Slab City, also called The Slabs, is largely a snowbird community in the Sonoran Desert located in Imperial County, California, 156 miles northeast of San Diego within the California Badlands, and used by recreational vehicle owners and squatters from across North America. It took its name from concrete slabs that remained from the abandoned World War II Marine Corps barracks of Camp Dunlap.
Several thousand campers, many of them retired, use the site during the winter months. The “snowbirds” stay only for the winter before migrating north in spring to cooler climates. The temperatures during summer are as high as 120 °F (48 °C); nonetheless, there is a group of around 150 permanent residents who live in “The Slabs” year round. Some of these “Slabbers” derive their living from government programs and have been driven to “The Slabs” by poverty. Others have moved to “The Slabs” to learn how to live off the grid and be left alone. Still others have moved there to stretch their retirement income.
The site is both decommissioned and uncontrolled, and there is no charge for parking. The site has no official electricity, running water, sewers, toilets or trash pickup service. Many residents use generators or solar panels to generate electricity. The closest body of civilization with proper law enforcement is approximately four miles southwest of Slab City in Niland where the residents often go to do basic shopping. As a result, the site is described by its inhabitants and news outlets like Vice News as a miniature de facto enclave of anarchy.
A few months ago we went to visit the incredible abandoned city called Slab City. It used to be a military base but hundreds of squatters came and made it their home. We went with our friend Justin Escalona and truly had a fascinating experience. We thought the place would be hostile and dangerous when in fact it was inviting and beautiful (in it’s own way).