Since 2002, High Desert Test Sites—cofounded by Andrea Zittel, Andy Stillpass, John Connelly, Shaun Regen and Lisa Anne Auerbach—has hosted the work of more than 450 artists, 11 expansive site-specific programs, and 25 solo projects. Long directed by Andrea Zittel, HDTS leadership was recently handed over to Vanesa Zendejas, Zittel’s longtime administrator and program manager. HDTS has been a registered 501c3 nonprofit since 2013.
High Desert Test Sites is a nonprofit arts institution that supports and stewards experimental artwork in the Joshua Tree region. We support programs that intersect contemporary art with everyday life, creating intimate exchanges between individuals, artworks, landscape, and community, challenging art to be relevant both to a region and beyond.
Who We Are
PO Box 1058
Joshua Tree, CA 92252
Office hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 10am-5pm PST
Vanesa Zendejas - Executive Director, firstname.lastname@example.org
Elena Yu - Assistant Director of Programming and Communications, email@example.com
Connor Schwab - Facilities and Grounds Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sydney Foreman - Director’s Assistant and Visitor Services, email@example.com
Lisa Anne Auerbach
Shaun Caley Regen
Elena Yu, Emily Endo, Emma Palm, Sydney Foreman and rotating A-Z West Work Trade Residents. Thanks to Elizabeth Carr and Zena Carr at the Sky Village Swap Meet! RIP Bob Carr.
WEBSITE AND DESIGN
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
David Knaus - Chair
Andrea Zittel - Director Emeritus/Treasurer
Brooke Hodge - Secretary
Aram Moshayedi - Member
Marilyn Loesberg - Member
Susan Lubeznik - Member
High Desert Test Sites is grateful to The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Tides Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation - Arts Regranting Program/Inland Empire at The Community Foundation, Strengthening Inland Southern California through Philanthropy, The Foundation for Contemporary Arts, The Ranch Projects, California Arts council, Sky Village Swap Meet, Copper Mountain Mesa Community Association and our generous donors for their support over the years.
When HDTS was founded in 2002, part of the original mission was to run on zero budget. The idea was to support artistic visions in practical terms—provide tools, help, a cot, guidance, and infinite space. For many years this worked and it produced self-driven projects that were ambitious and independently spirited.
Over the past ten years, HDTS has been working towards building a more substantial funding structure for artists’ projects. This has included hosting recurring fundraising projects including our Artist Painted Rock Auction, Gem/Mineral Expo, pop-ups at art fairs and art museums, and producing limited edition prints for sale.
But these endeavors never quite add up to what we need—to pay our artists fairly, to pay for venue rentals, for staff, to feed our volunteers, pay for all-terrain forklift rentals, liability insurance, the bookkeeper, and so much more.
As our programs grow every year, so does our budget. And although we make every effort to raise the money that we need with Andrea’s self-sufficient spirit in tow, we still rely on support from donors to make it all happen.
HDTS has been a registered 501c3 since 2013. Please consider a gift in any amount to help us in providing access to engaging, experimental, contemporary art in the high desert region.
Donate via PayPal, via Venmo (@hdts_azwest), or via check:
PO Box 1058 Joshua Tree CA 92252
Although many past HDTS projects have only been temporarily sited, some are permanent and scattered throughout the Morongo Basin. The best way to find these works is to follow the directions on our current HDTS driving map. Our map also includes sites we’ve partnered with in the past and admire as independent projects. Most HDTS works are located at sites that we regularly activate and operate out of. Those sites include:
Our new base of operations, A-Z West is Andrea’s lifelong project, where she lived and worked for 20 years before handing the keys to HDTS in 2022. Located a few minutes outside downtown Joshua Tree, this 85-acre compound includes four restored homestead cabins, several experimental living structures, permanent sculptures, 4,000 square foot studio space, and pristine desert landscape.
Public tours of A-Z West are offered every 2 weeks, alternating between 1-hour outdoor only tours, and 2-hour tours that include most interiors. Tickets for these tours can be purchased through the West Works store. All funds raised from tour ticket sales supports HDTS programming and general operating expenses.
HDTS office hours at A-Z West are Tuesday through Thursday from 10 am–5 pm. Our office is not open to the public but by appointment only. Please email Sydney if you are interested in making an appointment.
