Leaving Palm Springs behind, we headed through Joshua National Forest. We camped for the night in the park then headed down to Slab City.
Slab City is a land where it is free to live, a community of travelers without cohesive rules other than take care of your own trash.
We drove south in California until we saw signs for hot springs, wanting a shower and a relaxing soak we diverted. $10 later we sat in mineral hot springs outside Niland California visiting with people living in the RV park. Snowbirds, people who live in RVs and travel with the weather- retirees who enjoy the desert winter and northern summer. They talked of favorite travel places and shared stories. They love their mobility.
We made it to Slab City about two hours before sunset. Graffiti art led us to Salvation Mountain and beyond welcoming us to Slab City. Salvation mountain was a painted mountain with man made life size art structures built in and around it. Tourists crawled over and through it like ants on a pastel birthday cake or a Dr. Seuss bible school paper mache display. God is love towered over the shadows.
We looked at camps spread across the desert. Rusted bits of garbage peppered the landscape. I wanted a giant dumpster and gloves. We found a place to park and I explored while Danny set up camp. I walked beyond the RVs, trees, tents and makeshift structures to rolling hills covered with atv tracks.
A man was coming out of the desert. It felt practically Biblical, he politely introduced himself as a priest, named David. We talked about the slabs, he said being there reminds you that your first responsibility is to take care of yourself. His faith believes we are all responsible for every choice we make, that every choice should be a good one. He encouraged me to visit Salvation Mountain.
We made sure before we arrived that we had enough water. There is no water there. I was glad as the sun beat down on my walk to and from the mountain.
I went to the mountain, the artwork was impressive, painting on haybales coated with hardened mud. Mud flowers, kind words, compassion, decorations made of a myriad of discarded objects. Tourists exploring, occasionally looking at the primitive and off the grid camps around the mountain.
The night was quiet, the stars were bright, lights flashed from a silent fire truck and ambulance that went to another camp and left dark. The morning brought a visit from Dave. Dave moved to the Slabs two months ago after leaving St. Paul, he was excited to get his trailer today. One of his friends helped him move, he was actually leaving to rent an apartment as his medical health needed him to have more access to water. They both said five people died by staying the summer without preparing with enough water or means of cooling themselves. They stressed the importance of hydration and taking care of oneself. They asked how long we were staying and we were invited to social events.
I took a bike ride to scout out the hot springs near Salvation Mountain. There was a cardboard sign asking volunteers to help clean the hot spring. I rode up and looked at a refreshing natural bubbling hot spring, muddy water with a clear cold spring around the corner to shower off at.
I met an older man in a kilt with short hair and two long grey dreadlocks. Cuervo with his dog Blackie. Cuervo lives in a hay and mud structure he built in Slab City. Hay is free, mud is free. We looked at Salvation Mountain, he asked what I thought so I told him. It was an amazing artwork, I'm not religious but it was impressive. Cuervo smiled and kept working out with his dumbbells. "God is Love. Love is God. Now look at it that way. Really that's how all religions should look at it. That's what it's saying." It looked different with that in mind. Love is God.
Chocolate Jesus stood with a smile, his pants a patchwork of protest against ignorance, hate, and violence. He was a college student on break, living with his guitar and backpack. Playing his way up and down the beautiful, free places in California. He was shocked at the news of world events. Cuervo asked what I thought was wrong with the world, why it had gotten so far from love. Another man told me later that every night at the Hot Springs there are metaphysical debates on the self as well as the world.
I had the feeling talking to Dave that no one is overeager to pick up trash as it might encourage more people to come.
As we prepared to leave we met John, who travels and lives in free camping areas year round. John gave us pointers for Yuma and Quartzite. We delighted in waving at a man flying his motorized glider over the Slabs.
David, the priest told me that most who live at Slab City have some sort of income they use to get water, food and supplies. Everyone travels somewhere else for the hottest part of summer unless they have a set up with air conditioning.
As we left, a group of people set up an EZ up to give away cell phones. There was a sign from a church on a wellness outreach Saturday. Saturdays hold music night on the stage, Sunday offers church.
It was the largest primitive campground I've been to, reminding me of the many primitive campgrounds I've stayed in for two months or more at a time working renaissance festivals. Except rennies would build more and use free pallets to build with. I was surprised that few did, most burnt them as free firewood, leaving patches of rusted nails on the ground where you hope your tires manage to avoid them.
As we drove out, the graffiti warned us that we were now entering reality.
We didn't make it to Yuma early enough to go to Fortuna pond to enjoy free camping on the BLM land as suggested by John, but we have settled for the night among the RVs at Super Wal-Mart. Tomorrow, Quartzite and the largest RV outdoor market event of the winter in the southwest.
Living on campgrounds, living in a vehicle is yet another lifestyle of those who wander, another way of demonstrating that "not all who wander are lost" and not all who are transient are homeless. There are many definitions of Home.