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.  

cactus ed

226 I love the wilderness, the scent of creosote sticky on my fingers, the wind blowing lime green desert willow leaves into piles in the wash, the soft pinkness of boulders i can curve my body around. And the stillness where there is a lack of human infrastructure. I build my days on a morning of light and texture and motion, a bustle of twelve quail at once, sand sand in my shoes. We need nature. Human beings need pockets outside of doing, outside of things about other things, outside of the known world coded in language. What is the balance though between the human constructed world and the natural world- turning mountains into buildings at a steel factory, slicing through the desert with a highway line straight from Kansas to LA, removing hundreds of desert tortoises to build one square mile of solar panels? How do we interact with the environment in a way that honors both nature itself, and our current modes of living? This months Scout Bookclub book is Desert Solitaire by one Edward Abbey, an environmentalist heralded as the Thoreau of the West. Abbey, desert name Cactus Ed, spent a few summers as a ranger in Arches National Monument in Moab, Utah, learning the way that the land is, what it does to the human spirit, and what we really need in this world. He wrote Desert Solitaire about these experiences. It is a meditation on freedom, on edges and boundaries separating us from ourselves, including the idea of the National Park. How do we truly experience the natural world, for ourselves?  We will think about how Abbey lived in and learned to know his desert landscape, and how we too are writing the narrative of our lives, in this particular landscape, a landcape valued by people from all over the world for its beauty, strangeness, and places of solitude. My first time to Joshua Tree, I was 18 and had been living in California for 4 days. I slept at Jumbo Rocks in the park and woke up at sunrise and sat and sat on a rock, felt the time of the sun and knew everything in that moment, alone. This memory of me as me is deeply a part of me, and I hold it alongside my life here now. We can do both, perhaps, or that is the goal. To remain connected to the mystery and magic of a place while maintaing a life pattern within it, a normalcy, a job at the coffee shop and driving a car. 

wall street revisited



Sift through tiny river rocks, hit the lode, be robustly individual, move west, be free, tap the resources of nature. Prospectors headed to this desert for years, setting up over 700 mines inside Joshua Tree Park alone! (not a park until 1994) There was a second gold rush during the great depression, when the unemployment rate in this country was 25%. One such entrepenerial endeavor was the ore crushing mill of William Keys, of Keys Ranch fame. Wall Street Mill, perhaps named after the street where the Great Depression began on October 29, 1929, on black tuesday, stands proudly against the rolling piles of giant pinkish granite. I walked to the Wall Street Mill last weekend, down a dusty trail that many a horse had surely travelled, past green and blue pickup trucks from the 40s, left to be preserved by the desert sun and dryness . 

224 225


We walked all the way across the dry lake bed


Last Saturday a small group of people walked across Coyote Dry Lake Bed. I was joined by Margot Ittelson(of the Pink Post Office) and her brother Chris. We set out at around 10 am with a destination of the dark grey faraway mountain. Margot was curious about what it was made of; was it sand or was it hard rocks? Miles appear as mere meters across the dry lake bed, we have no idea the distance to said intriguing mountains. 


 As we begin our trek into the fractal patterns of past water, we discuss how it might have felt to walk across nothingness for days; we found ourselves depressed by the lack of any living thing. The thing about Coyote Dry Lake is that it is an off-roaders makeshift course, ATVs and rugged motorbikes charge across the vasness, creating rogue trails up the sides of the hills. We see and hear these vehicles during our walk across the yellow dryness. 


Bureau of Land Management "manages" the land of the dry lake bed, which means anyone can set up camp for 14 days, for free. BLM allows off roading, and is not highly regulated, like National Parks and National Monuments, causing controversy amongst environmentalists.


This land used to be open for homesteading until the US government passed the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. RVs with bright green and pink lawnchairs are scattered across the lakebed- seems like a few of them have been here longer than 2 weeks. We spot traces of life as we walk; a pair of shoes, some tires and cans.


We begin to really feel the lack of life and then to notice it with relief when it returns. A void is filled when we see a bright purple flower growing out of the dusty cracks!


A contrast; a moment to consider the power of life, even in the harshest of conditions, there is a will to survive, with brightness!


We make it to the other side, which ends up being about two and a half miles from where we parked. The rock here is hard, maybe once volcanic and there are lots of boys on small motorcycles popping wheelies in the dust. It was amazing to hike with Margot and Chris; they want to be Scouts too! We all have small "scout assignments"- Margot will research gold mines and Chris will research native edible plants! To have a chunk of time to walk in space with people of the land; to learn about eachother and the land as we walk- so inspiring!

a walk through space

209  Saturday at 10am, meet in the Coyote Dry Lake Bed, a site of HDTS. This is the next walk building on LETS TALK ABOUT SPACE, which we did at the HQ a month or so ago. Let's be in the space!  We will consider the importance of moving through vastness and the need for exploration! Maybe a dance will happen.... 