Directions: Head east down Hwy 62 past downtown Joshua Tree. About 1 mile past Park make a right at the “Bail Bonds” sign onto Neptune. When the road hits a “T” make a left, then the next right. At the hanging wooden signs, go straight to park in the Encampment lot, or make a left to go to the house, cabins, or studio.
Behind the Bail Bonds
Sited in the rocks on this 10 acre boulder strewn parcel adjacent to A-Z West are several works that may take a few hours of exploring to divulge: Morongo by Nathan Lieb, Surveillant Architectures by Julia Scher, and CA Truck Heads by Sarah Vanderlip. Feel free to visit this site sunup to sundown but make sure you park in our designated parking and do not block the road.
Directions: Head east down Hwy 62 past downtown Joshua Tree. About 1 mile past Park make a right at the “Bail Bonds” sign onto Neptune. When the road hits a “T” make a left. Follow along power lines, park just before the turnaround area.
Andy’s Gamma Gulch
Co-founder Andy Stillpass has generously allowed countless HDTS projects to take place on this 100-acre parcel in the beautiful boulder and Joshua Tree-strewn wilderness north of Pioneertown off of Pipes Canyon Rd. Several works are permanently sited here, includingGradually/We Become Aware/Of a Hum in the Room by Halsey Rodman, Trail Registry by Scout Regalia and Tapwater Pavilion by Tao Urban. Andy’s is also available to visit from sunup to sundown but make sure you park in our designated parking or if you do need to park off the side of the road, be careful not to end up in soft sand.
Directions: From Hwy 62 turn right at Pioneertown Rd. Drive about 7.5 miles. Turn right on Pipes Canyon Rd. Drive 2.2 miles to Gamma Gulch Rd, turn left (respect our neighbors – do not drive above 20 mph on this road!) Drive 1.6 miles to God’s Way Love (if the sign has blown off look for Dave & Jeannie’s sign), turn right. Drive 0.4 miles.
Purchased from a tax sale back in the early aughts, this 40 acre site is surrounded by BLM land. Located at the most eastern edge of Wonder Valley, in the Sheephole Valley Wilderness area, this site is a commitment to get out to, and feels like the end of the California high desert before being clearly on the way to Arizona. This flat, sandy, washy land is home to several permanently sited works, including Dineo Seshee Bopape’s HDTS 2022 work, and a mostly “invisible” project: Bob Dornberger and Jim Piatt’s Secret Restaurant. On the opposite side of Ironage Rd and slightly to the north is a work by Kiersten Puusemp (Untitled) that you will probably need to get out of your car and explore a little in order to find. Also accessible from sunup to sundown, be very careful when parking off the side of the road as the sand is very soft here.
Directions: From 29 Palms continue east on Hwy 62. Drive forever (23 miles) and turn left at Iron Age Rd. Drive a mile or so until you see something. (Iron Age Road connects both Amboy Road and Hwy 62, so you can reach it using either access road.)
HQ at Sky Village Swap Meet
The HDTS HQ is a visitor’s center and creative hub where artists, craftsmen, visionaries, and friends engage with the high desert community through creative projects and performances. You can pick up a copy of our driving map to HDTS projects and other local sites of interest at the HQ every Saturday from 9 am–12 pm (closed July-August)—and please check our Instagram page regularly to see what special events we have on the calendar. More on the HDTS HQ here.
Directions: 7028 Theater Road (just off Hwy 247, right behind Barr Lumber), Yucca Valley, CA 92286; 760-365-2104
One of our favorite community partners is Copper Mountain Mesa Community Center, where we’ve hosted many past HDTS programs and events. CMMCC is located in North Joshua Tree, about 15 minutes north of A-Z West. On the property is an old firehouse that served the neighborhood in the 80s, and now HDTS rents for community programs, public exhibitions and events. Currently HDTS is working on siting our Desert Research Library at the Firehouse Outpost and later opening this resource to the public. Stay tuned for project updates!
The Firehouse Outpost is currently open to the public only during public events. Please email Elena if you have questions about the space or are interested in Firehouse Outpost programming.
Directions: 65336 Winters Rd, Joshua Tree, CA 92252; Driving west on Hwy 62 into downtown Joshua Tree, pass Park and make a left on Sunburst. Right on Golden, left on Border, past Aberdeen and make a right on Winters. Take Winters past where it turns to dirt road, CMMCC is on the left.
