Scout - Katie Bachler


We’re very excited to welcome Katie Bachler to Joshua Tree as our first HDTS Scout!  

The HDTS Scout Residency is dedicated to learning more about the people and places that make up our diverse and ever evolving community.  

Drop into the HDTS HQ, the Scout's home base, and meet Katie, our steadfast and effervescent inaugural Scout, who can be found in her base camp at the HQ making maps, hosting conversations, and baking bread – in between her off-site adventures around town and out in the field.

Katie has a lot in store during her time here, including:

  • a series of talks featuring local experts
  • joining together to create a web of knowledge
  • a research library and archive documenting the many spaces, places, plants, and people that make up this special region
casual conversations with drop in visitors over tea

  • site visits and field trips around town

Learn more about the Scout Residency.

Katie was in residence from 2012-2013.  

Now, a farewell, an always beginning


I sit here now in a coffee shop, in a city, in a space that is old brick with new scones inside, along a light rail, and people are clumped close. I left the desert in the beginning of this year, to return to a city that is changing so quickly. I left the desert because I thought I was missing something, that everything was too hard. I left the desert because I really felt like I might be going crazy, that I had lost sight of a certain part of myself and my relationship to the world. I was struggling to figure out a space for myself, feeling the unraveling of one of the reasons I was out here- to move into a house that my partner was building in the boulders. The circumstances for being here had changed- we were working under the assumption of a linear goal, and it became more and more apparent that a project is a story too, and in language we can make anything true, and bounded, and monumental, and full of power. But like our histories, like any place, the shared subjective reality is much more complex. So I had to step away, to return, though a return to anything is not actually possible.

This question: Do we come to the desert, to any Wilderness, Thoreau to his Walden, as a rejection of an urban condition? To create an experience based on what it is not? Are we antagonistic, sometimes even violent in our rejection of other ways of living?  I hear people say “F*ck the city, I don’t need those people” in the desert sometimes, as they become intrigued by idea of a simple life for ones-self.


I think about this all the time in my practice as an artist, and place-maker- how to create an inclusive space that shifts and is not rigid, that is both responsive to and inclusive of the grander social organism that we are all in the process of constantly creating. A space that can hold the I and the We simultaneously.

The desert exists in a mythical space to people in the city, perhaps fits into a box, and allows for a release. Life became complicated in the fall for me, with habitation and patterns of life, as the idea of the desert, and the reality of the desert began to rub up against each other more and more. I believe that my life became hard as the space of the desert was out of my control, as I moved away from my initial, new-feeling time here, when reality was full of possibilities.  The platform of being a Scout, and curating certain experiences in relation to myself, allowed me to retain a simultaneous subjective and objective experience of this expanding place, which was safe.

We tell stories that go on and on, there is a spontaneity to human interaction, a willing ness to let go because of the sheer vastness of the landscape. To let stories inter-weave, and let go of certain conceptions of what a friendship is supposed to look like, what we are supposed to do together, what we should be talking about. The infrastructure of the city and technology limits bodies and minds to certain topics and patterns of movement. I feel like my actual experiences are extensions of email conversations.

People let go in the desert, are open, even come out planning to have expansive experiences.

 believe in the desert, and the roughness and truth it allows for, the trust in a togetherness of all who choose to reside by these boulders and dry washes, the leap into a self exposed, defining its own rhythms and paths, in every moment. I met people and they left in their vans, and left on foot, and others who moved into another mode of reality that I was not as kindred with- there is an allowance of ebbs, friendships are not monuments, failure is a part of how time happens in the conflation of the dreamed reality and the lived reality. J-topia, 2-mile-topia (Two utopian projects that were being discussed early in my time in the desert) even transition town, and my friend Stephanie Smith’s plan for a one square mile sustainable village space in North Joshua Tree: how we want to live, how we want to live better. The situation that encompasses the question changes, but there is always a striving for the horizon, a desire to keep building towards something better, even if we do not know what it is yet.

