East Jesus in Slab City: Finding Community in the Desert

East Jesus

“The only way to find out about East Jesus is if someone else tells you about it. We want to keep it that way.”

- Frank, East Jesus resident cook

National Geographic was turned down the opportunity to document the commune that thrives at East Jesus. So have countless  other media. These guests and residents live simply, humbly, and off the grid. They snub publicity and large media corporations.

When we drove up to the gates of East Jesus, Frank came out to greet us.

“How did you find out about East Jesus?” he demanded.
“Mike told us.” Shacky replied. Mike has lived in Slab City for more than 20 years, and installed our solar panels for less than half the price we were quoted at any other solar company. He did an amazing job with high-quality panels.
“Mike’s a good guy,” Frank smiled, and welcomed us in immediately. He gave us a full tour and invited us to stay for a couple of days.

East Jesus was first described to me as a remote spot in the desert where artists gather to create beautiful things out of the garbage that they find lying around Slab City. “People come (to Slab City)  and see that there’s garbage everywhere. What they don’t realize is that it’s not our garbage–it was already here. We’re just trying to create something beautiful with it.”

All of the artwork at East Jesus can be touched, sat on, climbed into, and fully experienced. They have a Mercedes that has been set on fire. A towering elephant made out of discarded rubber. A “babies in barbed wire” display. They have a VW bus that has been intricately decorated and has visited Burning Man twice. And these are only small examples of the fascinating creations at East Jesus.

After the art tour, Frank took us behind the PRIVATE PROPERTY signs into the gathering places of their commune. We explored their kitchen, outdoor living room, functioning bathroom, power room, library, and music room. They provide wifi and three meals a day. They have a BBQ, a smoker, and a fire pit.

“The first 48 hours here are free,” Frank explains. “We know what it’s like to be a traveler. Sometimes you just need a place to stand still for a couple of days.” East Jesus will take you in, feed you, and give you a safe place to sleep.

“After that, we require one hour of work per day, five days a week, ” Frank explains. For “work” you can do anything you want. You can work in the kitchen, you can clean, or “if you want to blow shit up, we have shit to blow up.” The concept of “work” is to do something you enjoy and are good at.

This little commune is established on the belief that people, if left alone with no rules to restrict them, can and will live up to their full potential. I am reminded of my own years of office work and its limitations on my creativity, ideas, and passions.

For $150 per month here, you can live in their community. The “rent” includes free wifi, all meals, working bathrooms, a music room, a library, and the freedom to use any of their resources to create art.

As Pat Sweeney said after our tour, “It makes me happy that this place exists.”

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Slab City and Salvation Mountain: Finding Inspiration in the Desert

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Slab City was first described to me as a place where people go to hide from the government. Previously a military base, this plot of land was abandoned is now home to several squatters, meth addicts, and people who for whatever reason wish to live off the grid. Occasional fights break out over public space. There are no rules here. There is also no electricity, no running water, no sewers, no toilets, and no trash pickup service.

As you enter, you are greeted by a homemade sign: THE LAST FREE PLACE, and later another one–WELCOME TO SLAB CITY. Here you will find donkeys, dogs, naked hippies with painted faces, and make-shift homes in the middle of nowhere.

An abandoned ambulance has been turned into a residence. So has a school bus. A barefoot dude wanders around with a beer in one hand while a girl with hairy legs and exposed tits says hello. The softly glowing MacBook Pro on my lap makes me feel like a dumb hipster.

Then I see a brilliant bomb of paint–a mountain of spectacular colors. Salvation Mountain.

Elaborate nooks, crannies, and branches stretch like wild things all through the mountain, covered in rainbows of inspirational and biblical messages. The mountain is three stories high and as wide as a football field. You can climb right to the top.

Corners that at first appear empty open up to elaborate memorials, intricately decorated to honor various dead with messages of love and longing. Unlike most works of art, here you are welcome to enter, climb, touch, and participate.

The entire mountain is Leonard Knight’s work of art. A simple man who may never have caused a ripple in civilized society, but he is famous here. Adored, revered, and respected. A small voice in the desert. The message he most prominently displays: God Is Love.

David says, “I painted the mountain because I love God and I love people.” And the people come to see it.

I smile to think of so many of us stuck in our churches talking about a way to “change the world,” yet blending into our comfortable surroundings. We believe we need to be rich or famous or deeply talented to make a difference or stand out. But in the dark places–in the shunned corners like Slab City, even the smallest flicker burns with the power of a blow torch.

To me, Salvation Mountain is proof that anyone can make a difference. Not with eloquence or intelligence, but with bright colors and three simple words: God Is Love.

In 2013, join me in embracing life’s simplest pleasures: fresh air, good food, sound sleep, and genuine friendships.

Video of Salvation Mountain

Direct YouTube Link HERE

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