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5 Reasons to Avoid Slab City

5 Reasons to Avoid Slab City

If you’re looking for the perfect spot to take your family for your next vacation, it might not be Slab City. In fact, you’ll likely want to stay as far from this seemingly lawless city as possible. We visited this area in 2017 and almost immediately questioned our safety.

If you’re considering visiting Slab City, we have five reasons you should avoid this off-grid location at all costs. Let’s take a look!

What Is Slab City?

Slab City is an unincorporated city in California with no water, power, or sewer services. There are approximately 50 to 100 year-round residents. However, during the winter months, the population swells to about 3500. 

The community is mainly transient individuals who crave freedom and a community of like-minded individuals. Because of this, many nomads exploring the desert southwest venture in to see what it’s about. This was how we stumbled upon this forgotten corner of the world.

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Broken-down vehicles litter the landscape, thrown-together structures serve as houses, and the city goes by the tagline “the last free place.” 

The area was a former military training facility, Camp Dunlap, which the government dismantled in the 1950s. Drifters from all walks of life and locales traveled to the abandoned land. They called it “Slab City” due to the large concrete slab foundations remaining after removing the immense military structures.

Can You Visit Slab City?

You can visit Slab City, but it’s not always the best idea. You drive in from the west through Niland, California. A dirt road winds you through the barren entryway, past old ruins and junk, and finally to a “city” of grid streets with various hand-painted signs and ramshackle structures.

You’ll find a library, food establishments, and even Airbnb hosts; however, you’ll also find a longer list of reasons why it’s not an ideal place to visit. Visitors explore Slab City, but very few adventure past Salvation Mountain. Soon, you’ll see why!

Why Do People Go to Slab City?

Those who visit Slab City enjoy free camping and experience the unique artwork by local artists. One section of Slab City, East Jesus, is home to an outdoor art museum. Here you’ll find a wall of broken TVs, a car decorated with doll heads, and several other art pieces that might make you feel uncomfortable.

The most significant attraction to the area is Salvation Mountain. This is a massive art project by a local artist, Leonard Knight. The many bright colors make it a tremendous draw for photographers and social media influencers looking for unique spots to fill their Instagram feeds.

The mountain combines adobe bricks, tires, automobile parts, and thousands of gallons of paint. You’ll find murals and scriptures written all over the display. 

salvation mountain
Slab City is a unique experience, but definitely not for everyone.

Is Slab City Safe?

Slab City is a relatively remote “city” in the Californian desert. Despite having a reputation for being a “lawless city,” it’s not entirely without rules. There is a very minimal police presence in the area, and they would respond to a situation if you contact them. However, very few locals have favorable views of law enforcement and the city polices themselves.

People commonly engage in drugs, alcohol, and other illicit activities in Slab City. Safety is unpredictable, and you never know what will happen, especially at night. Visitors stopping to visit Salvation Mountain or to drive through and experience the city in person aren’t likely to face any issues. However, you won’t likely want to linger longer than necessary before getting back on the road.

Pro Tip: Are you brave enough to go boondocking in Slab City? Our stay in Slab City ranked in our top 9 Scariest Boondocking Experiences!

Who Owns Slab City?

Slab City sits on a 450-acre piece of land the state of California owns. The state has never done anything with the land, but there have been rumors that the state intends to make use of the property.

Reports surfaced in 1993 regarding selling the land to a private contractor, which led to residents establishing the Slab City Community Group. The group’s purpose is to help defend what many feel is their last resort. How the state plans to use the land in the future is still unclear.

5 Reasons to Avoid Slab City

If you’re still not convinced about avoiding Slab City, keep reading. We’re sharing five significant reasons you should avoid this location. Let’s dive in!

No Amenities

Slab City lacks amenities. It would be best if you came expecting no water, sewer, or electricity. Those who visit the area typically travel in an RV, allowing them to bring everything they need to be self-sufficient during their visit. There are designated boondocking spots on site, but it is little more than a dirt lot in a corner of the encampment.

However, the sketchiness of the city and general safety concerns should cause you to think twice about what you bring. Anything not within your site could quickly disappear into the hands of one of the locals.

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It Smells Awful

Sanitation is a serious concern for anyone visiting or living in Slab City. Officials have tried to improve the smells, but locals reject most of them. They choose to embrace the freedom of handling business and their sanitation needs. However, the sanitation issues aren’t the only reason for the foul odor.

The Salton Sea is less than 10 miles away. This body of water has a high amount of salt, making it impossible for fish and other aquatic life to live. As a result, dead fish and different marine life fill the beaches. Don’t count on having an appetite while in this area!

There’s a Large Drug Scene

Many residents and nomads calling Slab City home struggle with drug abuse and other addictions. It’s a serious issue, and drugs are readily available. You can see the results of what addiction can do to a person.

This area is not the least bit family-friendly and is a place anyone with an addiction should avoid. Relapsing into addiction can be hazardous. If you or someone traveling with you is an addict, bypass Slab City.  

Man rolling joint in front of Salvation Mountain
Unfortunately, there is lots of drug use and abuse in Slab City.

Trash Is Everywhere

Some of the sanitation issues in the area have to do with how residents dispose of their trash. Since there are no services in the area, debris and waste often end up on the ground.

Some have tried to clean up by providing dumpsters throughout the city. However, locals often reject the idea and feel anyone pushing it is trying to gentrify the community.

Piles of trash in Slab City
Be prepared for lots of garbage and unpleasant smells while in Slab City.

Next to Chocolate Mountain Gunnery Range

This was an unexpected discovery when we visited Slab City. We didn’t realize the “town” was right next to an active military practice range until we heard the sounds of battle in the distance.

It turned out that Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range (CMAGR) is less than 15 miles away from Slab City. People use the range for military practices involving guns and bombs so that it can sound like a war zone.

The sounds of explosions going off in the distance do not enhance the appeal of this remote, off-grid town. The training exercises can occur at any time, and you never know when you might hear a sudden burst of explosions.

While we were there, bombs were dropped and would shake the ground. We heard machine gun fire at all times of the night and could see tracer rounds being fired on the mountainside. Our dogs were terrified, and we were very unsettled. We could not wait to leave the next day.

Pro Tip: Skip Slab City and visit these 7 Best National Parks in California instead.

Don’t Waste Your Time With Slab City

Slab City may be a unique stop, but it’s not for everyone. We appreciate art and encourage artists to express their creativity, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg for Slab City. The unsanitary living conditions, drug abuse, and addiction are evident among many residents in the community.

If you must satiate your curiosity, we recommend a day visit instead of an overnight stay. All the art exhibits can easily be seen in an afternoon, and that’s really the best part of this strange place.

Would you dare to visit Slab City? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

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Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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Donald Fleming

Saturday 29th of October 2022

I grew up in the little town just south of there Calipatria. I remember growing up they called slab city the arm pit of the world we stayed away nothing good ever comes from that place. I remember many a day on that bombing range deer hunting crazy times. The nave seals had or have a training base in Niland,my aunt married a seal from that base. Anyways thanks for bringing back those memories.

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