Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Slab City

Slab City (formerly a World War 2, USMC Artillery Training Base), is located a few miles outside of Niland, California.  The base, which closed in 1946 is about 120 feet below sea level, in the desert near Salton Sea. The buildings were torn down and only the cement slabs were left behind. Through the years people starting living here either full-time or on a seasonal basis.  There are exactly ZERO utilities here. That means no water, electricity, and no plumbing. The people living here are mostly artistic, counter culture, crazy, or eccentric. Throw in some snow birds who come here to escape cold weather and you got a pretty eclectic group.

Post Apocalypse is a good description of it. They have a library (of sorts), crude yet creative galleries (of sorts) and even a couple of bars. All electricity is from solar, wind, or generators.  Somewhere close, there must be a VERY stinky dump! If I had to sum it up in one sentence, I'd say it's hippie commune meets Mad Max... Personally, I think it's amazing, but I could never live here. Maybe back in the day, but not now. The place has clearly seen better days...

This was the original gate guard blockhouse at the entrance gate to the base.

From what I've seen, this is a pretty typical looking resident of Slab City.

Two of the most well known characters around these parts are "Half Pint" and her donkey. They are well known enough, that even I know who they are.

Please meet Half Pint's hippie donkey. It's waiting for her outside of a small store in the fast approaching modern day ghost town of Niland. That little slice of decay will have it's own post pretty soon.

Slab City is about one square mile in size. Although most of it isn't as congested looking as this, a lot of it is. This photo was taken from the jeep and those smudges in the sky are most likely squished bugs. 

A Slab City estate.

Lot's of "hippie" type buses.

Some local art! (you know I had to have a least one black and white shot in the group.

Mobile folk art.  Do you think it actually runs?

Who ever lives in this one has some electricity.

A Slab City night club called the "Range." Okay, how do they keep the beer cold. Or do they?

Slab City condos?

This thing was awesome looking. I wanted to get a closer look, but the locals were chasing us with pitchforks and torches (not really).  Embiggen for a closer look at the whatever it is...

More buses and I don't know what the heck those containers are. Maybe studio apartments.

Slab City is another example of the strange things (and people) you see in the deserts of America. I love the desert for those two reasons and because of the amazing landscape.  This place is less than 200 miles from Los Angeles and about 75 miles from San Diego and I'll bet you that 99.9% of the population of both cities have never seen, or even heard of this place. Probably half of those who've heard of it, would be too afraid to go there.



  1. Looks very interesting ! Something unthinkable here in KL !

  2. What a great blog I could see its a place attractive to the likes of Charlie Manson and family or something out of the Texas chainsaw massacre lol.

    But I love to spend a few nights there just to see what its like great post.

  3. What an anmazing lookign place. I would love to stay there for a(short)while and see what makes it tick. A wonderful post Pat.

    Chrissy from Manchester: a photo a day at Mancunian Wave

  4. I have GOT to get down there one day after school~ maybe when the afternoon light is longer! Very interesting. There is a school down there, also...Sea View Elementary and high school.

  5. What a place! Such an interesting place. Thanks for the pics.

  6. Very interesting post Pat. Definitely a strange place with "interesting" people... the imagination runs wild!!

  7. those containers are water, i believe.

    what an interesting place! i'm surprised the government allows the squatters to stay there like that...

  8. that is a rather unique place. where do they get their water?

  9. That really is quite the place and there is so many unique things!

  10. AMAZING--we are going to have to start a - WHERE IN THE HELL IS PAT TILLETT? LOL--What Country are you in! ;-)

    Great stuff Buddy! Great stuff!


  11. Amazing!! I'm really not surprised that it's in California and I bet you're right about the percentage of the population that knows about it -- or would even believe it if they saw it -- desert hallucination, maybe! Why and how anyone could/would choose to live like this is surely beyond me! Interesting, eye-opening post for the day Pat!!


  12. I am east of LA and north of San Diego and I have never heard of this place ... I may have to check it out this summer tho. the family loves an adventure :)

  13. Some people like to live that way...that's what a lot of them come to the East for...though most of them are stoned or a easy way out. If we had all the answers, why would we be aping the west? :)

    Like the picture like a documentary.

  14. No offense, but I sure couldn't do it. I like my amenities too much.

    Love the shoe tree, even if it is a waste of shoes!

