From the Salton Sea to Slab City, Niland, California

I’m not in a hurry to leave our Salton Sea camp.

Send-off party

More shore birds than ever congregate in front of our campsite.  While I pack up, Spike goes on a long, solitary walk down the beach and back.  “Did you say your goodbye, Spike?  I think you really like it here.”

Goodbye,Salton Sea Camp!

Bridget and Spike hop into the Perfect Tow Vehicle.  Just then a man and woman appear!  They introduce themselves as Linda and Stephen from Vancouver Island, B.C. and they’re camped here, too.  “You don’t know us because we’re lurkers on your blog.  We’ve got our GPS.”  Stephen holds out his hand to show me. “We’re geocaching.”

Spike and Bridget jump out to greet our visitors. 

Before we part ways, Linda says they’re going over to look at the Slabs.  “Well, that’s where we’re headed, too. Maybe we’ll see you there.”

The sound of the PTV’s gears as we accelerate onto Highway 111 ramps up my anticipation for our next camp.

I’m ready for a Slab Experience, but first . . . .

The highway follows the shore and brings us to Bombay Beach.  Once a getaway for the rich and famous, now the glamor is gone and it’s a very dreary place.  The tumble-down homes and outbuildings huddle together like bums in an trash-laden alley.  As I expect, a gate is across the entrance to the state park.

Not long after Bombay Beach, we drive through Niland looking for a dump station.

Niland sits like the crown jewel of poverty in the poorest county in the state of California.  Hoo-boy.  Here’s the predictable dumpy grocery store, bars on the windows and door, liquor signs flashing.  Oh, and the laundromat.  Depressing.  It’s pretty bad when the most attractive building in town is the gas station.

I search both sides of the road, looking for a sign of the RV dump station.

We pass the school.  Oh, these poor people, trying to make a living and raise a family here.  The town disappears behind us and we enter an agricultural area, green fields on both sides of the road.  No dump station. We must’ve passed it.  I look for a place to turn around.  Huh? What’s this?  Sheep!

“Is that who I think it is?”

“Hey, look! It’s RVSue and her canine crew!”


Returning to Niland (not a phrase I hope to type often in this blog), I stop at the gas station for propane.

As I put the cover back over the tanks, a couple drives up.

“I saw you turn around and followed you here,” the tall, slim man announces as he gets out of his car, looking at the Best Little Trailer.  “I want to get one of those in Texas, but the taxes will kill me.”  I wait for an explanation.  “My credit union says I have to register it and I live in California.”  He stops.  Mentioning California is enough explanation I guess.  He wonders out loud if the ceiling is high enough for him, so I get out my key and let him step inside.

After they leave, I open up my laptop and google “Niland dump station.”

I find it’s on Fourth Street.  A few blocks up the road we approach a huge sign, “RV Dump Station.”  The sign faces only one way, a metaphor for the town . . . . (One way to crap, for those of you who aren’t paying attention.).

The dump station is in the Niland Community Park.

The “park” is a big, flat area of dirt with some dilapidated sheds, concrete picnic tables, and one brilliantly beautiful bougainvillea in full bloom.  Bridget and Spike think this is our new home so they’re barking their fool heads off.  I walk them around the “park.”  They empty their waste tanks, then I empty the BLT’s.  At the other end of the “park” is a place to get fresh drinking water and pay $10.00.

Next stop is the grocery store.

I park around back.  While parking, I see a guy looking at me expectantly.  Great.  A panhandler.  “Ma’am, could you give me fifty cents?  I’m hoping to get three dollars so I can get something to eat.”  I reach in my change purse, grab some coins, and place them in his hand.  I look back as I enter the store and he’s already found another “customer.”

I drive down Main Street which oddly isn’t the main street.

I stick out my hand and stop a guy in a shiny, white truck.  “Is this the way to Salvation Mountain?” I ask.  He smiles.  “If you mean Slab City, keep going, you can’t miss it.”  Not long thereafter a car approaches with arms waving out both sides.  “It’s Linda and Stephen!”  We wave and exchange smiles in the instant we pass.

The crew and I arrive at Slab City.

Shave the quails?

Well, almost.

Feel the love.

We officially arrive at Slab City.

Salvation Mountain comes into view.

We slowly travel down the main road. 

Suffice it for me to say, there are a lot of different people here living in different conditions, and it’s difficult for me to know where to set up camp.  I get out my cellphone and call Ken.  (Ken is a guy I met last spring while we camped at Williard Springs, south of Flagstaff.  He’s the owner of Scooter who took a bite out of crime aka Spike.  Ken said he might be at the Slabs again for the winter.  I called him yesterday and found out he’s here!)