A gift



An animal inside of his brain tells Simi Dabah what to do, he is not in control, the images keep coming to him. Images that turn into monumental iron sculptures, some 30 feet tall, at the rate of 50 or 60 a year. He is 85 years old, and has been creating these striking modernist pieces for 40 years, storing them in his backyard in Joshua Tree. The works are lovely minimal plop art, with an aesthetic of primitive cave drawings, motifs of the south west, reminiscent of the simple rectilinear shapes of minimalist painters like Mondrian and sculptor David Smith, with a bit of Levitated Mass. However, Dabah has no formal art school training, his work comes from some unstoppable place inside of him.


He cannot stop making them, he says, the ideas and images just spill out of him. Scavenging in metal scrap yards in Los Angeles, and wandering through the desert lead Simi to some awesome pieces of wrought iron. Simi and Julie Dabah invite me into their modest minimal desert home, on Sunfair close to the dry lake bed. We are all wearing sweaters because the weather has turned colder all of a sudden, with crisp winter light outlining the mountains in a brighter blue sky. We sit and chat about life, how to be who we want to be in the world, how to make money, and follow our passions. I am inspired by his life, his way with materials, his inability to not make art. 


The couple walks me outside, where there are literally 500 original works! The sculptures look great aginst this backdrop, the wind hits my face and my eyes water, reminding me of late fall days picking apples in Vermont. Simi and Julie tell me his outsider artist life story; no formal training, used to make ceramics, grew up in and around LA. Simi found the desert as a real estate agent; sold lots of property out here in the 60s and 70s, and fell upon this piece of land and home. They spend most of time in LA near Beverly Hills, where Simi welds together the sculptures in an alleyway studio. He has a forklift there and a forklift here, and a large truckbed in between. He has an assistant, Bob, who is works at his desert property once a week. Simi will be included in the highway 62 Art Tours this year.


Simi makes dozens of sculptures every year and GIVES them away. Talking to hime about the function of art in our current world reminds me of one of my favorite books, called The Gift, which is all about how artists create work that falls outside of the dominant capitalistic mode of exchange. Creativity is joyful, and the act of giving something away inherantly ties an object to a person and a process. Simi has donated sculptures to the town of Yucca Valley, the town of 29 Palms, the Motel 6 in 29 Palms, Copper Mountain College(he has a whole sculpture garden there!), College of the Desert, The Hi-Desert Medical Center, and more. His style is unmistakable, I see his work everywhere, he is the creator of work for the public art scene in this desert!


"They blend into the landscape, reflect the desert browns and tans, space..." says his wife. Its true, though I would not have immediatly connected the heavy rusted artworks to the muted colors and vasteness of this land. The more I spend time with these objects, the more I feel their scale and openness, their freedom, their purity, like the Great Mojave, which seems to go on forever. Maybe this comes from my knowledge of Simi's creative process, that it too is infinite and alive, non-goal oriented, never ending.

Kenyan Cowgirl


Carved wooden masks from the Safari lands of Kenya, a couple of golden dogs, tea time British-style-4pm, cream and sugar; I meet Annelies Kuiper up at her place, in North North Joshua Tree, past dozens of homestead cabins in various stages of decay, and bumpiest roads with names like Windsong, and Saturn. I have been wanting to talk to her since we met at the Copper Mountain Mesa Community breakfast last month, where we briefly spoke about the wild west, secret histories, and a love of space. I learned then that she moved to the US from Kenya when she was 18, and there were Cowgirl parallels between the two open landscapes. She is the president of the Copper Mountain Mesa Community Association, and writes the monthly newletter. Here is a bit from last months news "Ruthie Malton told me of her recent, close encounter with a Rattlesnake. She had been working on her Gazebo and when she left, she closed the heavy door behind her. Later, she returned: only to find adead Mojave Green that had apparently been decapitated by the Gazebo door she had closed earlier: Yikes!"


Anneleis and I sit for a few hours and quickly get deep into the politics of life out in the swaths of golden sand. There is a deep honesty to this conversation, and we agree that things are not always easy out here. There is this beautiful myth of this high desert, with its vortexes and hiking trails and delicious food and spiritual retreats, but along side these elements are stories of people struggling to make a living, to find a place in this very specific economic reality. The desert is isolating; you can hide for days and not see anyone out in North J Tree, the magical windy sandy bumpy roads are hard to access, and create a boundary between realities. A retreat? Being alone? Being lonely? By choice or because there is no where else to go? Anneleis and I love the honesty and rawness that this lanscape reveals, the almost inability to be a false self here; all conversations have this earnesty, I know the color and depth of many pairs of eyes out here. Anneleis has deep blue eyes, that provide a sense of liquid in the desert. 


We connect over the need for community spaces, for a connection over shared food. The idea is to build a community garden at the old firehouse next to the Copper Mountain Mesa Community Center, with a greywater system, and a kitchen where food from the garden can be prepared by people in the community for the community. A cycle of life, connective tissue, an oasis of green and health, as well as a way to connect the old and young residents of this area. Anneleis says reciped just come to her, and she loves to make food for people. She dreamed up a delicious pinapple mango jalapeno salsa, which I took several spoonfuls of! Amazing; this is her art!  I want Anneleis to open up a tiny restaurant at the garden!