  15. Amazing! As many times as we have been out there, I have never heard of it.

  16. As many times as we have been out there, I have never heard of it!! Great pics :)

  17. Wong - I'm it's unthinkable to a lot of people in the US also.

    becca - It is very interesting. It looks like life after society ends.

    Armand - Hey there! Long time no see. You are so right, I'm sure there are folks living there who want/need to stay off the grid. Thanks!

    Chrissy - Thanks Chrissy! The place has seen better days, but I agree with you.

    trav4adventures - It's not too far of a trip for you I think. We didn't make it to Bombay Beach (where the schools are), but maybe next time. I've been there before and a lot of the people there are NOT very friendly to folks who are just there for the photos.

    Clarissa - My pleasure Clarissa. It's just one very interesting place in the middle of a lot of interesting places.

  18. Liz - Thanks Liz! I think you just described it perfectly!

    TexWisGirl - I think you are right. Usually, they have to get in town, or buy it (maybe from this guy). The entire Salton Sea area defies logic. Even it's history!

    Budd - Very unique. they go into town and get it from a gas station or buy it from water trucks. They sure don't waste any on growing things... (well, I'm sure some things are grown there)

    Brian - There sure are! It's worth at least one visit.

    John - HA! The country of California. Where you can find just about anything. Especially in the desert.

    Sylvia K - You are so right! Just about anything goes here. Desert hallucinations caused by peyote maybe. There are a lot of folks who want or need, to stay off the grid. Thanks Sylvia!

  19. diane - You aren't the only one! I've talked to some folks who live pretty darn close to it, and they've never heard of it either. If you go during the summer, take plenty of sun screen, it is blistering hot there...

    Rek - I agree with you, but I'm not sure you'd see these people in Goa, or places like that. Some of them, yes, but I'm not sure these people are looking the "answers." Have a great week Rek!

    Ms. A - I couldn't either, but there are some Canadian snowbirds mixed in there who aren't lacking any of the amenities in their awesome motor homes.

  20. Thetis - hey there! There's a whole lot of folks who can say that. Maybe I know about it, because I'm a "fringe" person myself. Hope you are doing well! Tell Keith hello!

  21. It's been years since I was down by the Salton Sea. I always loathed that area. Hot, ugly, barren. I don't remember Slab City but I do recall random trailers and shacks. So, maybe?

    One of the magazine shows did a feature on it a few wks ago. Cannot recall which one but it was interesting.

  22. Hey Pat, You sure do get around. How did you find this place??? I'd be like you: take some pics and get outta town. Must be really weird after dark:)

  23. It really looks like a very weird place. Greetings.

  24. I think if they ever got that one pickup on the road in would receive every moving violation possible!

  25. That is phenomenal, Pat. That is the coolest looking place I have seen in a while. The pictures are amazing and I can only imagine what the "night life" is like. Talk about doing your own thing...here nothing would seem odd! What a country we live in.

  26. Well, it beats paying rent and utilities every month. I'm afraid I couldn't live there either. No privacy.

  27. Very cool place.
    Totally unrelated but I have been to the outback area in Australia where they filmed the original Mad Max
    The landscape is very similar

  28. An intriguing place for me, and so many questions come to mind! I would like to stay for a couple days to learn more, but wouldn't live there either!

    Fantastic photos, Pat!

  29. Very interesting and maybe a little bit surreal place!You did a great reportage, congratulations!

  30. looks intresting... did you meet many locals?

  31. Wow. You do manage to find some amazing places, Pat! I love the "shoe tree!"

  32. Fascinating! I'd say some very interesting characters live there! Make a great book.

  33. that sure is an interesting place.

    a wonderful post as usual. thanks for sharing those wonderful photos.

  34. That was pretty wild! Thanks for the pictures. As I thought about it, warm beer is better than no beer.
    Unless it's Ballantines, Schaefer, or Piels Real Draft .
    Piss water at any temp.

  35. California Girl - It's gets hot as can be during the summer. You might have been to Bombay Beach, which is a "regular" community, but still very odd. When I was a kid, I had to camp out in the heat during the summer. My grandparents were pure desert rats and they loved the heat. Me? Not so much...

