Miles driven: 309.4
Miles hiked: 0
I woke up today, near the border of Nevada and California, after one of the coolest nights I’ve had in the van in the past few weeks. Even though the temperature read as 86°, it felt fantastic compared to the above 90° temperatures that it has been.
I took a very relaxing morning and watched the second Divergent movie, Insurgent. I did some reading for a bit, too, but as the temperature increased, I became more and more tired from reading. I decided to get some driving done, not fully sure on where I was destined.
I headed West for a couple hours before stopping in Bartow, California and was gonna camp out at the Walmart there. After stopping for five minutes and using their bathroom, I decided that town was not for me. The bathroom had the most foul odor I’ve encountered in a long time. The store itself was an older looking store and seemed as if it had not received any love since the early 90s. No, thanks.
I continued driving for another hour until stopping at yet another Walmart, hoping it would be better than the last. Thankfully, it was. Though, I swear it had more cameras in the ceiling than one of the Vegas casinos. Pure insanity. I was there for around an hour, debating on what to do. Since I’ll be driving around California for almost the next month with Szilvia, I didn’t want to see anything now that she might want to see later. I debated on hiking a portion of the John Muir Trail, but it was so out of the way from where I was and I wasn’t sure what I’d do with my van for however long I’d be hiking, so I ruled that out as well.
Then I remembered about Slab City and knew that wasn’t one of the places planned for the next month. It was 187 miles away, deep in Southern California out in the Sonoran Desert. It was decided. I was headed to Slab City.
For those not familiar with Slab City, it used to be the location of some Marine barracks, but after WWII the barracks were removed, leaving only the concrete slabs behind. The land was given to the state of California and since that time squatters, campers, and other travelers have taken to living there. In the summer, the Slabs are pretty empty due to the desert heat and most travelers migrating North. In the winter, it’s said that there are thousands of travelers (“snowbirds”) that call this place home.
There is no running water. There is no electricity. There’s no sewer, toilets, garbage pickup, or other city services of any kind. Slab City does not officially exist. There are no rules and no parking or camping fees. People are here just being people and living life without restrictions. It’s quite magical.
There’s an ever changing art display painted onto a concrete bunker on the road leading up to Slab City. It’s almost like a “welcome” sign. I really like the “Danger: Reality Ahead” as you head back out to the real world.
One of the first sights you will see upon entering Slab City is Salvation Mountain, a huge mound of earth covered in concrete, adobe, and paint and plastered with bible verses. It was project of two decades built by a single man. Although I’m not religious by any means, I still appreciate the artistic and creative aspect of what he built.
Anyone up for a boat ride? A random boat, also located at Salvation Mountain.
As I sit here, watching the day transcend into night, listening to some dogs bark across the way, I can’t help but be overcome by a sense of freedom you can’t find most places. Even when I camp out at Walmart, there’s always an itch in the back of my mind worried about how long I stay there for fear of crossing whatever magic number of hours it is before Walmart decides you are no longer welcome. It is an almost constant distraction when camped in other, more random locations. But not here. Not in Slab City.
I’ve been here for barely an hour and love it. And not just for the ability to pull off the road anywhere and camp without being hassled about living a different kind of life. It’s the vastness. The emptiness. The desolation. It’s hard to put into words how beautiful those things can be.
I’m not sure how long I’ll stay here, but I have 13 days before I need to be in San Diego. It might be one day, it might be 12. Since I got here late in the evening, I’m not sure how bad the daytime temperatures will be yet. I’m for sure staying through tomorrow, as every Saturday evening they have an open performance of music or whatever other talent someone wants to showcase at a “nightclub” called The Range. I’m really looking forward to it.
As I finish writing this, nightfall has almost entirely engulfed the sky. The lack of light pollution, combined with a clear day like today, makes for a stunning display of stars.