My next adventure takes me to Baltimore, to work with the Baltimore Museum of Art to create a space of comfort in the institution, and help to figure out ways for the museum to expand its energies into the public sphere. We will be working on creating a sense of home in the museum, exploring ideas of movement, place, memory, why things matter, and the power of together! I am from the east, and looking forward to a return to the deciduous, to a sense of history embedded in the landscape, to my family, to bricks and snowstorms, and again, a sense of the unknown.


Here there are sunsets too, in LA, the horizon is blocked by roads and bridges and artificial light, but when I look at the sky, I still feel everything.

Please keep in touch with me, I am! Stay tuned for a map of this time in the desert!


Inside to Outside to a Whole New One

297 The way the desert is, weaving what ever it is that I am thinking about into an endless curving strange fabric that covers until the horizon. The feedback loop. Time happens and happens. I have not written in this space for a while, as I have not been reflecting, and have really just become a part of the boulders, etc.  When people come from outside there is a pocket to re imagine, to see the shift in a brain coming from a city, from everything closer up all the time, from louder language and quieter nature to an expanse of tan and sky and self. Priska and Andrea came from Basel, Switzerland to research for their next fashion publication. The last one was about color and subjectivity, and feeling, and the importance of the specificity of individual experience in fashion. They came here to consider the whole practice of life and living, of the choices people make when they decide to leave what is known, and start a thing out here. Right now its so windy that it looks foggy, but its light yellow and sand. Priska and Andrea were doing research in the desert about the human spirit, so we went and talked with BC about toning and creativity, and what it takes to be here. Talked to Reanna about solar ovens, and quilting, and living communally in an extended family compound. To Garth about water, and what he wore when he was wandering barefoot on a spiritual quest. His clothes rolled into a bag with pockets that was also a bed-roll and pillow, all home-made and sewn.They left everyone we talked to with a post-card with a question on it, for the research, which everyone is supposed to mail back. Mine is What are you dis-satified with? The place in Switzerland which is the most similar to the desert is the Rhine River, because it is wild, and because people in the city find a quiet place on a boat and feel the current that has always been. Having visitors with questions and a feeling to know a place and learn from, and realize that here is all about us, and what we have inside, and what is assumed, then the layers beneath. 298

a copy of a copy

280 What does it mean to be in a place? Does it mean remembering the places the shadows fall as the sun moves across the sky? Internalizing a new color green, and it changes the color that was already there as a story about green? Many national parks have artist-in-residence programs, with the idea that being in such profound and glorious nature will undoubtedly inspire artistic desire, the urge to re-represent nature, to inspire others with a re-vealing and re-telling of natural beauty, the thing itself. Gedney Barclay was the artist in residence in Joshua Tree National Park this month, a theatre director with an interest in old stories and new languages, and re-defining theatre as part of contemporary art. Her reddish hair glows in the afternoon light and she talks about Annie Dillard and the idea of writing about pure experience, outside of interpretetions of said experience. How can you make art about nature? How can any language come close to describing where we are now? She wants to talk about everything while talking about one little part of it, encourage an experience of a now. We take a walk to a secret house in the park that isnt on any map, through a landscape that reminds me of the great plains, talking about copying and remaking, about dada and surrealist theatre as a rupture, about what it is to be a maker in the world, and what to respond to, and when it is appropriate to make a piece vs have a conversation. 281 Then 3 weeks later it was time for her performance, a re-interpretation of Persephone, with Louise Gluck poetry woven in. It was super windy and she was wrapped in a white sheet, the impossibility of stillness on granite. She spoke about the farawayness of stars, that we are not fire. She asked us what we were looking at. Then we followed her across the desert.282 We followed her for 25 minutes, she didn't turn around, sometimes she ran. There was an awkwardness, a question of whether or not we were free to be ourselves and talk, or need we shuffle along in silence. Sun set, orange glow, crazy pants. Movement stillness movement. From afar a blue blob on a giant boulder, a destination, a non-desert object we could tell from afar it was a part of a performance.283 A striking image of blue against yellowish, the human impostition upon the lanscape, a statement and a stage for an action. In this case poetry yelled into the expanse, wind whipping, the truth of a body curled back into a perfect hole in the rock at the end of the show. And this frame for an evening an excuse to bring people into a magical land to feel their own bodies, cool faced, sand in your shoes.