    Rosemary - You just wouldn't believe how much stuff there is to see in California. Much of it somewhat odd... I don't think it's dangerous in Slab City, but I'm sure there are some folks there who are "hiding out," who don't want to be found. So being there is one thing, but poking around might not be a wise thing to do.

    Japy - It's weird, but I like the feel of it. Thanks Japy!

    Alex - I'm sure it would also. But, I thinking the local police (there isn't any!) wouldn't care!

    Chuck - thanks Chuck! What you said is especially so in California. One of the reasons I like it here so much. Fringe folks are usually welcome.

    Belle - I know what you mean about the privacy, but some folks there have built little compounds and/or sleep in their trailers and such.

  36. TheChieftess - Yep! There was a point in my life (a long time ago), that if I knew about it, I might have gone there for a while. Not now though...

    Mynx - I think so also! I immediately thought of Mad Max when I first saw this place. There are quite a few dirt bikes there also.

    Icy BC - I know! You'd have to stay there for a while to figure out how it all works. I like to interview people and I just might do that next time I'm in the area. Which will be pretty soon.

    Leia - Very surreal! Thanks so much my friend!

    baygirl - I didn't really talk to anyone this trip. The folks who were around, weren't giving us very inviting glares. I'm sure there is a "spokesperson" who would talk to me though. I'm going to check it out.

    Lolamouse - We do manage to find some amazing places. Thanks! I'd rather go to a non-tourist place than a resort any day. I really liked the tree also. About 100 miles deeper in the desert is a fence with hundreds of shoes hanging from it. It's in the absolute middle of nowhere. I hope to be seeing that pretty soon.

  37. Reena - Yes it is! Oh yeah, interesting characters, just might be an understatement.

    Betty M - Thanks Betty! My pleasure!

    Al Penwasser - I totally agree with you. You might want to add Carling Black Label to that list.
    As fate would have it, I did a post a long time ago relating to what lengths people will go to, to NOT drink warm beer. Here's a link if you have the time and/or inclination.

  38. Gret post and fabulous shots! Love the shot of the donkey!
    Seems a very interesting place!
    Thanks for sharing. And thanks for visiting my place and taking the time to comment;o)

    Hope you are having a nice week****

  39. Been there done that! (Well, done that in the same way you guys did -- in awe and wonder and delight that we saw it, but also knowing we could never stay there!) Doesn't look like it's changed a heck of a lot in the intervening years. Some of those pix could be mine (I have an old post on slab city, if you want to check it out click on California). Thanks for the memories!!!!

  40. I think I would be reluctant to visit, some of these desert types don't care for strangers.

  41. That's incredibly interesting, Pat. I'm sure I would be out of place, but would be facinated talking to the people and getting to know them. Thanks for letting us tag along.

  42. You have taken us to some pretty amazing places but this one is sooo far-out there!
    Your photos are awesome, Pat.
    cheers :)

  43. very, very cool. I can definitely see the appeal but I don't think I could do it - too soft!

  44. What a fascinating place...Desert people are weird.. like hippies minus the flowers..because there's no water to grow any... still, i like hippies, (i'm a closet one) and would like to try it..maybe six months...just for the experience.. reminds me of our own Coober Pedy..a lot bigger as its an actual town, but many ppl live underground, and its attracts the 'eccentric' ... people dissapear in deserts.. that's all I'm sayin..


    Some great shots here too Patty - glad you escaped to tell the tale... ;)

  45. Hi Pat, What a wonderful post! You did a great job capturing the essence of this fascinating place and your commentary is witty, informative, but respectful and objective. The shot of the man walking down the road is exceptional and the depth of field is perfect. This is my second viewing and I've been talking about this post to my friends and family for 2 days! Your reportage from this area is such a treat!

  46. Mildred - Thanks so much! It is indeed interesting! My pleasure on the comments.

    Sallie - There aren't many of us that can say that. I'd say most of the change is reflected in decay. I remember your post! I commented after you posted it and when I went back yesterday.

    Martha Z - You are right about that Martha. Sometimes though, they are very interesting to talk to.

    Laura - Thanks Laura! I agree with you. In the middle of all this, there are some expensive motorhomes there for the winter from colder areas.

    Pam - Thanks Pam! I really try to find something unusual wherever we go.

    mshatch - Thanks so much! It would take some getting used to, that's for sure.

