Slab City: Life in the middle of nowhere

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January 14, 2012

Shoes in a tree in the middle of the Sonoran Desert

By Bob Difley

The Slabs, or Slab city is a hardscrabble desert settlement scattered between the creosote bushes on BLM land in the Mojave Desert near the Salton Sea. It acquired its name from the remains of concrete slabs that once supported buildings of a former government facility, now long gone.

At Quartzsite, it is understandable why RVers gather in the thousands every winter to attend the many RV shows, flea markets, and all the other quirky things that develop when there are essentially no laws about what you can do and where you can do it, especially true on the millions of acres of sparsely patrolled open desert under BLM administration.

Lacking the glamour and lure of Quartzsite, though, it is a mystery why The Slabs has grown into a seasonal RV city, where Snowbirds of every type, size, and configuration move in and spend the winter. The local town and only supply center is not what you would call a tourist attraction. It looks more like a settlement in a Mad Max movie.

The population isn’t just made up of those who can’t afford to stay in RV resorts or campgrounds, though the Slabs’ population includes many of them also, as well as those cast off by the recession and many who have lost their homes. But the majority (I’m guessing) of the winter residents consist of those that don’t like the formality or constrictions of a campground, who like to boondock out in the open desert, life without civilization’s appendages—water, electric, and sewage hookups. Generators and solar panels, and even an occasional wind turbine, provide individual power for everything from icemakers to computers.

In impromptu settlements, like The Slabs and others that host a large collection of snowbirds, some who are still well below retirement age have figured out a way to support themselves while living the RV lifestyle. Do not be surprised to find someone with a water truck offering to fill your water tanks, pump-out trucks to empty your holding tanks, and in ultra large snowbird locations, like Quartzsite, tent stands offering fresh produce, RV repairs, and frozen fish.

Many residents offer some kind of service or skill to the rest of the community, often on a free advisory basis, or for cash, trade, or barter. Several RVers set up tables beside their rigs creating a seasonal, sprawling flea market, offering everything from homemade arts and crafts to jellies and jams.

Message boards advise of various items either wanted or for sale and instructions to new arrivals on how they can find their friends who have already arrived–and the “rules” that have been established by the collective RVers if you want to stay there, even though enforcement rarely happens.

A reporter from the Los Angeles Times recently visited the Slabs and wrote an interesting perspective on the community and some of its residents.

If you’re out and about wandering anywhere near the south east end of the Salton Sea, plan a stop. Slab city is a fascinating slice of life in the USA that most of the country and few RVers never see.

Check out my website for RVing tips and destinations.

Leave a Reply


  1. Tony baloney

    I lived in slab City for eight years and it is not BLM land, but what its is ,is a 700 acre dump filled with trash, drunks, thief’s, crack heads, speed freaks, and low life disrespectful degenerates who can’t function in the real word. In eight years in slab city , I have seen or know about ten people murder and over 60 people who where burnt out and of 10 people who where beaten half to death!

  2. Mike Vacccari

    Slab City appears in the movie “Into the Wild,” where the mobile residents are described as “Rubber Hobos,” rubber as in wheels, compared to “Leather Hobos,” who are hobos on foot. The movie depicts an easy going, crafty community with a great variety of attractive features.

  3. Jim Peterson

    THANKS for keeping your review positive. Of course, the Slabs aren’t everyone’s idea of a good time . . . what place is? But, personally, I’d sooner stay there than crammed in like sardines in some fancy RV park with a maintenance crew that fires up every gas-powered piece of landscape equipment known to man at 8 AM sharp!

  4. Dave Oglevie


    You forgot to mention how much of a trash dump Slab City has become. Nobody is in charge of trash, there are no dumpsters, thus the transients just leave their garbage for others to deal with. It looks like a dump.

    You also failed to mention the nightly CB radio “newscast”. This is almost as good to listen to as Bush Radio in Sitka, AK.

    Dave Oglevie
    presently at Gunsite Wash BLM, 2 miles south of Why, AZ

  5. The Slab City and the Salton Sea are not in the Mojave Desert. Slab City is in the Imperial Valley of CA, as is much of the Salton Sea, in the Colorado Desert.

  6. butterbean carpenter

    Howdy guru swami difley,

    Are you agonna make Slab City your Shangri La???? Thatz what a lot of folkz
    believe ‘boondocking’ is!!!! WELL, IT AIN’T OR WASN’T INTENDED TO BE!!! Not according to my guru!!! He don’t want no trash, noise, neighbors or FedEX!!!