a women's dinner in the desert

266 The desert is where everything is compacted and expanded all at once, where an idea becomes a form. With an intention on empty sand space, we invited 80 creatively-minded women from Los Angeles and the desert to participate in a meal for women in the wash behind my house in Pioneertown. A Women's Dinner in the Desert. I have been thinking a lot about social movements and the need to create unique languages to frame parts of society, and in that the need to isolate sometimes, to specify, to disengage. Food creates a space and a temporality, people need a journey sometimes. My friends Sarah and Kate and I designed and created some parts that when combined with amazing women, made a whole. 


Women arrived from Los Angeles with homemade marmalade, readings about the landscape, poetry, and a performance that was all of us humming. In scuffed up boots and straw hats too, desert gear, an important choice.  We asked everyone to bring something, to create a collective meal and forum for thought and action. A guiding question for the evening:  what do we need from the desert?


There is an old stone house near the wash built with river stones. It is my favorite place in the desert, with its lava rock fireplace and teal ribbed dishware pieces scattered over the concrete floor. I guess it is now in BLM land because I always see off road vehicles go by, big jeeps with big wheels. Freedom for those kind of activities and freedom for a party for women. Land use!


The long white table in the wash- there is a truck stuck in the sand behind it, a desert problem. We walked out to dinner at sunset and served ourselves out of large enamel pots. Potato Tacos and Squash Tacos cooked by Sarah. Women talked and clumped by the desert willows, with lanterns. We made a place into a space. Maybe this is what a feminst practice looks like now, a subtle intention, a connection to nature with a modest pink framework.




259 What is the language we use to describe where we are? When do we pay attention to the subtleties of color, the gradients of the sky? Cool cheeks and wet toes in actual desert grass, post-fire, bring me to the moment of the moment, a moment that is morning before cell phone reception due to the large mesas blocking air waves.260 I feel connected through repeated interactions with the landscape. A rock shape is my body shape curl.262

the lot that is the desert behind the dmv in 29 palms or everything

255 Today I was waiting at the DMV and decided to wander into the vastness that is land that is not covered in concrete or aspalt. Today is one of those days in the desert where I can't decide if it is hot or cold, and either the hot or the cold makes me sweat and turns my face red. There is no such thing as empty space out here; everything is a part of the desert biome, dotted with creosote bushes and young smoke trees. I see ripples where the wind has affected the small grains that comprise the earth here. In a moment I am quieted by the alwaysness of a human connection with another living thing. I rub the sticky creosote between my fingers and, despite the fact that I am 15 feet away from the parking lot, feel calm and connected to all that is around me. Rusting tin cans, each with at least one small bullet hole in it, litter the sandy beige landscape. I am drawn to each one, pick it up, looking for some trace of its original use value. Sometimes there is a faint "dr. pepper" beneath the chalky brown layers. Knowing. This is home, traces of past lives in this land of little rain, where what was, remains. No other footsteps on the sand, only rogue roads, tire tracks, the desert used as a secret way between places.

There is openness everywhere out here, nature does not need to be sought out or escaped to. Perhaps there is a slight desire to escape from it sometimes and return to a city with no visible edge. Here the edge seeps into the infrastructure with little piles of sand next to cars in the parking lot. I love the pieces of fabric fraying in the dust as much as the Joshua Trees and the National Park. There are remnants of lives here, there will always be space, unmarked and unpatrolled where I can walk for hours and see no one; this feels so good, it is everything.

