Fresh back from a trip East, where I reconnected with family and friends and got a taste of winter weather, Mark and I landed in Slab City, an outpost in the California desert that has become a mecca for people who want to live way, way off the grid. Or, as the welcome booth to this piece of federal land declares, “The Last Free Place.”
The isolation of the place, an abandoned military camp, attracts hundreds, even thousands of RVers in the winter, who come here despite the fact that the camp has no electricity, no running water, no sewers nor toilets, and no trash pickup service. We rolled in after dark and quickly found a spot to park in the large spaces between RVs that had already settled in.
What they do have in excess at Slab City is creativity, found in the art community that created East Jesus, an outdoor music venue, and Salvation Mountain.
Made from discarded material that has been reused, recycled, or repurposed, East Jesus creators imagine a world without waste in which every action is an opportunity for self-expression. Assemblage and mixed-media art covers nearly every inch of the interior and exterior.
Across a couple of gullies, people can listen to music at the Ranch, where locals share their musical talents while the audience sits in this repurposed seating.
A mile down the road, Salvation Mountain, a three-story concrete structure covered with acrylic paint and Bible verses. With caves and chapels tucked around the mountain, the mountain is a designated National Folk Art Monument.
Our brief stay intrigued us and we vowed to return for longer and get to know the people who make Slab City their home.
Bisbee, Arizona. It would be a shame to skip over this former mining town that today is a magnet for artists, educators and others, many of them exploring life after fifty. We visited once from our grasslands outpost and fell in love with the robust farmers market, then we returned to stay in the historic Queen Ann hotel named for the once-thriving copper mine on the edge of town.
The town itself is set on a hill and more than a thousand steps connect the alleys and passageways with the mine.
The artistic flair of the town is on display in stores and at private houses like this one below.
A tour of the local museum gave us a taste of the claustrophobic workplace of the copper miner underground.
In its hey day in the early 1900s, some ten thousand people lived in Bisbee, where a miners strike was brutally quashed in 1917 by Phelps Dodge, which deported 1,000 strikers to Mexico.
Today, the signs of another era are preserved on the outskirts of the city, in the area known as Ludlow, where vintage gas stations, vehicles and stores line the street.
There is a good vibe in Bisbee, not phony, and one person I met said that you do anything you want here and no one judges you – that’s rare in conservative Arizona! We even picked up a "Bisbee Feels the Bern" button during our stay.
Listen as Johnny Cash & Lynn Anderson tear it up.
Where we are today.