On our way into Arizona, a friend of ours mentioned that we should check out “SLAB CITY”. She told us about how cool it was and that it was featured in the movie “Into the Wild”. She had never been there but told us that she had heard it was a lot of fun with great people and worth checking out. We looked at a map and discovered we were only an hour away from the “city” so decided to check it out.
We headed toward Niland, California, and came across the Salton Sea. This is a large body of water that appears out of nowhere in the middle of the desert. We stopped and checked out the visitor center and watched a film on the history of this everchanging area. After exploring the beaches, we jumped back in the car in search of nirvana. We envisioned a colorful hippie town with cool and unusual people that was full of fun and excitement. As we pulled into the town of Niland we saw signs of extreme poverty everywhere. Storefronts were boarded up, streets were deserted, cars abandoned and homes left in disarray. As we trudged up the lonely dirt road, past a massive power plant, we stumbled upon Salvation Mountain.
Salvation Mountain is an amazing tribute to God created by a man named Leonard Knight. Talking with him, we discovered that he has been in the desert for 24 years, making his mountain. As the kids climbed up and down the hills of this Dr. Seuss-like creation, Leonard walked us through the rooms of the mountain and explained how he made “Salvation Mountain”. He showed us how he uses adobe clay to form the walls and hills and after it is dry applies a latex paint. For the trees he uses tractor tires to form the stumps and then covers them in adobe to form the branches. He is very proud of his “forest” of trees in the desert. After spending some time with Leonard, we decided to go check out the rest of the “city”.
There was a sense of despair in the air as we passed one destroyed trailer after another. There was not much sign of life and that which we did see was quite depressing. It’s hard to imagine that in a country such as ours there are people living in such horrible conditions. With no running water or sewer systems, there was a constant stench in the air. The few people we did meet were very territorial about the makeshift yards that they had created. There were a few funky cars or crazily decorated rvs, but for the most part Slab City to us was quite disturbing. It felt like a huge homeless town that time had forgotten. We left Slab City with a sadness for the people that remained there. Obviously, they have chosen this lifestyle for themselves but it was sad to know that areas like this exist in the United States. Since our visit, we have talked to others that have gone to the area and loved it!
Unfortunately, our family didn’t find it to be the funky cool place that we thought it would be. I guess that is what makes traveling unique – everybody finds something different in an area and has a unique experience. We continued on our journey, confident that we wouldn’t be back to Slab City any time soon.