a gift is a letting go

252 Tibetan Forest Monks live on Reche Rd at a monastary called Wat Santi, in between the Integratron and the Marine Base, wrapped in ochre robes and singing. On Satudays the public is invited to serve them rice in a gift giving ritual, as they are alms monks, and exist outside of the dominant mode of exchange- capitalism. We stand in a row, each with a bowl of forbidden rice and a small spoon, and scoop a bit into their large brass orb bowls as they walk by. We bow to eachother. The forest monk tradition of Buddhism began in the wilderness of Thailand, and spread to San Diego several years ago, and then to here, where four monks now live. Forest monks believe in a sense of being one with the wild things, with nature itself, and that only through an understanding of ones self in realtion to all parts of the ecosystem, can enlightenment be reached. We must realize that we are all connected. The household life is close and dusty, the homeless life is free as air. It is not easy, living the household life, to live the fully-perfected holy life, purified and polished like a conch shell. What if I, having shaved off my hair & beard and putting on the ochre robe, were to go forth from the home life into homelessness?253 After the ritual rice is placed in their bowls, we all go inside to the meditation and chanting room, and we chant as the monks eat their breakfasts, which also consist of the freshest fruit and eggrolls, beef soup, and salad. The monks tell us "let go of suffering through letting go of a perception of self..." They have a calm and strong energy and their eyes are so clear. We chant as they eat: "Consciousness is inconstant....Form is not-self.....Feeling is not-self......perception is not-self....."254 Wat Santi is open to the public with morning and evening meditations and chantings, everyday at 6am and 6pm. Meditations last an hour and a half.

Reality is like a horserace

236 I first met artist and craftsman Desert Mike when I thought I might move into a house on his compound. I was greeted with a space full of rusty objects and a gentle man with a love of small and beautiful found things, with kind eyes and wiry glasses. Today I visited his home on Windsong Avenue to hear his story.  He offered me wine or tea, coffee or water, and was excited to show me around his house, which was unusally dark, with maroon curtains blocking the desert bright, and jars of dried goods. HIs modern, southwest inspired furniture pieces decorated the walls and corners, and folded objects with stories emerged from some of them, like a French flag from WWII given to an American soldier by his French lover... 237 He shows me the tiles of millionaires houses, which he found by the side of the road, that now make up his bathroom walls. "Free, it was all free," says Desert Mike. "They don't want you to know it, but you can get a lot for free in this world! I am going to write some kind of piece on dumpster diving..." I too have been collecting objects found in the desert, tin cans with flowering bullet holes, fragments of turquoise china, covers of books...the desert ages real functional things in a way that renders them almost mystical, formless, separate from their original use value in the known world. Mike's space feels clean and neat, and taxonimized in a way that is familiar from trips to the back room of the Natural History Museum. Every object has a reason for being where it is and exists within a grander classification system, imperceptible when viewing a small group of objects on their own.239 Desert Mike works on his assemblage works slowly; each and every tiny piece that he touches has a specfic place where it is supposed to go. He tells me that things don't always fit together the way he thinks they will; in his head a pea-sized turquoise pyramid might fit nicely into an old gear of a watch, but when he does it, something doesn't feel right. So he spends a lot of time sitting with a specific placement of components, looking and feeling and moving things around. He is particularly excited about 4 new pairs of surgeons forceps he recently purchased in Quartzite, for only 10 dollars (!). He thinks they are worth at least $25 a piece! 240 Mike first came to the desert with his family in 1956 to a small homesteaders cabin in 29 Palms that his father bought for "dirt cheap." Back then there was NOTHING here, he says, it truly was the wild west. The family's cabin was on Dump Road, and the first cast off objects that young Mike was drawn to were a bunch of wooden national monument signs, with the words carved out with a router in a beautiful old fashioned typeface. He saved the lot of them and one still hangs on the building next to his house. His family continued to go out to the cabin for all of his young life, and Mike felt drawn to the openness and outsider feel of the desert land.241 We speak about the mystical and the mythical, the interface between the humble and the divine, and Mikes understanding of some greater, other-dimensional being that designed all of the parts of this world. There are other beings vibrating at distinct frequencies that we cannot see or hear, on planes close to but separate from the reality we experience, and we all have the right to our beliefs about the world. "Reality is like a horserace," he says, "everyone is betting on their horse." He brings out a piece built on a discarded motherboard, that feels like an extension of our conversation about reality. Glued onto the circuits and silicon are objects from nature; a fossilized snail shell, a fragment of peridot, a circle of turquoise. I remark that it is difficult to tell which parts were added, and he smiles, "good." 242 Mike went to school for furniture making, and started a woodworkers cooperative in Long Beach in the early 80s. He made fine furniture, with smooth, varnished wood for years for a living, and when he moved out here in 1987, he craved a return to natural unfinished wood, and the textures of different types of trees. Now he carves his pieces with enhanced textures, taking wood grain to a new dimension. Some of his furniture has crystals embedded in in, which lights up with the technology of LED lights! "I think I am a moth," he said as he explained to me that he had always been attracted to light.244 This is a Ritual Cabinet, a cabinet for individuals rituals, like "taking vitamins or burning insence."

