Anarchy and Otter Pops in East Jesus

East Jesus 1

By Emily Pennington

What do you do when one of your best friends invites you to a debaucherous birthday weekend at an off the grid artist commune deep in the California desert near the Salton Sea? Attend whole-heartedly and experience EVERYTHING you can, of course!

East Jesus is a non-profit, off the grid intentional community founded by the late Charlie Russell in the ass-crack outskirts of Slab City. If you’ve never heard of Slab City, well, it’s known as “the last free place,” and is basically a makeshift town made up of people in RVs and trailers who are, essentially squatting on government land about 4 miles outside of Niland, CA (85 miles southeast of Palm Springs). There’s no water, no power, and no resources, just a bunch of abandoned concrete slabs left over from a WWII base, Camp Dunlap. Oh yeah, and it’s 110 degrees during the daytime in the middle of October.

East Jesus 2

In spite of the fact that the sun was actively trying to kill me and nearly every other living thing out there that weekend, I had a freaking awesome time. First off, I got to stay in the best hobo accommodations that money can’t buy – a hand-painted Totoro trailer with tentacles for a doorknob. I got a hand-picked tour of the sculpture garden when I first arrived (this is the only part of East Jesus accessible to tourists unless you’re visiting a resident), which features a hodge podge of assemblage pieces and art cars, broken glass and duck decoys, and a non-functioning Mercedes that has been lit on fire so many times that it is lovingly referred to as the “Car-B-Que.”

To be honest, the daylight hours at East Jesus are brutal. I mostly lay around eating Otter Pops, talking about art and trying not to get bitten by horseflies in between dunks in the cool pool that seriously saved my Scandinavian booty! But, at night… wow! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I am not a desert person. But, something about the camaraderie of a group meal, the intense flickering of flames from a rusted out Mercedes, and the deep black of the night sky as the stars make their nightly, nomadic journey was truly magical. I giggled my ass off with new friends and ran, half naked, sprinting full force into the interminable blackness of the desert in search of Slab City’s famed hot springs. I soaked my tired bones and stayed up to see the sunrise.

East Jesus 4

Now, East Jesus does concern me a bit in the way that many intentional communities concern me, and that is this: I think that, too often, great ideas and experiments in off the grid living are executed in a way that is too far-out, too anarchic, and too poorly packaged for anyone of consequence to take note. The rebellion and chaos themselves seem to take center stage, which can serve to highlight the cracks and weaknesses of these spaces, rather than shifting focus onto some of the truly innovative strategies for clean living that they are implementing. Maybe it’s too much to ask, but I would sincerely love it if a solar-powered, leave-no-trace community sprung up within 30 miles of Los Angeles so that the impact of these ideals could be more easily shared with the population at large, since finding a wide reach and making the project feel accessible are the fastest ways to shift culture.

But perhaps their inaccessibility is precisely what makes these spaces special. Certainly, Burning Man is a bit more pure because of the massive amount of foresight a pilgrimage to Black Rock City takes. Maybe they are meant to serve as beacons for the brave as they journey across the long night, burning like “fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding,” as Kerouac so aptly put it. There is definitely a large amount of magic hidden in East Jesus; don’t let Wikipedia fool you into thinking it’s a roadside attraction. Have an adventure and see it for yourself.

 

Multiple Contributor at | Website

Emily Pennington (also known as the Brazen Backpacker) is an adventurer, solo traveller, mountaineer, quote collector, and all-around lover of things that get people out of their comfort zones.  She lives in Los Angeles, California, USA.

Put on her first international flight at 3 months old, she’s been adventuring in one way or another ever since! From wandering the forests of Sweden alone at the age of nine, taking photos of faeries, to solo trekking in the Himalayas of India, to joining the circus as a professional aerialist, Emily is a big fan of the “just get out there and do it” mentality.

She considers it her mission in life to inspire others to go outside, travel, and get curious about everything. As John Muir aptly put it, “going out is really going in.”

38 thoughts on “Anarchy and Otter Pops in East Jesus

  • July 17, 2017 at 4:07 pm
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    I didn’t know such a place exists in California! It looks like an interesting place to explore and have a crazy adventure. That Totoro trailer is so cute 😛

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  • July 17, 2017 at 12:22 pm
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    This is so different. Never seen this concept before.I can imagine how interesting it must be to gather there. But I feel once the novelty dies down they will have to try something new again. But definitely I would like to experience this.

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    • July 18, 2017 at 12:01 am
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      It is a really special place. Sort of like a smaller version of Burning Man much closer to Los Angeles and Palm Springs!

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  • July 17, 2017 at 1:54 am
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    this place is very different and certainly expressive I must say that I love it!

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  • July 17, 2017 at 12:52 am
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    Wow! I had no idea something like this even existed! Seems cool and crazy all at the same time…ha

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    • July 18, 2017 at 12:04 am
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      It is! I think it’s important to have dedicated spaces for exploring the wildest, most expressive parts of ourselves.

