to give out our info and added ourselves to the list.

After the RTR ended we first went to explore the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge (here, here and here). After those two weeks with a lack of any AT&T signal and therefore forced detoxing from Internet access we next headed to the Saddle Mountain area in Tonopah, AZ. While we only got a 3G signal there it was enough to dip our toes back in so to speak and catch up on the world around us. With a few exceptions we did not see, hear or smell anyone during our time near Saddle Mountain. This is a Good Thing. One of those exceptions was that the Slab City group texts started to appear, about one a week. We knew where, exactly (via GPS coordinates), they had congregated in the one square mile area that is The Slabs and that fun was being had by all. So we decided to make our next destination one which is the antithesis of the quiet, unoccupied (except by us) places we had been frequenting of late. In that, we were not disappointed.

We made the trip from Arizona to The Slabs on a Friday and arrived in the general area around 2pm that day. We worked our way through the depressing ghetto slum area of Niland and got on the access road towards Salvation Mountain. Once that monument to one mentally ill man’s dedicated and lifelong obsession to pouring as much brightly colored liquid poison over as great an area of desert as he possibly could came into view we knew we had arrived. We wanted to get situated first and so bypassed that monstrosity and decided we would come back to give it a look in the coming days.

The GPS coordinates that we were texted lead us directly to the Airstream of the organizer of those who had attended the RTR and had expressed interest in visiting The Slabs. He gave us the quick and dirty (in this case, sandy) rundown of what was where and who was who all the while giving Willow some much appreciated loves and then we went to find a spot to pitch camp. The “rules” for setting up camp, as we understood them, were essentially do not get close enough to piss someone off by encroaching on “their” space. We didn’t want to be parked right next to someone else like in an RV park either and so we first headed in the direction of the main wash on the South East side of the area. We drove down into the wash itself and headed up to the left towards the Coachella Canal which legally and physically denotes the Northern boundary.

Several spots that at first seemed like good campsite possibilities were found and then quickly ruled out for various reasons. One was just too near the wash itself which could at any time become filled with water depending on rain in the Chocolate Mountains not far to the North. Another was apparently too near some van campers with a small, cute, but noisy little pit mix dog who thought we were the most scary, horrible thing EVER and we must be barked and snarled at and escorted out of the immediate area. Our next possibility had some trees for shade and that we could have hung our sunshade from until we smelled whatever rotting cesspool of filth was somewhere close by. Several more nice, flat, shaded areas were again ruled out because they seemingly had at one time been the spot of someone’s camp who had moved out and left Every. Piece. Of. Garbage. They. Ever. Created. Behind. And not just in a pile but strewn about the entire area as if a deep, evenly spaced, thick blanket of garbage covering it. We unfortunately found that theme repeated at many more places throughout the entirety of Slab City during our brief three-day stay. We were now getting close to the canal and were pessimistic that we would find a suitable spot. Any remaining hope was dashed as two apparent dirty cavemen appeared wielding long guns and approached while making “move elsewhere” motions with their weapons. At my age my Fight Or Flight response defaults towards flee so, okay, gotta go. We headed back towards the Airstream since that was going to be the social hub of the RTR group. We later were told that the area where we encountered those gun brandishers was the meth-head-tweaker area of the Slabs and we were wise to set up camp elsewhere. We eventually found a place to set up in the dunes about 100 yards west of the Airstream and about the same amount of space from the locals to the North. We thought that would be far enough away. We thought wrong.

5:14am the next morning (I looked) and we are awakened by the dogs of our Northern neighbors enthusiastically practicing their “We’re-mean-junkyard-dogs-get-the-fuck-off-our-property-or-we’ll-KEEEEEL-you” barking. Ah…the joys of neighbors. Apparently the old bus the owner of the dogs lives in had really good sound insulation because he didn’t make an appearance until around 6:30 (I looked again) to hurl out a few “shut the fuck ups” and call it good. As classy as it was effective. Meaning not. Of course once Willow and I pull ourselves out of the camper shell an hour or so later those dogs notice our movement and start-up once again oh joy of joys. I ducked into our shelter to do the morning’s coffee ritual with the extra added bonus of being out of sight so the barking quieted down for a bit.