Ken answers my call.

Ken leads us to our campsite.

“Ken, I’m overwhelmed.  Can you show me a good place to camp?”

Ken is surprised to learn the crew and I are parked right around the corner from the pet cemetery where he happens to be visiting his dog’s grave (Sorry, Spike, it’s not Scooter’s.).

Ken immediately shows up on his motorcycle.

He remembers that I prefer a campsite with some space around it, not crowded in with other campers.

I’m happy with the site he finds for the crew and me.

While Bridget and Spike relax in their pen and Scooter plays with her big black friend named Oprah (!), Ken and I sit in camp chairs in the shade of the BLT and spend the afternoon catching up on each other’s adventures on the road.


Note:  If you’d like to see more of Slab City and local attractions, visit Karen’s blog.  Her show-and-tell covers it all!


About rvsueandcrew

Fulltime nomad
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61 Responses to From the Salton Sea to Slab City, Niland, California

  1. cathieok says:

    Quite an adventure getting to your new site! We look forward to hearing more of this adventure.

  2. Shawna says:

    OMG! I am laughing so hard I can barely breathe!! My aunt used to leave here for the winter and spend it in —– wait for it —– Niland!!!! Seems she left out a lot regarding the description of the place 😉 Thanks for a reality check!

  3. patricia Leonhardt says:

    Hi Sue! Wow that place kinda looks like a throwback to the 60″s! Very colorful, bet you will have fun there. I read about all the birds at Salton sea, wonderful! I love pelicans. Sue I have been trying to find out how big the cupboard is above the refrigerator in the Casita. Also, how big is the bed when it is down from the dinette position? I am in the seriously planning(dreaming) stage of my own Casita someday! Be careful, I will watch for your new posts!

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Hi Patricia!

      I can’t tell you the dimensions of the bed when the dinette is down because the Liberty Deluxe which I have doesn’t have the dinette. I believe the LD allows for the biggest bed. I may be wrong about that. Maybe another reader will clear that up.

      There are two cupboards above my refrigerator. The top one is 8 inches high and 23 1/2 inches wide. (It may be 24 inches wide… I’ve got a lot of stuff in it and it’s hard to measure!) The ceiling of this cupboard curves downward toward the back at the same depth as the cupcboard below it.

      The cupboard immediately above the fridge is the same width, 15 inches tall and 15 and a half inches deep. This is where the microwave goes. Hope this is helpful.

  4. Sra. Julia says:

    Been there with the SKP folks they have a nice set-up not far from you! They are very organized and have a nice camp very clean and orderly. The traveling Pals also have a nice camp they are even closer to you. I spent about six weeks there last year and left to go to Mexico where I spend most of my time now leaving only when I need to do something in “Old Country”. A lot of the folks there are nice the Solar Man is very nice and very competent IMHO, I got my solar work done there. Niland is a desperate looking place but there are towns up the road from Niland that are much better for services and looks. Many people spend the winter at the Slabs because it is free and little interference from the rule Nazis. It is a live and let live sort of place.

  5. geogypsy2u says:

    You so perfectly described Niland. Can’t wait for your review of The Slabs.

    I parked a mile beyond the last RV, then stuck a tire into an old fire pit and had to walk back at dusk to get help. It’s an interesting place. If you’re around on the weekend there used to be a flea market in town. Especially nice if you have stuff to get rid of.

  6. cinandjules says:

    Never heard of Niland/Slab City. Weird looking outbuildings. WOW……..guess the road takes you by ALL types of places.

    Glad you met up with Ken….and have Linda and Stephen lurking. Hey Linda and Stephen stop being a lurker and join us!

    It’s amazing how much a panhandler can make in a day. Be careful…but I don’t have to tell you that.

  7. twoscamps says:

    Great post LOL! Niland is not high on my list of “must-see’s”:-) I am curious about Slab City and look forward to hearing more it. Maureen

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Thanks, Maureen. If you’re curious, you have to google “Slab City” and read about its many features (bandstand, internet cafe, clubs, etc.) as well as its unique origin.

  8. Jack says:

    The LOW Rv club in the slabs will be serving thanksgiving dinner. Guests are charged 10 bucks, takes a reservation. Anyone can direct you. I also recommend solar mike at the slabs if you need any solar work.

