Slab City

Remarkable contrast between extremes

Palm Desert, Calif. – Spend a day in the unrelenting heat of the Sonoran Desert in Southern California and undertake a remarkable journey of extremes. A family vacation offers teachable moments in the most unexpected of places.

The first extreme on our list is of the pleasurable and tourist variety aboard the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Visitors to this popular experience board the aerial tramway under sweltering desert heat before they ascend to the snow-capped Mount Station perched with its commanding views of Coachella Valley at 8,516 feet. A remarkable fun and extreme change all in about 10 minutes. It’s the perfect kind of high altitude, touristy fun for all at Mt. San Jacinto Park.


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Slab City

Slab City kiosk

Our next experience would take us from the comforts of our modern hotel to Slab City. A community south of the Salton Sea roasting beneath the brittle-dry landscape where residents choose to live outside government and societal control to a remarkable extent. Wikipedia articulates it best;

“Slab City, also called The Slabs, is an unincorporated, off-the-grid alternative lifestyle community[1] consisting largely of snowbirds[2] in the Salton Trough area of the Sonoran Desert, in Imperial County, California. It took its name from concrete slabs that remained after the World War II Marine Corps Camp Dunlap training camp was torn down.[3] Slab City is known for attracting people who want to live outside mainstream society”

Devoid of Basic Services

Located just east of Niland (pop. ~1,000), Slab City is an isolated community living in extreme conditions devoid of the most basic services we often take for granted. There is no running water, sewage, plumbing or electricity here, unless a resident has devised their own makeshift solution. There are generally no emergency services available and the nearest hospital is about 30 miles away. County police may respond to emergencies and have been known to track down fugitives here.

People here are friendly and tend to keep mostly to themselves. Generally, if you don’t get involved in other people’s business, you won’t have an issue. Out of respect, we kept our picture taking to a bare minimum.

Slab City is often referred to as “The Last Free” place and has no government. As with any community, there are rules, customs and traditions no matter how far afield they stray from societal norms. While residents subsist on very little, the education and backgrounds of its residents varies just like anywhere else in America. People choose this atypical life by choice.

An America Lifestyle

A visit here provides many moments of reflection on both modern society and those who either can’t or don’t wish to “fit in” for whatever reason. As with most travels, it offers another reminder that there is no singular viewpoint representing the American lifestyle. There is a place for every imaginable lifestyle.

While this particular lifestyle appeals to a very small group of hearty souls, we could all probably benefit from the “live and let live” credo of this community.

Salvation Mountain

Salvation Mountain

Slab City probably won’t be a comfortable place for most people to visit. However, nearby Salvation Mountain is a very fascinating destination worth a visit if you’re passing through the area. A fun experience whether you are a person of religious faith or not. It’s considered a National Folk Art Shrine.

Salvation Mountain is one man’s unique mission to spread a message of God is Love in the remote desert through adobe clay, straw and donated paint. It’s just one of those places you have to see, to see it.

A remarkable sight and story that has taken years to craft in the desert heat. It’s impossible not to marvel at.

Saks Fifth Avenue

Saks Fifth Avenue

For a final visit of the day and opportunity to show our children an example of extremes, we head back to Coachella Valley. Next stop Saks Fifth Avenue in Palm Desert.

Following a full day exploring the dusty desert, we probably appeared a little tired and disheveled.

Upon entering Saks Fifth Avenue, staff were perfectly groomed and attired. We felt out of place.

Browsing the store and noting prices, such as the $200+ flip flops, our family began to ponder the dramatic extremes of the day as just a couple hours prior we were in a community that lacked plumbing, electricity and running water.

Conversation starters

The experience was an incredible conversation starter within our family about the extremes that exist not only in the desert, but society in general. Humans seek out and find their worth and purpose in every conceivable way.

While it’s not our place to judge any of them, it does offer valuable lessons for how we choose to navigate the life paths we walk down and how to treat the people we meet along the way in this grand adventure.

We finally made our way back to our hotel to get cleaned up and enjoyed a family dinner together. This evening’s meal would be served up with healthy portions of understanding, compassion, and gratitude.

Live light, travel light, be the light.

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