 Anneleis is also a writer; this is her semi-autobiographical story of growing up in Kenya. It touches on the human wilderness interface, as well as a romance!


this place is real
Something happened in the last week. The desert became a real place, with roots and complications and connections. All of the parts that I have been experiencing; the crystals and magical people and strange plant life all exist in this actual place that is deeply whole and still, and quiet. I have spent the last few months traveling down sandy roads in unincorporated desert-parts, smelling creosote stickiness and feeling the vibrations of each singularity. Trying to know this place, to map it, to be in it. And it happened, it just happened, it is home, and I know ME in it, or at least I am starting to know how to know me here. Joshua Tree is full of active citizens who do not want a Dollar General store built at the corner of Sunburst and Highway 62, and politicians who hold meetings at Pie for the People. I also took a job at a local coffee shop, where I now make lattes for people from far and near in a checkered pink apron. The desert is changing me; it reflects me back at me, and itself too.

196 Water in the desert; deep verdent smelling of marsh rot. I still get excited when I see mirages along highway 62, from my car. Undulating pools of silver in between the slow humps of asphalt. The myth of a desert phenomenon, in the Wiley E Coyote cartoons, is totally real in this heat. I have been obsessed with Oases since moving out here; 29 Palms was named after the Oasis of Mara, where the Serrano Indians supposedly planted 29 Palm Trees, one for every boy baby born in a year.  Oases are springs in the desert crust caused by a rupture in a fault line, allowing access to an underground water pocket.  Oasis means dwelling place.   


Miners and Prospectors planted California Fan Palm Trees in these springs, so they could be easily located en route to the mines. I recently took a hike to the 49 Palms Oasis, at a less popular part of Joshua Tree National Park, hence no cost. Bright pink barrel cactus lined the trail, and the scent of the oasis reminded me of the Los Angeles River, hitting me before I spotted any water in the desert. Water makes life here possible; the building of homestead cabins, boiling the potatoes, washing our faces, a morning, a home.

dream houses


A multitude of tiny peeling wooden and cinderblock houses lie between larger, lived-in homes in the desert near here. These once belonged to homesteaders, and are mainly framed in 2 by 4s, with sticky tarry roofs, water tanks and fraying electrical wire connections.  I drive down sandy roads to these half standing homestead cabins everyday these days, because I have decided to buy one with a couple of my friends, to start building something ourselves, picking up where the homesteaders left off.


Many of the cabins scattering the desert are structurally sound in their raw beams; slap on some ply wood walls, a reclaimed door, windows from the dump and the skeleton becomes a home. These strutures represent a time of scarcity, of austerity when homesteaders built the smallest possible structure (12 ft by 6 ft) required by the government to stake a claim to the land (5 acres of heaven). One room, with a small propane stove, a matress on the floor, a tin cup, and a journal. This reality is intriguing for a girl who grew up in a 3 bedroom suburban home with a staircase; what makes a home a home? (The corners, the light)


What remains of human life are piles of things that move around in a home during use; stuffed bunnies and depression era blue glasses, forks, piles of books that are curling and rotting and yellow. I confront a certain smell, maybe containing remnants of the familiar smell that was once home, but this mixes with decay, with dis-use...tossed and mangled all over the floor- a special purple shell carved with "Hawaii", some worksheets about manifest destiny, letters from prison sometimes. What is left in the desert is left in the desert; there is no public sanitation department that deals with excess waste in abandoned houses (there are a few private waste disposal companies in the high desert).


Objects face us in our dream of building something with our hands, in these frames, the lives of others and the half-house feeling, imagining where a bed would have gone, what the doorknob looked like. People left because they couldn't handle the climate, because of money, because the myth was lovelier than the reality, leaving the structures abandoned for 50 plus years, until a family member decided to sell. Like the lansdcape itself, these houses allow space to imagine our possible domesticities, we just have to sort through the layers of other lives still hanging around inside. 

walking is a matter of upwards

Being in the desert makes makes me think about thinking. Thinking is different here, there are physical places in the landscape to lay my thoughts.  So I have been asking people I meet from other parts of the world that do not have deserts if there is something comparable, a place where one feels simultaneously alone and connected to everything, able to experience a making physical the mental state. My email friend Johanna from Sweden points to the woods as a place for being with nature, as well an archipelago that is so windy that many plants cannot grow, and either can people. And water surrounding tiny, rocky islands; the curve of the earth. Artists make works about pine trees, the ubiquitous Swedish nature form. Retreat to the woods. People need quiet places, to stop moving for a moment or two, or to move in a different directions for a while. A walk in the woods, a walk in the desert. Everett Ruess, 19 years old, wandered into the desert of Utah, alone, never to return, in 1934. A mystery. Standing still in a wild place, walking through a wild place. What happens? Participating in a process grander and older than we can comprehend.

Johanna sent me a painting of a hike in Japan up a mountain, called walking is a matter of upwards. Here it is.