Trying to change the negative reputation that the Slabs had acquired over the years as a melting pot for drug addicts, hippies and psych ward releases, Builder Bill created the Range, just southeast of the Naval Aerial Gunnery Range. Here, he hosts weekly open mike nights, talent shows, movies, the annual Slab City Prom, and the famed Slab City Riot that draws thousands each year.
Not many places left in the world where you can experience free live entertainment beneath the stars in the open air, but the Range, with its diesel-generated stage decorated with hubcaps and twinkle lights, is one such place.
Constructed on one of the abandoned concrete slabs left behind by the military when they decommissioned Camp Dunlap back in 1956, the venue invites visitors to sit and watch the show on rows of threadbare theater seats, gather around the rusty trash cans used for bonfires and dance the night away to “sounds of freedom.”
Often called the “last free place on Earth,” Slab City attracts snowbirds, retirees from the north escaping winter, bikers, and those who have come to be referred to simply as “slabbers.”
Slabbers are a mixed bag of free-roaming folks: normal folks like you and I, of the college-educated and the hardworking, of former federal employees, teachers and master chefs. Of hobos, young drifters and limited-income widows. Together, they’ve resurrected a makeshift city, including a church, radio station, library and “pub.”
The Slab City Organization was formed to ensure the Slabs are a healthy, happy place for those choosing to live there by addressing – primarily but not exclusively – the issue of illegal dumping. As squatters on state land, Slabbers are responsible for minimizing and disposing of all the waste they produce.
If Mark Boyle, the freeconomist “Moneyless Man”, can do it, others consciously choosing to live off the grid and on land not served by public utilities should be able to do the same. (As with any community, some do a better job of it than others.)
Unlike other communities supported by tax dollars, it’s up to the residents of Slab City to keep one another in check – not necessarily an easy task in any neighborhood, let alone one that’s clinging to the fringes of the law in an isolated, scorpion-infested dust bowl. Comparatively speaking, there is minimal violence and residents, including the widows, feel safe.
Go early enough to climb Leonard Knight’s Salvation Mountain and to witness the solar lights turn on up at the East Jesus Sculpture Garden at sunset, straight on through Slab City’s Main Street and around to the left.
The Range will be halfway on your right. Look for the sign.
(Check out slab-city.com for more info, including area maps.)