After having spent my morning exploring the nooks and crannies of Salvation Mountain, I was about to hit the road again — direction Phoenix. That’s when the drifter I’d been chatting to, Greg, mentioned I should visit Slab City’s East Jesus before I go.
East Jesus? Never heard of it!
Lucky for me, Greg made sure I didn’t miss out. He explained that East Jesus is another art project just five minutes up the road from Salvation Mountain.
“You can actually touch and tinker with the art,” Greg told me.
“By Jove, I’m going, and that’s all that there is to it!” — sums up my sentiment in that moment.
Slab City (The Last Free Place)
In order to get to East Jesus, I had to drive through Slab City, a pretty unique and somewhat daunting place. It’s residents call it “the last free place on earth.” Or sometimes it’s known as “the last free place in America.” Some slabbers live there year round. Others are “snowbirds” — seasonal visitors who come in RVs and make Slab City their temporary home for off-the-grid living.
If I’m honest with you, though, I’d been apprehensive about entering Slab City.
Well, I’d looked into Salvation Mountain ahead of my trip and realized it was at the entrance of Slab City. When I read more about The Slabs — as it’s also sometimes referred to — I learned that Slab City has been associated with higher crime rates as well as residents who struggle with substance abuse. Here’s how I explained my thoughts to a friend:
Honestly, I was a little nervous about going out there because I heard there’s a lot of crime. But everything was fine, and the people I spoke with were really nice, if unusual!
[Well who’s not unusual, I’m now asking myself? Furthermore, I don’t have to leave my home city to find crime and people with substance-abuse problems.]
My friend replied to my message with the following:
Wow! I don’t know what to think. It’s interesting that you travel all over and remote Cali made you nervous. I totally get it. Greg looks like a garden gnome btw. 🙂
She had a good point. Greg does look like a garden gnome!
And while other people are nervous about going to Istanbul or Cuba or Morocco — places I’ve felt fine (at least after arriving!) — I was nervous about a spot in southeast California. Seems rather silly to me now in hindsight. And it goes to show that news should be taken with a grain of salt!
Check out this blog post, "So Long Slab City (for now)," by Rene of www.liveworkdream.com for an interesting insight into Slab-City living.
As it turns out, the only things I had to be afraid of were some mannequins and a creepy doll’s head.
East Jesus Survival Guide
Before we get to East Jesus, though, I should briefly mention the “East Jesus Survival Guide.”
After returning home from my recent mini-Southwest road trip, I was doing a bit of research for the blog post that you’re reading this very moment! That’s how I discovered the aforementioned East Jesus Survival Guide, which is posted on the official East Jesus website.
The best way to describe the guide, is to provide an excerpt of the intro given directly on their website. So here’s it is:
Intro to the East Jesus Survival Guide
"By visiting East Jesus, you do so AT YOUR OWN RISK and assume all liability for any property damage, injury, illness, or death that occurs. By setting foot here, you and your heirs release all claims into perpetuity. "-1) BEFORE YOU EVEN GET HERE there are things to consider. Why do you even want to come and bother us in the first place? Well, OK, if you do, please don’t plan on camping out for more than a couple days, unless you’ve intent on rolling up your sleeves and helping us out with some labor, building an awesome sculpture, or catering to our personal whims. This isn’t a dumb-ass hippie commune. This is us, living life the way we want to. We have work to do. Either you’re entertaining us, helping out with what needs to be done, or you’re slowing us down. Call or email ahead, 24 hours notice is greatly appreciated. IN CASE OF RAIN, travel north of Niland is *not* recommended. Even small amounts of rain can cause the washes to run deep and turn your beloved automobile into a submarine, exposed to oncoming traffic. Also, NEVER arrive after dark."
After reading that introduction, I was intrigued. What on earth would they outline in their survival guide? So, I took a peak. And, while you can read the whole thing on their website, here are two of the rules I thought worth sharing.
The first rule I’ll mention pertains to arriving after dark — just don’t do it! Here’s the rule, in their own words:
“**UNLESS** THERE IS A SCHEDULED EVENT, if you plan to camp out here or even just visit, DO NOT ARRIVE AFTER DARK. Either show up before dark or spend the night elsewhere. No discussion, no exceptions. … Given the nature of Slab City and some of its inhabitants, unexpected visitors after dark are presumed to be trespassing with ill intent and risk staring down the barrel of a 12GA.”
(It sounds like they mean business!)
I guess I should have read that before heading to Slab City. Lucky for me, I arrived in the morning, and not after dark!
The second point brings attention to some of the critters you might encounter in the area:
“Petting zoo: black widows, scorpions, centipedes, vinegaroons, rattlesnakes and the occasional tarantula all live and work here. They do not want to bite or sting you, but can be deadly if provoked. If you don’t fuck with them, you’ll be fine.”
I didn’t even know what the heck a vinegaroon was until just looking it up! Now I’m afraid I might be having some vinegaroon nightmares in the near future. But, anyway — just keep the rules in mind before visiting, is all I’m saying!
With that long-ass intro out of the way, let’s get to East Jesus!