The name Joshua Tree refers to both the National Park, and a small unincorporated town and its surrounding community. The community of Joshua Tree sits roughly in the middle of the Morongo Basin — a long basin that is traversed from west to east by a single highway called Hwy 62 (also known as 29 Palms Hwy). Each community in the Morongo Basin has a distinct character. Joshua Tree is considered to be made up of rock climbers, new-agers, hippies, and people from LA (or other urban areas) who own desert weekend retreats or run Airbnb businesses. Twenty years ago Joshua Tree consisted mostly of ramshackle homestead cabins and a few small businesses that would close during the hottest months of the summer. Now Joshua Tree has become a major tourist destination and is flooded with vacationers year-round.
Welcome to the beautiful Community of Copper Mountain Mesa, one of the most remote and pristine areas of the Morongo Basin. The way our elders tell the story: folks started homesteading up here in the fifties. Slowly but surely, families began to move to the Mesa, excited about the healthful air and panoramic views. Roads were cut, cabins were built and electricity wired up. Phone service didn’t reach us until the 1960s. Water was not piped in until the late nineties.
I crawled my way up to this Mesa in 1993, broken-hearted and disillusioned. I was a published author, but my book series “Kenya Cowgirl” tanked and when all the money was gone, my husband divorced me. I was decidedly unstable and, quite honestly, I simply wanted to fall off the planet! When I moved here, I had no money, no job, no phone, and no running water. I hauled my own water from the Surprise Valley Well four miles away. Any vehicle I owned soon broke down and there were long periods where I had no transportation, except hitchhiking with the neighbors!
My son was 5 years old when we came to live on the Mesa: previously, we lived in the luxurious Palm. I was drawn to this remote, high desert neighborhood because it reminded me of Kenya in East Africa, where I was born and raised. I loved the feeling of wilderness and I felt safe.
My new neighbors were a motley crew and ranged from: leathered homesteaders with their shotguns behind the front door; single mothers like me; people escaping from screaming reality (like me!); along with ex-cons; bikers; methamphetamine “cooks”, “tweakers” and honest folks with families just trying to make a living, all liberally scattered about!
When I first played my African drum outside in the moonlight one evening, my nearest neighbor fired shots at me: so close I could hear them zinging overhead! Other neighbors also tried to terrorize me, but I persisted in my quirky native ways and over the years I have been accepted and welcomed; even though some people still call me the “Juju Lady”!
I first became involved with the Community Center in 2007, when I was asked to write the quarterly Community Newsletter. I have been on the Board of the Copper Mountain Mesa Community Association since November 2007 and have been both vice-president and madame president too! I also write the weekly Copper Mountain Mesa Column in our local, Yucca Valley “Hi-Desert Star” Newspaper. (Go to www.coppermountainmesa.com to read the latest columns and visit ‘archives’ if you want to read every column ever written!)
I raised my Son and several foster children these past twenty years and I have come to love this desert lifestyle dearly. I have found dear friends and even romance along the way! I write, draw, think, feel, photograph, love and live my life with as much truth and courage as my heart can bear and I am so very happy to meet You. Stay well!
65336 Winters Rd, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
On the first Saturday of every month, the Copper Mountain Mesa Community Associate holds their monthly Pancake Breakfast, which serves as a fundraiser for the Community Center. For the past couple years, they have been raising funds specifically to repair the roof, which is quite large. Kip, the CMMCA Board President and our dear friend, had been estimating that the roof repairs would cost upwards of \$20k so it would take many many pancake breakfasts to raise that amount of money. I think (am not totally sure) this is part of the reason they raised the price of the breakfast from \$5 to \$7 last year. This is still a pretty good deal for 2 eggs, pancakes, hash browns, sausage or bacon, and a shot of OJ or V8. Oh, and coffee.
It’s always a really good crowd that shows up, many of the local Mesa residents, including our personal favorites, Mary Helen, Steve, Annelies, Patrick, Jay and Stephanie. Doesn’t matter who you sit with, someone’s got a good story about tweakers stealing stuff, hipsters taking over the neighborhood, or ATVers running over something. Maybe those aren’t “good” stories, but they’re definitely interesting local topics of conversation that you don’t hear in other places. One of the best parts about breakfast, and really the community center in general, is the Treasure Room in the back. It’s a thrift store that takes over the back half of the main Community Center and it’s pretty good. Turnover isn’t very high back there, but it’s a pretty eclectic collection of items. Sometimes you can find something that’s really useful, like a space heater or tire ramps, the book selection often has a couple of gems, and the clothing is often worth rummaging through.
