words by Kari Hendrick photos by Dersu Rhodes
H.P. approached us on his burrow, two brown eyes peeking out from under his leathered, weathered cowboy hat and a dusty bandana wrapped ominously around his face. I say “his” – but it’s still unclear weather H.P. was a man or a woman, boy or girl. His conversation seemed childlike, and eager, but his presence was wise, as if he’d been roaming the desert for years. “Don’t you want to know what H.P. stands for?” He asked us as we inquired of his roots and stroked the mule’s dusty back. Without much thought, we said no. This place has a mystery about it that’s alluring – and we wanted to keep it that way. Welcome to the slabs. A desert mound of creation and bizarre beauty.
The slabs is tucked along the Salton Sea in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Far different from the posh setting of the seventies, when actors and high class alike would go to party for days – now looks like the after party never cleaned up. Glass bottles literally adorned in trees, and collections of tin cans and televisions have become artistic sculptures. It’s the perfect setting for a post apocalypse movie. Abandoned buildings, and fortresses made of tarp, tires, weathered textures. The people that inhabit the area aren’t hippies, per say. More like squatters, or desert dwellers. Minds who are completely anti-gov and set far apart from the creatives of our society.
As the dust swirls around our booted ankles, and the wind pushes us forward, we continue to explore each camp, and the desert sun starts to set. The white trailers glow pink and endless strings of Christmas lights begin to flicker on. The eeriness keeps you there, wondering what happens when the sun goes down. It feels dangerous, as places you don’t know usually make you feel. But from our initial conversation with H.P., we know that this outside land is a community, a creative and a world that, in a way, we can all relate to. From a distance, we see the dark shadow of H.P. sitting high on his burrow, as he saunters into the dusty sunset.
A moment with H.P. we’re not sure where he’s from, or where he’s going.
Sadly, Leonard Knight has been moved to a Nursing Home, he had become very ill and no longer could watch over and build the Mountain he spent a large part of his life making. Here is his hanging bed, we found a picture by Aaron Huey showing Leonard laying in his hammock from a few years back. The empty resting place still has one of Leonard’s books lying where his head must have after a long days work. The book looks to be unfinished, or maybe has been read 100 times.
A view of the slabs from the top of Salvation Mountain.
Leonard’s creation, Salvation Mountain.
Where Leonard slept. His old jacket still hangs, and his paintings still give life to this old truck he made his home.
Charles Russell turned a desert landscape into a curated gallery. He died this last May and his ashes sit on a shelf overlooking the art he devoted himself to creating. His friends and fellow artists still take up residency here, creating and maintaining the East Jesus Camp.
Charles Russell still resides. His ashes sit in an urn to the right.
Nilland, California is the closest town to The Slabs and has one hotel. Some of the doors don’t have keys for them but it’s a temporary home for folks that need a rest.
The Slabs residents are friendly but mysterious.