Is Slab City Actually Lawless?

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View of slab city

Slab City is a quirky and colorful community that has captured the imaginations of adventurers.

It’s the self-proclaimed “last free place in America” and has a reputation for being entirely lawless. But is Slab City actually lawless? Is it safe for you and your family to visit if passing through the area?

Today, we’ll take a closer look at the laws of this city full of hippies, artists, and free spirits.

Let’s get started!

What Is Slab City?

Slab City is a unique spot to visit if traveling through the Sonoran Desert in southeastern California.

This off-grid community is approximately 150 miles northeast of San Diego. It combines whimsy and creativity into the perfect spot for artists, dreamers, and adventurers.

The actual city is the site of a former World War II US Marine Corps base, Camp Dunlap. However, the base was decommissioned in the 1950s, and all that remains are the massive concrete slabs from the old building’s foundations.

As far as residents, you can find everything from full-timers to seasonal snowbirds occupying the land.

The population fluctuates throughout the year but thins considerably during the extreme summer conditions. Many individuals set up camps for short-term and long-term stays throughout winter.

The town lacks running water, sewage systems, and electrical power. Most visitors and residents utilize generators, solar panels, and other energy sources to survive.

While residents are on their own to handle waste disposal, water gets brought in from nearby towns to support the community.

This is a one-of-a-kind city, unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. It’s certainly not for everyone, but it can give you a peek into an alternative way of living. It’s a unique experience you might want to check out!

Who Owns the Land at Slab City?

The State of California owns the area that contains Slab City. After the decommissioning of Camp Dunlap in the 1950s, the state took over the land.

However, California has done nothing with the property, allowing it to develop as an unincorporated community. Since the city sits on government property, no traditional land ownership or property taxes exist.

Legally, those individuals inhabiting the land are squatting on state-owned property. They have no established lease agreements or property rights. If the state wanted to do something with the land, they could displace the residents at any time.

View of slab city

Why Is Slab City Called the Last Free Place?

The residents of Slab City enjoy a rather informal arrangement when it comes to occupying the land.

While it is technically state-owned, California hasn’t shown much interest in doing anything with it. In general, they typically take a hands-off approach to the activities and happenings of the residents.

As a result, the community has a general “live and let live” mentality. Drug use and other seedy activity are rather common. It’s not exactly an atmosphere that most people would describe as being family-friendly.

However, it’s the perfect spot for individuals who don’t like someone telling them what to do or how to live.

For many of the residents, the freedom that the area provides is the main attraction to the area. You don’t have to worry about building codes, zoning regulations, or utility fees. You may want to consider Slab City if this lifestyle appeals to you.

Is Slab City Actually Lawless?

While Slab City has a reputation as being lawless, that’s not entirely true. The city is within Imperial County, so federal, state, and local laws still apply in Slab City to residents and visitors of this unincorporated town.

Police can and do patrol the area on a somewhat infrequent basis. Its remote location doesn’t make it easy or convenient to access.

As a result, their patrols are typically few and far between. Typically, residents handle minor disputes among themselves without involving law enforcement.

Law enforcement does often turn a blind eye to some activities. As we mentioned, drug use and other seedy activities are rampant throughout the area. 

Fortunately, this isn’t the wild west. If a serious crime were to occur at Slab City, local authorities would be responsible for responding to and handling the situation.

The Imperial County Sheriff’s Department, or another law enforcement agency, would address and resolve the situation.

Safety Tips for Visiting Slab City

If you choose to visit Slab City, there are some important things you should do to stay safe. Here are several tips that can help keep you safe during your visit. Let’s take a look!

Respect the Locals

The number of residents will vary depending on the time of year. However, it’s important to remember that people live here and likely choose the location for its privacy and freedom.

Many residents may not take too kindly to strangers encroaching on their living space. Do yourself and the residents a favor and keep your distance.

We’re not trying to discourage you from interacting with individuals as you explore the area. Many locals enjoy socializing and sharing, especially about the artwork in the area. Just make sure you remain polite and respectful during your encounters.

Keep in Mind: Can Cops Search Your RV Without a Warrant? Let’s find out!

Bring Plenty of Water

The area has a very limited supply of water that gets brought in from neighboring communities.

As a result, we strongly encourage you to bring plenty of water with you. If you’re not consuming water, you can dehydrate very quickly, especially during the summer.

We recommend stocking up on water before heading out to visit the area. Have a few water bottles for each person and ensure they drink them.

Stay Aware of Your Surroundings

As you would in any unfamiliar area, be aware of your surroundings. You never know when a sketchy individual is up to no good.

You don’t want to sacrifice your safety and make yourself an easy target. Enjoy the experience and appreciate the art, but be aware of your surroundings.

Additionally, you must be aware of your surroundings to avoid accidentally venturing into someone’s living space. Most residents do a fantastic job marking off the space they’ve claimed for themselves, but you’ll still need to pay attention.

You don’t want to disrespect a resident because you’re not paying attention or watching where you’re walking.

View of slab city

Keep Your Valuables Secure

If you bring anything of value to Slab City, put it away or out of sight. You don’t want someone breaking into your vehicle to swipe your phone, GPS, or other expensive electronics while you’re exploring the area. Thieves won’t think twice if they see an easy opportunity to make a quick buck.

Wear the Right Clothes

When you visit this area, you must wear the right clothes. You can typically expect sunshine, but the summer can have extreme temperatures. Lightweight and breathable fabrics will be best. This will help you to stay as cool as possible.

You’ll also want to ensure you cover as much of your skin as possible. Lightweight and breathable long-sleeve shirts work best. This can help reduce the risks of sun exposure so that you can take your time exploring the area.

Keep in Mind: One of the big attractions in Slab City is Salvation Mountain! Click the link to learn the story behind this tourist attraction.

Be Mindful of Wildlife

You can’t forget that Slab City is a part of the Sonoran Desert. This desert is home to various snakes, lizards, and tortoises.

There’s a chance you’ll come across a rattlesnake, tarantula, scorpion, or centipede during your visit. If you do, keep a safe distance to avoid any issues.

We typically recommend taking a “look but don’t touch” approach regarding wildlife. You don’t want to put yourself or the animals in danger. So appreciate them from a distance so you can live to see another day.

A snake in slab city

Minimize Your Stay

Take your time to explore the area, appreciate the art, and snap your pictures but don’t linger. There’s no use in hanging out in the area longer than necessary. 

In our experience, nothing good happens by spending more time than necessary in a sketchy area. So hop back in your car and head back to civilization as soon as you’ve experienced Slab City.

Is Visiting Slab City Worth It?

There aren’t many places on earth like Slab City. While seeing the many #slabcity pictures is a great way to get a preview, it’s something best appreciated in person. 

If you’re passing through this area, it’s worth a quick stop. However, we recommend staying elsewhere and driving in to experience this unique community as a short day trip. You’ll never forget it!

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