Take a book. Leave a book.
That’s the simple point behind the Little Free Library movement around the world. Sidewalk librarians - or roadside librarian, in the case of the location on Winters Road - install these little book houses on their property intending to share a love of books and reading… for free. The selection of books varies widely and this Little Library has never disappointed me. You might find a variety of western novels as easily as literary fiction. You will likely find a copy or two of books that has been read as part of Kip’s Desert Book Club, a program of High Desert Test Sites.
Open the doors with an open mind and the right book will find you.
There are 60,000+ little libraries around the globe, so chances are there is one near where you live! Check the international map at www.littlefreelibrary.org.
Find the Little Library: 63452 Winters Rd. 1 mile East of Border, on the left-hand side. Look for the orange reflective triangle with LFL in the center.
Stewards of Coyote Valley was founded by Stephanie Smith and Jay Babcock. In partnership with the Mojave Desert Land Trust, the Stewards of Coyote Valley intend to extend the land area protected by the trust via stewards who maintain parcels that line the edges of the conservation area.
The area of concern is a wildlife corridor, which shares similar qualities to Joshua Tree, just a few miles south. Those who live on or own land in the area can contact the Stewards of Coyote Valley to join their efforts to conserve the land through volunteered stewardship.
Important stewardship activities involve breaking down former roads, building up barriers to prevent the illegal use of off-road vehicles, picking up trash left on hikes, and hosting potlucks for community members to get to know one another and discuss potential projects aligned with the organizations stewardship mission.
Giving directions in the desert often involves instructing the traveler to turn right or left at a given marker—-a small grouping of palm trees, a statue of a chicken, a pile of rocks. If you’re heading east on the 29 Palms Highway, just past the town of Joshua Tree, you’ll find Able 2 Help Bail Bonds on your right. It’s unclear at first glance whether it’s an operating business or an abandoned one. Such an unknown is not uncommon out here, where businesses, buildings, and homes seem to float in such a liminal space of existence. Often, those that look abandoned aren’t and those that look relatively well kept haven’t seen visitors in years. Able 2 Help Bail Bonds, though, is indeed in operation.
To visit the High Desert Test Sites artworks here, turn right onto the dirt road just before Able 2 Help Bail Bonds, and then immediately left towards a dead end. At the dead end, visitors can explore the artworks among the rocks. Two of these artworks are more readily visible, while the third has rusted into a color much like the rocks around it.
The first visible artwork is Julia Scher’s Surveillant Architectures. Three white signs read initially as warnings against trespassing, and subsequently denounce their authenticity. One reads, “Contamination Field High Energy Microwave Field No Tresspassing Strictly Enforced” in large text, followed by “Security By Julia” in small text.
The second visible artwork is Sarah Vanderlip’s CA Truck Heads. Two aluminum truck heads welded together sit struck between the boulders. The aluminum truck heads reflect blurry, imprecise images of the surrounding landscape and your body as it interrupts it. As the sky changes, so does the artwork.
The third less visible artwork is a metal mesh structure built between two days in April 2011 by Nathan Lieb. Nathan spent eight hours each day building the structure around his person, caught between the crevasses of two boulders. The shell remains around the ghost of his performance, Morongo.
To learn more about the artworks on this parcel, visit http://www.highdeserttestsites.com/sites/behind-bail-bonds
Two miles northeast of the main intersection in Joshua Tree is a small old homesteader cabin at the end of a dirt road. Its’ fading dust colored plaster submerges into the desert surroundings. Its’ walls appear full of bullets, holes resulting from crumbling plaster. Its’ windows frame the desert surroundings and its’ ceiling beams dissect the almost always cloudless sky. The signs around the property and handwriting on the splintered walls have been blurred to confusion. Words like cabin, homestead, and compass are spelled “kabin, homestedler, and kmpass.”
Artist and storyteller Eames Demetrios invented a people and a history of the cabin, detailed on the signs and walls, as part of his larger project Kcymaerzthaere, which he calls 3-dimensional fiction. The Kcymaerxthaere website states, “Most visitors to the Joshua Tree area eventually notice the many small cabins dotting the desert landscape. The vast majority of these were built after the Civil War to hold people the government considered to be heretics and refused to repatriate to their rump homeland of Satgun.”