After a nice coffee and catching up on the news our brief interlude from noisy neighbors is broken, this time by humans. Apparently our well spoken nearby dog master also has some domestic issues as he starts up loud and clear to someone in the bus using all of his limited and monosyllabic vocabulary along with the sounds of pounding and slamming doors/drawers and thrown clattering objects (probably not objets d’art). We are hoping that outburst is an anomaly but I somehow kind of doubt it. Sunday morning will be the next test. We’ll see if he passes.

That Saturday we ended up doing a whole lot of walking. So much so that our totals were well into the realm of Hiking. We had our typical morning walk. Then we walked over to check out Salvation Mountain. That afternoon we went on a hike to the canal on the North edge of The Slabs. Then that night we went and experienced The Range for the first time. The whirlwind of exploration and adventure was in full swing with more planned for Sunday.

One plus (to me, maybe not to you) of our campsite was that we had apparently parked quite close to an active scorpion colony and each morning we were greeted by loads of new and busy scorpion tracks. Scorpions are amazing creatures that have been around in one form or another for around 430 Million years and have adapted to an impressively broad range of environmental conditions. They’re little troopers and survivors. I like them.

Scorpion tracks in the sand
Like Mini Tank Tracks

Though of varying sizes each separate track could be seen to weave and wander in apparent random fashion as the individual creature obviously explored its range of habitat looking for prey. Several tracks each morning came right up to my Tacoma’s tires and made a circumference as if to check out what sort of a track they would leave in their wake. Almost universally each track that I followed ended back at and then under these collections of stacked, thin piles of sandy plates. These could be found under almost any plant successful enough to keep large lumbering creatures such as humans from trampling the area underneath its drip line and creating small, relatively undisturbed areas suitable for such colonization.

IMG_20160220_081112 copy
A Scorpion Den
probable scorpion den and tracks
A Good Indicator to Not Walk Barefoot in the Area at Night

I woke up Sunday morning around 3am and took a quick peek out of the shell with a red-lensed headlamp and caught a quick glimpse of some scurrying back to a den probably because they had felt me moving about in the shell. Oh well. Back to sleep so we have the energy for today’s Adventure.

I feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Once again we were woken up at the crack of dawn by our vocal canine neighbors and the rumble of multiple generators followed soon after by the dulcet tones of the Northern neighbor loudly practicing his dock worker slang towards the dogs. As ineffective today as it was yesterday buddy. Just like Saturday we were greeted by a renewed chorus of barking as we emerged from the shell to start the morning routine. Getting out of sight into the shelter also worked as well as it did the day before. Once again his breakfast must have been served cold because another domestic dispute raised its voice with the same vim and vigor. This doesn’t bode well for Monday morning. But, we have learned another valuable lesson about life on The Slabs…100 yards is not enough and now next time we will set up camp accordingly.

Sunday morning we went over to the Oasis for their breakfast. It’s a Slab tradition. There is no menu per se but for $5 you get a paper plate that is then filled with whatever collection of eggs, hash browns, ham, bacon, quiche, and fruit salad that the kitchen team decided to prepare that day. I normally won’t eat meat unless I catch or kill it myself and that especially goes for creatures smarter than my dog (and your dog too), like pigs. That doesn’t mean I won’t take the slice offered to me and then slyly parcel it out in bite-sized pieces to the creatures at our feet who are mentally inferior to the animal that had the bad fortune to end up on my plate.

Today’s adventure is to go find some artwork on and in some old tanks nearby. Willow and I and a few others went to do that and were quite impressed. Later in the afternoon Ally the Greater has stopped by to let us know she is heading out to meet some friends in the Phoenix area. We say our goodbyes and Amara hops up in my shell for a goodbye treat and loving session before they take off.