  47. Anthony - The desert can always be counted on for interesting finds. Sometimes they are people, sometimes it's folk art, and sometimes, it's just all the abandonded junk. I'll check out the video. Thanks Anthony!

    Stickup Artist - Hey there! wow! Any compliments from you relating to photos, is greatly appreciated. I say that because you are one of the best photographers I've seen here, or anywhere else. Thanks again!

  48. Boy, have you made my night tonight. I will be thinking about the donkey and the condo and the bar....etc. as I am going to sleep. We still have a left over commune here way out in the country, but many of the people have moved up the ladder a bit and built homes. All of the photos were great painting a wonderful picture of the area. You need to make friends with one of them so you can get inside a bit farther. Great post. genie

  49. Patrick, thanks for this post. I've read about this place and find it fascinating.

  50. Incrível... uma cidade perdida no deserto.
    Bom domingo!
    ♥ •˚。
    °° 。♥。
    ●/ ♥•˚。˚
    / \ 。˚。♥

  51. I don't know if you were kidding about the containers but I know I've seen them around here so I showed the picture to my daughter and she said around here they have chemicals in them and usually nitrogen. We thought maybe they were using them for water.

  52. It seems a odd but interesting place to visit

  53. Hi Pat! Wow! What a bizarre place but fascinating, too! It's hard to believe it is located so close to those cities. I loved the photos of the funky art! :-)

  54. I have not been in this part of Slab City. But I see a lot of them come and visit Salvation Mountain. They do not welcome people with cameras.

    I have read one article in the LA Times, that a few families moved in this area, who were laid off from work and could not find employment. They settle here, maybe temporarily, and rent free.

  55. Yes, I like, pretty pictures, an amazing world that I like to visit. Greetings.

  56. Genie - Thanks for saying that!I'm thinking that they let the people stay out here IF, they don't build anything permanent. I will try to find someone who lives there and is willing to talk. My wife always accuses me of interviewing people anyway... Thanks again!

    dot - Hi Dot! My pleasure! I'm going to go back and get more info.

    Magia - Thanks so much Magia!

    dot - I wasn't kidding at all. Someone else also said water. I'm thinking that is probably correct. thanks again...

    Sergio - that is a good description of it. Odd but interesting!

  57. Pam - Hi Pam! Yep, it's close to them, but still in the middle of nowhere. Thanks so much!

    Ebie - I know what you mean, but to me, if a person is out in public, they are fair game for photos!

    Leovi - Thanks Leovi! It is a great place to visit.

  58. I bet you add OC to that 99.9% nummber. What an interesting place. It reminds me of a hippie commune too.

  59. You lead an interesting life.

    This is an unusual place. Hippie yes; Mad Max no - he would be screaming and running toward Thunderdome begging to get work with the pigs in the methane plant.

    The artwork is interesting?

    Darryl and Ruth :)

  60. Wow. That is crazy. I'm pretty sure that I could never live there, but that's cool for people that want to.

  61. I swear. Every single time I read that word 'imbiggen' I am overwhelmingly impressed with your word mastery.

    They need to put that in the dictionary and give you credit for it.

    It is one of the best new words. Ever.

    Love this trip you're taking us on.

  62. love hearing about your adventures. until now i've never heard of slab city but it sounds and looks fascinating. thanks for sharing!

  63. You are sure finding the unusual, Pat! Your B&W show tree shot is superb. Surely that mobile folk art thingy doesn't actually function...

    It's taking me forever to get through your posts with my slow proxy, but it's all fascinating to see through your lens, Pat. :-)

  64. Patrick Tillet: you know that image of me and my mule?I did Not give consent to post our image on your website, along with some slur. I was not aware of your underhanded ways of getting pics of ppl out here. And stop judging ppl. IS THAT YOUR (ASS)PIRATION of life? Well leave me and my me the FUCK OUT.

  65. Unknown - First off, I don't need your consent. Secondly, your face isn't even showing in the photo. Thirdly, while you were in the market, I asked the mule, he said "no problem!"

    I just read this post about five times and I can't find a slur directed towards either of you. I almost said that people say you are crazy, but I didn't because I didn't know it first hand. Now I do and wish I had said it.

    I will honor your wish, and I promise to leave you and your you the F*** OUT.


This blog is word verification free.
I love your comments and will do my best to respond to each and every one.