Traveling alone – Bombay Beach – Slab City | Gourmet party! | Laura Stec
No more waiting to live.
Our solo road trip continues. You may recall that we were visiting Bombay Beach, a booming, yet artsy, booming city due to large underground reserves of lithium, in great demand for building rechargeable car batteries. “We have what some have described as the Saudi Arabia of lithium,” Governor Gavin Newsom said, describing the Salton Sea at a press conference in January.
Surprisingly, the middle of nowhere here isn’t as nowhere as you might think. Internet can be found in some places, which makes it easy to hear that one of my fellow Joshua Tree National Park would join me early in Slab City. But what did that mean? Where should we meet? There aren’t any in Slab City.
Q: You plan to meet up with a friend in a small rural town where neither of you have been. Where is the safest place to meet?
A: The grocery store. Some small towns have gas stations at each end of town, but there is usually only one grocery store.
However, Slab City has neither, so we chose the hot springs. I didn’t know what to expect from the hot springs, but I knew they were there after exchanging emails with the website. Mystery Man told me to camp anywhere – his writings were so cryptic. Another nod to the seductive secrecy of the region.
“Keep driving, you can’t miss it.” I asked a number of people along the road and continued heading east. I decided it was time to summon the solo traveler/walker magic when I passed that scene, I thought twice and turned back.
Coming in at 107° (41°C) that day (temperature fluctuates), Slab City Hot Springs is a naturally fed pond resulting from the San Andreas Fault and a pipe crack below.
Natural hot springs are sacred places to me, but not everyone agrees. A gentleman gets on a hippie bus with yoga music. He lays down crystals and brings his hands together in a prayerful pose before plunging like an enlightened spirit into hot water. Juxtapose that with the group then speeding away in a rusty dune buggy with sand flying everywhere. Shouting loudly, the group jumps fully dressed, undresses and squirts blue dish soap from a plastic bottle over their heads. The springs were their bathtub, and I guess I get it – there’s no water there, and not much money either, but still, it felt like the earth was being violated. First world problems, I guess. They don’t stop screaming until they leave, leaving their scruffy clothes floating in the water like the dead. I swim and fish them out. Sigh.
Artist friends told me about this region but I hadn’t thought of the place on Wikipedia before leaving on a trip. Do a Google search and find plenty of information and documentaries about Slab City’s original history, tough daily life, and off-grid residents that make for really interesting characters in home movies.
Considered the “last free city in America”,
this lawless hamlet requires neither rent nor taxes. A 600 acre community of 2000 residents in high season (November to March) and 300 in summer when temperatures exceed 120° degrees (50-55° C). Wikipedia describes a mix of long-term residents who barter and live in the community with younger residents, “sometimes ill-equipped for self-sufficiency who turn to petty theft and drug use”. NPR describes Slab City as state property with California as the absentee owner.
Just the wide-open desert here, dotted with the remnants of concrete slabs from Camp Dunlap, a WWII Marine artillery training base. Perfect for parking motorhomes – some pitches are well laid out; many others look like dumps. Think West Monroe, Louisiana meets the Black Rock Desert. An interesting mix of down-and-outers, free spirits, people looking to disappear, creatives and hippies who never wanted to leave Burning Man. Daring and exciting, there is a skate park, a church, a bicycle repair shop,
and a very nice library. Only library in America with no cards or fees. Take whatever you want and give it back or not.
Don’t miss the Slab City map on the library wall, highlighting art exhibits and tourist destinations. Wait, art exhibits?
I finally met AR, and we followed local advice for camping that night; “Go to Mojo. They have showers and that’s good for travelers, although the cops come at night – they always do.
Mojo’s is a desert oasis with fun community structures, colorful showers, and clean (even laundry) bathrooms. About 20 people were staying when we arrived. Pitch a tent and use all the amenities, including the outdoor kitchen and social areas ($25 per night).
– photo by AR
Owned by Mojo, a cool 60-year-old woman traveling alone, it’s a good landing for solo travelers – safe, clean and filled with interesting characters (ie lots of people to talk to when you want to socialize ). Mojo is a strong, weather-worn, tanned woman with bright eyes who’s been building the place for six years.
Windy as a desert can be when she wants it
– photo by AR
the outdoor kitchen had a wind curtain that rolled back on nights like this, we took advantage of the propane stove to cook my favorite dinner of the trip – Vegan Chorizo Stir Fry with Peppers and Caramelized Onions over Whole Grain Couscous and Lentils (recipe below).
At night, Slab City unexpectedly lights up with gathering places and “pirate bars” worth discovering in the dark. Bring a flashlight and follow the lights.
When we got back to camp, guess who was there? The police! “There is this madwoman who lives next to the camp,” we heard the next morning. “We call her the White Witch because she always dresses in light, flowing dresses. She makes a lot of noise at night and the cops come and silence her. They often do.
Hmmm, I wonder where the cops come from?
“How long have you lived here?” I ask a guy at the morning coffee.
” Some months. I was on earth before, but the guy next to me was a convicted murderer, or at least that’s what he kept telling me, so I decided to move out.
For breakfast, hard-boiled eggs. HB eggs are good travel foods. They keep well in a cooler and are now easier to find in grocery stores and even at 7-11.
Then we head for the local art walk to Salvation Mountain and East Jesus. That’s right – an art walk. In the middle of nowhere. The area is filled with art. Slab City is falling apart and totally exciting, all at the same time. Great place to travel solo – it has all the elements to keep your attention.
We will pick up our story here next time.
Vegan chorizo stir-fry with caramelized peppers and onions
over Whole Grain Lentil Couscous
Give your pasta a boost, but upgrade the quick-cooking Israeli couscous with a perfect balance of whole grains and added beans. They cook at the same time, so add more fiber, vitamins, and plant power to your meal. For 2-3 people
½ cup Israeli couscous
½ cup mix of quinoa, millet, buckwheat and/or red lentils
1 ½ cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
Sauteed chorizo with vegetables
1 red pepper
1 package of vegan chorizo
Leftover wine to deglaze
Garnish options: lemon, capers
Combine couscous with cereal and lentils of your choice. Grill in a dry skillet, preferably cast iron, 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add broth and cover well. If you’re camping, it’s windy, and your blanket isn’t waterproof, cover with foil first, then cover with whatever metal blanket or bowl you have. Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 12 to 15 minutes until the grains and beans are tender.
While the grain cooks, add about a tablespoon of oil to a second skillet and sauté the onion for a few minutes until light brown. Deglaze the pan with the wine, broth or beer you drink. Add pepper and sauté again until caramelized. Deglaze and remove to a bowl. Add another tablespoon of oil and sauté the chorizo (some brands are crumbled, some are sliced) until golden brown. Return the vegetable mixture and season to taste.
When the grains are cooked, serve under the chorizo vegetable mixture. Garnish with lemon and capers, two good additions to your camping pantry.
* A cast iron skillet is ideal for camping as it can regulate hard to control outdoor stoves. It also keeps food warm while you eat.
NOTE TO CAMPER: Find a cardboard box the right size to store camping pantry items. Oils etc. tend to overturn, but so what? Simply recycle the box at the end of the trips.
– photos by LSIC unless otherwise stated