Amara the stunningly beautiful Red Husky in the back of my Tacoma
As Nice As She Is Gorgeous

Sunday night the winds pick up and I am hoping my shelter stays up. All four guy lines are out and a total of eight stakes are in use but they are far more suitable for dirt and rock than sand so…fingers crossed. The next morning dawns bright and breezeless. The shelter is still standing where I left it so that is a good thing. The sand flying around last night is really small, more like dust than your typical beach-sized grains of sand and it has gotten into everything.

Dog ramp covered in sand
Willow’s Ramp After I Dug It Out

The weather says that it will soon become windy for a few days and we were planning on leaving on Monday anyway so this is as good excuse as any to start the process.Once everything that was in the shelter has been taken out and loaded into the Tacoma the last thing to do is take down the shelter itself. Like any tent it is a simple process…except when wind is involved. The morning has been nice and calm, not a breeze at all. I’ve taken out all eight stakes and walked over to the tailgate to put them in their little stake bag when, literally, in 20 seconds, it changes from calm, sunny and breeze-free to sustained 40 knot gusts of wind. The shelter slams up and into the side of the Tacoma and only the fact that the truck is on the downwind side keeps the shelter from disappearing into the dunes. I am holding on with all my might but the shelter is pulling itself out from the side of the truck and starting to take me along for the ride. I’m trying to hold on with one hand while unzipping flaps and disassembling poles so as to make the shelter have a smaller, less rigid area to collect the wind like a sail.

We had parked in the trough between two small dunes in hopes that it would provide a bit of a wind break but now that is merely giving the wind-borne grains of sand a launching ramp which is seemingly aimed directly at my face. Glad I wasn’t wearing contact lenses then. I finally get the shelter flat enough on the ground so as to not catch the bulk of the gusts so now it is at least manageable. There is no way I’ll be able to fold it up nice and neat and get it back in its storage bag so I just roll it up as best I can and shove it in an open space in the shell and call it good enough for now.

After one more quick look around the site to see if I’ve missed anything we make two quick stops on the way out-of-town. The first is to the organizer to say “Thank You” and the second to Larry to give his 19-year old kitty Duncan a farewell petting and tell Larry, “See You On The Road.”

Our first visit to Slab City has been interesting to say the least. We learned a little about how things work in this special community and hope we will do even better next time. We had some fun and met up with some folks we first met at the RTR. Now that we have that scene out of our system we can head back out to (literally) greener pastures with fewer people, less noise and less sand. We plan on heading to the San Bernardino National Forest for some camping that you can only get to with a 4×4 and our Tacoma is just the tool to carry us to that adventure.

4 thoughts on “Slab City

  1. Nice write up! We are heading down that way soon and were wondering if bringing our dog was a good idea.

    1. E

      As long as it is a “good,” relaxed dog that does well on and off leash you should be fine. We met several nice dogs roaming around there and a couple at Saturday night’s “Range” show and Willow got along well with all of them. I think “bad dogs” and their owners get weeded out quickly in this community. Have fun.

  2. Tauwneeh Owl Story Tree

    I would like to meet up with folks from rtr in Feb at the slabs can I be added to the list..I have a 27 foot Tioga Fleetwood Class C RV..and would like to camp.out for a.week or two. for your article.its well written and I enjoyed the black humour woven within the details of tour experience..I’ve also have never been but it’s come to my attention that it’s time..I wanted to as you if you feel like it is wise to take pets to the slabs? Did you notice any disease or dog fights? Owl and Herbie my Rv

    1. E

      I do not know of any list for people meeting up at the slabs (sorry) but I do know a bunch of people headed there directly after the RTR. Willow and I walked all over the place and came across a few dogs that were tied up and guarding their area but we had no free wandering aggressive dog issues. Met several friendly dogs (and a cat) at The Range on Saturday night.

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