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      I really don’t want to spend thanksgiving with a group. If anything drives me out of here, it will be people pressuring me to go to a thanksgiving potluck. Nice of you to think of me, Jack, and mentioning it. I guess I’ve spent so many thanksgivings alone I’ve grown to prefer it!

      • Connie & Mugsy says:

        What a relief to find someone else who prefers to ignore stuff like this. The extent of my notice of the “holiday” is that I may throw a Lean Cuisine turkey dinner in the microwave… and eat a piece of the pumpkin pie that I also have in the freezer. And I will avoid all the indigestion. 🙂 It has been more than 20 years since I did a group Thanksgiving thing and that was overseas.

        • rvsueandcrew says:

          Ditto with Christmas for me!

          • Connie & Mugsy says:

            Me too. I still own a Park Model trailer in a park in AZ. (will try again this year to sell it so I can hit the road more) But, I have always done laundry on T-giving and Xmas day. You have the whole place to yourself. 🙂

            Bah Humbugers unite!!

  9. Jack says:

    And a very good, clean state dump station about 14 miles south of Niland on hwy 111 near Calipatra, Ca. Left side of hwy, cant miss it.

  10. gingerda says:

    Salvation mountain looks like a hippie commune from the 60’s. This could be an interesting campsite, lol.

  11. Dedra says:

    Question: what website do you go to to find dumps?
    I’m glad you talk about these things, so I’ll be ready for my
    trip in April. How do you find your places to stay?
    You’re are always interesting. I gave a man your name today.
    He wanted out of the way places, little or no people.
    As I told him, I know the person, RVSUE.

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      I do exactly like the post says… I google “Dump Stations Niland” or wherever I happen to be. I’m often asked how I find places to stay. Several ways: 1) I learn about them by reading blogs, 2) Other campers suggest places, 3) I use websites like,, and the national forest website, 4) I google “boondocking near wherever”, 5) I look at my Benchmark atlas and see where the BLM and NFS land is located, 6) I ask the locals, 7) I go into a BLM field office and ask. There are probably more ways. That’s all I can think of right now.

  12. BAYFIELD AL. says:

    Glad to see you made it to the Slabs. Yes, Solar Mike is a very competant, honest & nice fellow. Had our Solar done there & Mike replaced a fuse line for us last winter. If you look at the Slabs & the Slabbers with an open mind, it will be a positive & enjoyable learning experience. . We liked both our times there & wouldn’t hesitate to stop in again. If your still there Saturday night, check out the groovy entertainment at ‘The Range,’. If that doesn’t transport you back to the 60’s….nothing will. Breathe lightly:)).

  13. Dedra says:

    Oh, don’t forget the awesome crew!
    Sorry, guys! Love you!

  14. Glenda Cornwill says:

    What an incredible place Sue……………never knew of its existence, so had to Google it to find out more. So an abandoned World War 11 Marine Base called Camp Dunlap. EST 1942 and demolished in 1956. Now known as the “last free place in America” inhabited by around 150 permanent residents. Watched a couple of videos…………am understanding more about why and what sort of people live there. Fascinating! Thanks for sharing……… takes all kinds of places and people to make this world !!

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Yes, it does take all kinds of people. I appreciate you writing about how the Slabs came into existence. There is a lot to read already on the internet about this place, so I’m not going to repeat a lot of it. I’ll do what I usually do… tell about the day the crew and I have.

  15. Karen and Steve says:

    Glad you made it… .the grocery store in Calpatria has better selection, and there is a Walmart down in Brawley. We really enjoyed our stay there. Thanks for the shoutout to my blog!

  16. libertatemamo says:

    Great to hear you made it to the Slabs. Can’t wait to hear your view of it. IF you decide to go to Anza Borrego from the Slabs there is a free dump station at the huge 76 Truck Stop on the corner of 86 and S22. Just in case you go that way 🙂

  17. mockturtle says:

    We always found that area unspeakably depressing. But it was often a handy route from AZ. We never stayed there. BTW, I remember a rest stop in Calipatria that had a dump station.

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Ken told me before I arrived here that I should drive all the way to the back, past the depressing part. There are groups/clubs of people in clean sites. I am near a lot of Canadians in rigs much bigger and more expensive that mine. Not that being poor means you’re bad. It’s being slobby that’s not good.

  18. mockturtle says:

    Yep, I don’t like squalor.

  19. DeAnne says:

    Cool! Personally, I can’t wait to see Slab City. It’s a little intimidating about where to park and such; you were so lucky to have your friend. I’ve still got time to research, and then I will visit with bells on my Birkenstocks!

