From Baby Jesus to East Jesus: Slab City

Slab City Skate Park
Sunday afternoon at The Range, Slab City

… Continued from The Abandoned Shored of the Salton Sea

Hopefully you haven’t been holding your breath for too long.  Please resume your regular breathing immediately.  You’re turning blue!  In the last post, we mingled with the ghosts of old Hollywood along the shore of the Salton Sea.  Now, let’s get to East Jesus before the sun goes down.

In 1942, the military constructed a training camp near Niland, CA to prepare Marines for harsh combat conditions.  When the camp was dismantled, all that remained were concrete slabs.  In 1965, a displaced community of people migrated to the abandoned military base.  Today, Slab City is home to a variety of people, including artists, anarchists, school teachers and vagabonds.

The “Blue Church,” Slab City

When I visited Salvation Mountain with my sister last summer, we only encountered a handful of people in the stifling heat.  I felt a little guilty as we drove past one man riding his bike down the road, our faces pressed up against the A/C vents.  This was before I knew about Slab City, which is nine miles away from the nearest city.

Coincidentally, the first person we met in Slab City rode by on his bike.  He stopped to welcome us and recommended places to see.  First, we headed over to The Range, an outdoor theater where locals and visitors meet every Saturday night to put on a talent show.  On this pleasant Sunday afternoon, we sat in a row of old theater chairs and listened to a man strum his guitar up on the stage.  The music seemed to put a calm spell on us.

Jack, Owner of Slab City Skate Park at The Range

At the Range, we met a local named Jack, the new owner of Slab City Skate Park.  Jack had plans to renovate the neglected park and encouraged us to check it out.  We climbed down into the empty concrete pool as the sun prepared to set.  Saul added to the endless mural of graffiti art, Cain captured the surroundings with his camera, and I cozied up next to this giant witch eating a slice of pepperoni pizza.


It’s 2013, Witches!
Saul making art

Chasing the last hours of daylight, we drove to East Jesus for a tour.  East Jesus is an ongoing art project, started in 2006 by the late Charles Stephen Russell.  Russell created most of the art from trash that had been dumped at the site.

BBQ, East Jesus
Swan Princess, East Jesus

According to our tour guide, Russell was quite the ladies man.  He used to serve chocolate martinis out of his remodeled Volkswagen bus, which he claimed was also a time machine.  I sat in the backseat of the bus, admiring the portraits of Jesus glued to the walls, while sipping on an invisible martini with a ghost.  We ended the tour with a look at the new roof built by residents and ended up in the crossfires of a foam dart battle.

Time Machine, East Jesus
An American in East Jesus (That’s me.)

From East Jesus, we made it to the Dinosaur murals just in time for golden hour.  The abandoned water treatment plant has two water tanks painted with murals.  One is covered in animal sex paintings, and the other is covered in dinosaurs.  Walking around the Dinosaur tank, I nearly had an heart attack when I came face to face with two prehistoric creatures chewing on some hay.  Actually, they were goats.  According to one story, a man lives inside the tank.  I can only imagine how dark it is in there.  I’d want a couple of goats to keep me company too.

Cain at Golden Hour, Niland, CA
Saul walking with dinosaurs, Niland, CA

Beside the water treatment facility, a group of campers was attempting some real-life crash dummy tests off the side of a mountain.  When the car started to smoke, they rolled it over and jumped up and down on its belly like hunters celebrating a kill.

On the car ride home, I felt like celebrating too.  Life constantly offers opportunities for adventure.  Sometimes, all it takes is showing up at a dinner party.  Thank you, baby Jesus.

Crash Dummy Tests, Niland, CA

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