The character of a town

234 I attended the recent meeting at the Hospice of Morongo Basin Meeting Room, to prepare for the Thursday hearing about the possible new Dollar General Store in Joshua Tree. The people of Joshua Tree love this place like I love the way the snow falls on the volcanic rocks on the ground near my house. It happens as it should, in a flow that is congruent with the rest of nature. This town has an energy and aesthetic all its own; a combination of the wild west, robust individualism, an artistic flair, and a national park make this place unlike anywhere else. And people support the small businesses in town; we all go to the thrift stores to pick up sundries for the house, and this money goes to the non-profits that these thrift stores support. We have an economy that feeds back into itself and keeps the town afloat, and a town needs services for its residents. The Dollar General Store is being proposed by an outside development company called Dynamic Development. This new development goes against what is called for in the Joshua Tree Community Plan whose mission “is to guide the future use and development of land within the Joshua Tree Community Plan area in a manner that preserves the character and independent identity of the community... Support revitalization of the existing downtown commercial area by encouraging tourist services and recreation-oriented retail uses that retain the natural desert character.”235 Concerned residents will pile into cars on Thursday January 17th, and head to San Bernadino to the county seat to participate in a hearing about the possible future store. Jay Babcock, of Defend Joshua Tree, is organizing this and writes on his blog

Please consider attending this hearing as a community member opposed to this proposal. We have all the relevant testimony prepared. What we need most is to have people in the room on our side. You do not have to testify. You just have to be present.

There are 25 carpool seats so far being offered to interested parties. People will meet at the turtle sculpture at 6:15am!

I have been off the blogo-sphere for a bit due to a holiday lull, stay tuned for a back-log of desert stories!

Happy New!


in the kitchen

229 1600 different mugs with special patterns, aprons all along the wall, from a time when women were fashionable in the kitchen, pink zig zags, and kiss the cooks. I spend two days a week at the Ricochet Gourmet cooking soup and making lattes for locals and tourists alike, in this cozy little shop that feels like home. This has become the place where I can share stories about desert lore and make little maps for people on brown paper bags, and have them make little maps for me of faraway cold places. Last weekend there were 4 people from northern Canada and Alaska in at the same time, all interested in seeking warmth and drier open spaces. "BLM land is the best place to park the RV," "I'm heading to Tuscon for the winter," "I work on a Salmon boat all Homer" Vanessa and I work together some days, see her in the kitchen above, doing dishes. She just moved to the desert from a tall ship, where she was the cook for the past few months, sailing up and down the westerns coast with people looking for a pirates dream. Now she is the innkeeper at a small motel in 29! We come up with curries together, sing, scheme the making of things. 230 The shop, in downtown Joshua Tree. I love the strip of economy here; all along the 62, linear. I quite like working here, the work is real and direct, and providing a source of nourishment in this desert clime. Its a pocket, a waypoint. The wonderful Tawnja Plueffeger runs the place, along with Ricochet Vintage down the street. She apparently has the best eye in the west for vintage wears. 232 Vanessa with butternut squash233 These mugs