  20. LuAnn says:

    Enjoy The Slabs. We found it to be a fascinating place but Niland was sure a sad little town.

  21. Sherry says:

    Very interesting travels you are having recently. Your travels are taking you to unique spots that’s for sure. You seem very open minded to me.

  22. TXBX says:

    There are tons of REALLY nice people there. I KNOW THEM! I’ve socialized, shared activities, and cooked meals with them!
    I go there every other year in November, but 2012 isn’t the one 😦
    It’s a mindset, and how you approach it that makes or breaks it. I can sit with some really weird people, learn remarkable things, and then ponder it all when I lay in bed and stare out the window at the stars. They have bands on the stage on Saturday night, (the Range) and there’s a lady there (Cookie) who rescues dogs. I always stop in and visit with Solar Mike, The LoWs group, the Escapees, Travelin’ Pals, and there will usually be some Single Sams (Good Sams members) also, along with some others.
    The man who dedicated his life to Salvation Mountain is an inspiration, and I have his video and postcards. I always took him paint and some fresh veggies when I drove through. He was still living a month ago, but is definitely facing some challenges. I visited with him last November at Salvation Mountain, and he still had a sweet and kind attitude. His name is Leonard Knight. He really doesn’t HAVE anyone, but he’s always been good to all people, regardless of background.
    Watch out for some of the unleashed dogs there, but some people have made donations and they are trying to get all of them caught up on shots and neutered/spayed.
    My friend lost a beautiful black cat there while camping, so keep your eyes out for a silky-haired black cat spiriting itself around! <>
    Just take the Slabs for what it’s worth, and look at each person as an individual, because many, many of them are just average people who have gone there to ‘see odd people’, not realizing that THEY, themselves, are the odd ones! LOL
    Many of the people who are camping there have found acceptance there, when other close-knit communities didn’t make them feel welcome. In all the many years I have camped there, usually alone, with friends, or joining a group, …….. I find it a fascinating study of human nature.
    I have met people there who appeared to be ‘down and out’, but later discovered that they were actually ‘on a trip’ and just finding it easy to mesh with the locals.
    Any ”problems” I’ve seen have been with those in ‘courting’ relationships, such as squabbles, or little problems.
    I’ve never had anyone steal from me, but I don’t leave expensive things outside when I go exploring. It IS dark at night, as I’m sure you have discovered, but you will hear airplanes, helicopters, and ‘maneuvers’ from a nearby army/marine/air-force base used by different services to ‘practice’. (My grandson was in the Marines, and he was there many times. You’ll see a ‘dividing fence’ at the back.
    Don’t let the people who didn’t ‘like it’ influence your opinion. It was a turn-off to me, too, when I was FIRST THERE for a short period of time. (The other half of my ‘caravan’ had a ‘snooty’ attitude in the early years.) So I found a new traveling partner last year to go with me!) …………so I went back again later to give it another ‘look-see’, and I found out that it’s a society dependent on what each person brings to the table, and that each person, met individually is a unique individual, with their own set of values, ideas, and attitudes, depending on the experiences they have had in life.
    One of my TWO ‘best-est’ camping friends isn’t there yet, and will arrive next month, but one IS there, but I’ve met Ken, if he’s the guy that travels in his (blue?) pick-up truck. ….. puts up a tent-like shelter, etc. (The one I knew had a motorcycle, too!) AND he was really down on his luck, so I fed him a few times! He is a really nice guy!
    The first time I went, in 1998, I had a brand new Class A, and I probably looked ‘snooty’, although I was actually busy learning about my rig. I’ve been there many times since, and learned that I had to ‘step out of my safety zone’ to get to know the people and understand what ‘the society’ at the Slabs is all about. NOW, I have some really good friends there, and I’m a member of the “”Slab”’ Loners on Wheels, with my own membership name tag!! LOL
    I know you probably will be ”less than impressed” on your first visit, but if you are into ”human nature”, you’ll find that old theory of ‘honor in every group’ of people, ………and I have developed a great deal of respect for those who are able to find a way to ‘like’ the Slabs, and more for those who ‘make a difference’ while visiting there, through their efforts to make it ‘better’.
    Most of the ‘trash’ you’ll see has been left there in the past, and has gradually been cleaned up over the years. :It’s been interesting watching it happen! Try and visit East Jesus!!
    I have grown to love the slabs, and the privacy among people offered there. Although I live well now, my grandparents lived in a tiny Texas town not unlike Niland, and you will see that the houses there are decorated for the season, (in the ‘community’ area) and I’m wondering if the giant inflatable turkey is up on the roof-top this year, too!!
    I’m glad you took a chance and went to see it. I pray you can see some of the people as individuals, and not as ‘dreary and drab’. I was there last year when a man drowned in the hot tub/pool. Turned out he wasn’t a ‘resident’ there, just a transient who had gotten drunk the night before he was found drowned.
    You’ll find a lot of people who finally found a way to ‘manage’ in a society where they have been accepted for the first time in their life, some people who have gathered with old friends and developed a tight relationship with each other, and some people who just came to stare at others and criticize.
    Try to get to ‘know’ someone who is a snowbird, and comes there for the whole winter, someone who is living on only their retirement, or a ‘community’ of people you can join for conversation!! When you do, you’ll get to know the ‘community’ AND the people who are part of it. I hope you can stay there for more than 2-3 weeks and get to see ‘what’s underneath’ the outer shell.
    Here I sit in this big house from my parents, with my ‘inheritance’ and all the trappings, and as you drive into the Slabs, I understand the ‘first impression’ people have many times, ………….. but I know that if my parents hadn’t been so fortunate, I, too, could have been trying to eek out an existence at the Slabs!! I miss it there, and I miss my friends, but my RV and Jeep will be ready next year!!
    Your visit there will be exactly as you make it.
    It won’t bother me if you don’t publish this, as some people who have never tried to become a part of the community there will never understand, and some will even be offended, and ‘argue’ back. I just hope you can stay several weeks and get to know the people, the circumstances, and the history before passing judgement!!! The link to my blog is posted below, but I became so interested in visiting with friends there, sight-seeing, and doing my part to ‘make a difference’ that I quit blogging and turned myself toward ‘being involved’ instead!!!
    Be well, and travel safely.

