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Exploring Slab City

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Photos by 4x4Steve

If you are new to living in a vehicle or RV you may have never heard of Slab City. Believe me, it is something you want to know about. Located in Southern California near Palm Springs, it is home to many full-timers in their tents, cars, vans, and RVs. You can live there for a day, week, month, year or even decades, and no one will complain about your being there. The majority are probably there for short periods of time, but there are quite a few who live there year-round and have been there for many years.

Road into Slabs

Slab City began as Camp Dunlap, a Marine Corp training base during World War II. After the war, the base was closed and all the buildings were removed, leaving only the concrete slabs they sat on (thus the name). Over the decades since then, many people have camped and lived there, leaving behind a huge amount of trash and sometimes even their sewage. Today the Slabs is a place of great contrast. In some places there are ugly piles of trash, in others there are nice neat “homesteads” with gardens. There are people living in tents, and people living in million dollar RVs, and everything in-between.

Alongside the main road into town.

The church.

The movie “Into the Wild” introduced the general population to the Slabs and made Salvation Mountain famous. It’s a great movie, worth checking out.

Salvation Mountain is one of the first things you will see.

If you are retired or on a limited budget, the Slabs might be for you because you can live there for free and never be hassled or have to move. People ask me all the time if I think it is safe. And my answer is yes, you can be safe. The Slabs is a large place and you can find a place where you are comfortable. Many RVers want to camp with other RVers of the same age and class as themselves. That’s easy to do, just camp near other RVs for a while and get to know the people around you. If you like them, stay, if you don’t go somewhere else.

Here we see a group of RVs clustered together.

If you want to camp alone, that’s easy as well. Just look around and find a quiet place by yourself. No one will bother you and you are perfectly safe .In the picture below is someone living all alone, no neighbors to bother him.

Here is an RV all alone–the choice is yours.

But isn’t it a dirty, filthy place? In some places it is. Below is an example of a “junk yard”. Other places are simply empty lots full of trash.

On the other hand, in these pictures you see two “homesteads” that have been there for years that are nice, neat and clean, obviously owned by people who take pride in themselves and their homes. Notice the wind generator for power and the 55 gallon water drum in the pickup bed. Add a 12 volt water pump and it is easy to get water


Whatever your budget, you can afford a “home” at the Slabs. I know someone who lived there for over a year in a tent, or you can just visit in a small, but very nice travel trailer.


It’s the perfect place for a converted school bus, or a nice 5th Wheel.


Or a nice motor home with a toad. The toad is a “towed-vehicle” So you park the RV and drive the high mpg toad.

Or, best of all, you can live in a van. Notice the van is tucked away under a big tree to stay in the shade.

You can plant your own garden.

 The “town” even has an Internet cafe and club…

… and its own library.

In the photo below you see a group of RVs clustered under trees with a big canopy up to provide shade from the sun.

Directions to the Slabs

First you want to drive to the tiny town of Niland, California. Niland is in the south eastern corner of California between Joshua Tree National Park and the Mexican border. You will probably be driving there on either Interstate 10 to the north or Interstate 8 to the south.

From Interstate 10 exit 145 and drive south on highway 86S. Get off on 111 and follow it until you arrive in Niland.

From Interstate 8 take exit 118 and drive north on 111 until you arrive at Niland (you have to do a dog-leg on highway 78 into Brawley where you pick up 111 again).

Once in Niland, you turn east on Main Street and drive 3 miles until you come to the Slabs.

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