Sidelining to The Slabs, The Last Free Place In America
When people say that America is a free country, they only know half of the story. Truth is, the place can get pretty much constricted, across all fronts. There are rules and regulations everywhere (like all civilized places), and freedom is just as much as you get with a dog on a leash. You can move around, you are protected by law, but you are not completely “free”. Then again, you’d think that’s normal, right? After all, lawlessness and complete freedom would mean anarchy, right?
Think again. In California is a place dubbed “the last free place in America”. Here, there’s no laws and no one to enforce them even if there were. No one owns the land, too. It’s a bit like those scenes from the Mad Max movies, the community in the middle of the desert.
Sounds scary? You may be imagining a community of fugitives and wanted men on crime sprees. Instead, what you’re gonna find here at the Slabs is something really eye-opening (not to mention eye-popping). Turns out that when you let men run free, beautiful things are made.
Before the Slabs.
Let me tell you a little backgrounder, though. We were at La Quinta after our visit to Joshua Tree Park, and a friend of Audrey said we should be paying Salton Sea and Bombay Beach a visit. Truth was before this, we didn’t even know what they were. We had to turn to social media to satisfy our curiosity, as well as get suggestions. Thankfully Instagram was kind enough to help us here.
Ah, and yes, social media can curate the most wonderful types of trips. Take this one, for example. We were supposed to just be sitting in LA, relaxing with friends and family, and then social media searches led us on an epic road trip to Joshua Tree National Park! This led us to today, where we are visiting a few unknown places. Impromptu trips rock, and we have all of you to thank for taking time to share us your suggestions through replies to my blog and Instagram stories. You’ve been awesome and helpful, and I thank you.
Now, back to Audrey’s friend. She suggested to visit Bombay beach, claiming it’s one of the most desolate places on earth. We did not quite get when but then we Googled. I checked the map, and it was on the way to Salvation Mountain and East Jesus (two of our other destinations). So we decided to give it a go.
Bombay Beach, Salton Sea, A Sad Story
It was an hour from our La Quinta Airbnb lodging, and we felt like we walked right into a movie set for a zombie apocalypse. This was once the it place, where the stars rested when they’re not on-screen. There were waterfront properties, yacht clubs, and more. Then an accident with a canal ended up flooding the area for several years, that it ended up creating the Salton Sea, one of the largest lakes in the state. And this was in the middle of the desert, too! Another mismanagement caused the Salton Sea (which was at one point even a fishing destination) and Bombay beach into forgotten places. Now, the place looks really eerie, with graffiti everywhere and broken down stuff just lying around. In fact, it has become the setting of many horror movies.
We would have loved to stop by the place a little longer and explore more, but our next destination now awaits.
It’s impossible not to be able to tell the origin of this name, even from afar. It’s our first glimpse into how beautiful the slabs can really be. The whole “mountain” is a profession of love and religious fervor, so moving that the Slabs even had a committee to make sure it’s protected. It was created by one of Slab City’s longtime residents, and it is a complete labor of love on his part!
Salvation Mountain is a huge slab of rock painted with Biblical messages and pops of colors that certainly stand out from the desert. It’s also a favorite photo spot for tourists, for obvious reasons!
East Jesus Art in the Desert
East Jesus is like an extension of Salvation Mountain, albeit with a different tone. The two are very near each other, and the artistic side definitely intensifies. In fact, it reminds me of the Noah Purifoy Art Desert Museum, which we’d already gone to in the previous day. I liked this more, though — the sheer creativity, the chaotic mess, the inspiration, and even the social critic that lies in the undercurrents of many art pieces.
Despite every art form here being strewn around in the desert, I felt that the place somehow made sense. It felt so cool how all of thee exhibits fitted together. There’s a voice in everyone of them, a message that’s sometimes blunt, sometimes subtle. There was even this one that mentioned “I was the pieces you didn’t want”, and yet somehow they were put together to make good art.
Slab City came in the wake of a US Marine Base that used to be stationed here in World War 2. When the base moved out, the soon-to-be residents of the Slabs picked up the remaining slabs (hence the name) and built something wonderful. The art came both as a statement, and as a way to beautify their new dwelling. They even used recycled materials, in order to preserve the theme of the whole place. Of course, it was also a hobby as not many of the residents here had something to occupy everyday. Each of them had their own stories why they are here, sometimes as interesting as their art.
From weird and humble beginnings, something wonderful rose. We stayed a lot of time here, and though it’s an Instagram user’s paradise, we didn’t take as much pics as we usually would have. Instead, we were just so focused at admiring the art in every detail.
It was a crazy trip here, but it was that kind of “method behind the madness” thing. Everyone who goes here can relate to the chaos of the Slabs in some way. It’s like a living, breathing freedom wall! While it was interesting to compare this with Noah Purifoy, I’d say I like the Slabs better.
From here, we just had around 2.5 hours before we had to be in San Diego to catch that day’s food tour. We really wished we had more time, but since this was just an impromptu visit we had to fit it between the gaps. Before we left though, we made the happy decision to come visit this again sometime in the future.
It was really an interesting road trip and day trip from LA or a day trip from San Diego, and I have to thank my good friend Audrey for being such a trooper, willing to drive us around for the past 2 full days! Now that’s something you don’t see everyday.