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Hello, TXBX,

      I think you’ll see that I won’t be passing judgment on the Slabs or anyone who lives here, whether temporarily or year round. If it turns out I don’t participate in some of the activities or events that go on here, it isn’t because I’m judging anyone. It’s because I don’t like to participate in activities with groups of people, whether at the country club or anywhere else.

      Your link was not deleted by me. I never saw it. Maybe you forgot to post it at the end?

      I don’t think any of my readers will argue back at you. Your experiences at Slab City broadened your awareness and understanding of people, captured your heart, and enriched your life. You expressed that well. I found your comments very interesting, and I’m sure many of my blog readers will, too.

      In the short time I’ve been here at the Slabs, I can see that it’s a community of people who accept each other in a way that other communities could learn from.

      Thanks for sharing your insights about this unique place.

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      I forgot to mention . . . The Ken I know here at the Slabs is not the Ken you described.

  23. TXBX says:

    Here’s my link! I’ve been following you forever! Keep blogging!! 🙂 It’s HARD not to post and ask what happened later on on some of your awesome adventures!! Keep blogging please!!

  24. mockturtle says:

    BTW, Sue, I don’t know if you’re planning to visit this area but I really like the Squaw Lake BLM campground in SW AZ for kayaking and camping. Here’s a link [I hope]:

  25. Teri says:

    Just wanted to wish you and the crew a very happy Thanksgiving. I’m thankful that your blog has opened my eyes to so many new places in this great country of ours.

  26. Guess what RV Sue…followed in your footsteps this weekend and went to Salton Sea, the Slabs and Anza. We camped at Salt Creek and found ourselves stuck in the sand. Tow truck with wench had to come pull us out. Trailer was tilted like a slide at the park and we slept in it overnite till they came and got us hehe. Had fun at the Slabs but dont care much for the desert. Went into Anza and had ice cream and wondered everytime we saw a casita if it was you. Cant wait till im fulltiming. Off to my nxt adventure.
    would post pict of the trailer but not sure how to do that..

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Oh no, you got stuck in the sand? How did you manage to do that! Well, now you have a great story to share around the campfire . . . Sorry you went through all that. I suspect my day will come. . .

      I’ve seen a couple of Casitas around here. I haven’t brought the BLT into town. I love your sign-off: “Off to my next adventure”

  27. Betty says:

    In my life is a man who lived there for 20 years. OH my! How he makes my life difficult! “You are trying to make me a middle class citizen!” Yikes! He is so HATEFUL of his lovely apartment, groomed yards, heat in the winter and cool in the summer. Nothing I have to offer him compares to what he thinks he left behind in the slabs.

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