California, United States
The desert is a special place of absolute silence and intense heat - like an incessant blow-dryer to the face. Everyone and everything thirsts. Without adequate water, delirium sets in and death soon follows. If the intense heat and lack of water doesn’t kill you, the earthquakes, scorpions and snakes might. To live here you need to be desperate, resilient, or crazy; or any blend of these.
Sitting about 45 meters below current sea levels, in the Sonoran Desert, rests a largely unacknowledged community; as far as any government is concerned. Slab City, as its known, can be found southeast of the Salton Sea and about a mile from Niland, California. Much has been written about the Slabs and its history is readily available online, but what it truly is can be hard to see for many.
Tourists frequent the area to experience the outsider art of Leonard Knight’s Salvation Mountain and the chaotic performances and assemblages found deep in the Slabs at East Jesus and West Satan. Many come during the winter months to explore solar energy and off-the-grid living. However, the circumstances that allow the community to exist are as unique as the place itself. Slab City is truly an experiment with peaceful anarchy that has spanned more than half a century. It’s an anarchy with one rule: respect your neighbor. Because there exists great freedom in this type of culture, it’s the permanent residents, often desperately seeking relief from over-capitalized lives, who have found their salvation within the Slabs.
Andrew, a resident originally from New Zealand, refers to the Slabs as an ‘Anglo Refugee Camp.’ He explains that most Slabbers are here because they can’t afford their medical care. He estimates the average income for each Slabber to be about $200 a month. On that income a person can afford their medications and still have a reasonably decent life in the Slabs. How well one lives depends upon how responsible they are with their income and supplies.