The temperature was in triple digits as we drove eastward from the shore of the Salton Sea to what is known as Slab City. It was hot even for this lover of the desert. But this was not the Northern Mojave where one can escape to 7,000-foot elevations or higher before the soles of your hiking boots begin to melt into a rubbery, sticky goo. This was the Colorado Desert well to the south, and even the lizards seemed to be sweating. We bounced along a narrow paved road and passed a sign: WELCOME TO SLAB CITY. And then another: BEWARE OF RATTLESNAKES.
Escapees in a couple of recreational vehicles (RV’s) waved as they headed “out of town.” The population of Slab City can exceed 2,000 during the winter months as “snowbirds” from all over the country head toward this Southern California desert for the free camping. As temperatures begin to rise in early May they escape to cooler climes. By late June, when thermometers can hit an unforgiving 120 degrees, the hardier “Slabbers,” about 150, are all that remain. Today, occasional wind gusts whipped up dust storms that sand-blasted the sides of trailers.
Slab City derives its moniker from the abandoned World War II Marine training facility once known as Camp Dunlap. When the base closed in the early 1980s the government tore down the barracks, officers’ club, and other buildings, leaving only their concrete foundations. The site is still owned by the government, but is uncontrolled. There is no electricity, no water and, as we discovered by looking around, no trash disposal.
The little burg of Niland is three miles away. It’s a short drive for gas, propane, and other essentials at the only grocery store. There’s an ATM at the gas station and a dump station at the fairgrounds. You can stock up on bottled water or pay the local water company to rent and deliver a water tank to your site...