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  • July 16, 2017 at 3:03 pm
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    I’ve never heard of the East Jesus community but I’d definitely accept that invitation. I’ve never heard of Slab City either which also sounds interesting. This place sounds like it comes to life at night, I think I’d try sleep in the shade during the day, it sounds like they don’t have air con!

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    • July 18, 2017 at 12:05 am
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      Yep! It gets extremely hot during the day, so the time to go is absolutely during the winter. If you’ve ever seen Into The Wild, there’s a big scene at Slab City!

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  • July 16, 2017 at 3:08 am
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    Woah this is so different – first time I’ve heard of this place. Would definitely check it out if someone invited me. I don’t think anarchy can work on a large scale but great to see small communities living by it.

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    • July 18, 2017 at 12:06 am
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      It’s not even really anarchy – they have 501c3 status and a board of directors for the art projects. However, the food and chores, etc are very commune-esque!

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  • July 15, 2017 at 8:23 pm
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    I’ve heard about this place and while I found it interesting, I’m not sure I’d want to hang out for long. I love the desert and feel that it has a sense of beauty and magic about it, that part of California is ridiculously hot!

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    • July 18, 2017 at 12:09 am
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      It was unbelievably hot! I can’t believed I survived being outside for 2 days in 108 degrees with no AC.

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  • July 15, 2017 at 6:40 pm
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    Slab City is definitely not a place for me. I like my running water and creature comforts. East Jesus does look like an interesting place to visit though.

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  • July 15, 2017 at 6:30 pm
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    so insanely cool. I’ve never heard of it but now i’m super curious and the art work is phenomenal. thanks for sharing!

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  • July 15, 2017 at 6:15 pm
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    What an interesting getaway! I would like to experience something like this once in my life, to live off the grid in your own little community. I don’t think it would be East Jesus though, unfortunately I don’t do too well in the heat. I’m totally feeling the Totoro camper and the interesting artwork though!

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  • July 15, 2017 at 4:19 pm
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    I loved to read about your unusual adventure. I am not sure if I would fit in but it looks like you had an amazing time 🙂

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  • July 15, 2017 at 12:45 pm
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    Whoa, I’ve never heard of anything like that. That certainly sounds like an adventure! Some of that art is incredible. (Dolphind and freedom though?) I need to go Google otter pops now lol

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  • July 15, 2017 at 10:06 am
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    Excellent post. I’d love to visit an off-grid community like East Jesus. I watched a documentary about Slab City just recently and it does look a bit mental but I’d still love to visit nonetheless. Sounds like you had a great adventure – thanks for sharing!

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    • July 18, 2017 at 12:31 am
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      It was a great time! The hot springs especially. There’s nothing like a wild romp through the desert!

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  • July 15, 2017 at 4:02 am
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    This place looks pretty interesting. Defiantly something I would go to check out! Great pictures too!

    XO-Lisa

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  • July 15, 2017 at 3:49 am
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    I’m from Tucson where a lot of people strive to support local business, local farmers, and efforts to conserve energy. There are a few “almost off-grid” people around in the Sonoran desert, but because much of it is protected (for now anyway…) this type of off-grid living isn’t possible there. Your comment about the execution of these communities being too far-out and anarchic. I agree, and I think that leads to a lot of misconceptions about living off the grid. It can actually create more damage if not done correctly, especially in regards to waste disposal. I won’t go into what kind of waste. East Jesus looks fascinating. When I get back to Tucson in the fall, I may just have to go check it out. Can I just show up unannounced if I’m not going to spend the night?

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    • July 18, 2017 at 12:33 am
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      I think you can tour the art garden if you show up unannounced, but if you go to the website and coordinate with the leaders, that’s how you can camp/spend the night!

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  • July 15, 2017 at 2:47 am
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    This is definitely a very interesting place. I agree with you, I wouldn’t have passed up the experience either. I would be so curious to check it out.

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  • July 14, 2017 at 10:13 pm
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    That looks like an amazing place to visit, I wish I could go there, I’d love to check out the art work! Sounds like you had a great trip and you certainly won’t forget the place!

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  • July 14, 2017 at 9:51 pm
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    Wow sounds like a crazy adventure, but a fun one! Never been to a community like this, although as you said those who try to impact less, grow their own food might be more of my kind of thing 🙂 Thanks for sharing your experience!

    Cheers Mili

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    • July 18, 2017 at 12:38 am
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      Yes! It’s certainly fascinating to see the different ways off the grid communities like this come together. It’s very organization-intensive!

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  • July 14, 2017 at 9:27 pm
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    This place looks incredibly interesting. I do agree with you that a lot of communities like this start out as a good idea but can be a tad on the extreme side.

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    • July 18, 2017 at 12:39 am
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      I just wish that they were more accessible so that they could inspire more ordinary folks who aren’t total weirdos like me to go greener and be more off the grid in a city environment!

      Reply

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