There is rarely more than one visitor or group of visitors to the cabin at a time, lending to a feeling that this isn’t a tourist destination or historical site, but an accidental desert find hiding in plain sight just slightly at a distance. The surroundings are quiet and the views are expansive. It’s easy to get lost in the fiction of Demetrios’ world, to mistake it for fact. Many visitors don’t realize the story is fictional, and have tried to research the fictional Wranglikan people after visting, to have been met with dead ends.
From 29 Palms Hwy drive north on Sunburst. Take a right on Crestview. Drive 1.3 miles and take a right on Border again. Drive about one "block" - the Krblin Jihn Cabin will be on your left.
Reminiscent of African American vernacular yard traditions in the rural South, the museum exists as an open-air collection of over 100 assemblage works scattered across ten acres of the Mojave. Much like his previous career in public policy, Noah Purifoy’s oeuvre reflects an enduring commitment to activating social change. After leaving LA for Joshua Tree in 1989, Noah Purifoy created work on this remote property until his death in 2004 - large-scale installations typical of his disruptive, under-recognized art historical contributions to sculptural abstraction.
Known for early work constructed from charred debris that Purifoy collected in South LA after the 1965 Watts Riots, the desert sculptures also reconfigure found objects charged with aspects of identity, race, and Purifoy’s civil rights activism. These complex, towering assemblages remain in constant collaboration with the elements, their discordant materials bearing witness to prolonged exposure - tattered, sun-bleached fabric remnants tied to fences or stapled to leaning poles, sand and detritus-swept wooden platforms, peeling layers of stark white paint, and warped shoes soles and plywood planks upturned in half-smiles.
The Noah Purifoy Foundation also maintains an on-site archive of Purifoy’s writings and documentation, providing a valuable resource available to scholars and historians engaged in research.
Hours: Sunup to sundown
62975 Blair Ln, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
This 10-acre outdoor gallery holds just some of Noah Purifoy’s large-scale sculptures created entirely from junked and found materials. From toilets to bowling balls and bicycles to toasters, Purifoy assemblages in the Mojave Desert reveal the history of an artist using art as a social change tool outside of the institutionalized art world. He built more than 100 works on this site from 1989 until his death in 2004.
Exposed to the harsh desert elements of wind, heat, sand and rain, the works are purposely left to fend for themselves against nature. Visiting the site year after year reveals the effects of time, nature and decay.
The site is cared for by the Noah Purifoy Foundation (NPF) whose mission is to “preserve and maintain the site Noah Purifoy developed in Joshua Tree, California as a permanent cultural center and sculpture park open to the public.”
Remember, this is still an art gallery so please respect the work as you would in any museum.
Brochures for a self-guided tour of the installations are tucked neatly in a box at the entrance to the Outdoor Museum. Private group tours can be arranged through NPF and are led by former colleagues of Noah Purifoy who knew him well.
The site is open every day of the year from sun up until sundown, free of charge. Donations are always welcome. Park in designated spaces.
62975 Blair Ln, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
This is a not to be missed trip for residents and visitors of the high desert alike! Noah Purifoy (1917-2004) was a celebrated artist and arts educator who resided in the high desert for the last decade plus of his life. Noah was a trained artist (at Chouinard Institute now CalArts) whose expertise was in assemblage art. He was a master at putting materials together in profound and deeply moving ways.
The 7.5 acres of sculptures that make up the site have been weathered by the harsh desert environment (sun, wind and rain) over time — just the way he imagined and wanted. In recent years, some of the pieces have been “spruced up” by his foundation, but all remain in place. Meandering through the site reveals an artist at the height of his powers with a wealth of human experience. Early pieces are on the western side of the property and generally radiate out from the trailer that was his home and its attached workshop. Final pieces include the “gallows” and a large Quonset structure that while he was living, served as a gallery for a collection of wall based work.
Noah was always working on several new pieces and designed them all in his head (never sketching them out in advance). He understood his process as an improvisational one — where he was working collaboratively with the materials he could get (and the power they held from their earlier use), his assistants and the environment of Joshua Tree.
62975 Blair Ln, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
The founder of the Institute of Mentalphysics, Edwin John Dingle (1881-1972), was a journalist, author and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of Great Britain. Born in Cornwall, Dingle was orphaned at the age of 9, and from childhood (according to the Institute’s own published history), was drawn to the idea of “mystical” Asia. As a 19-year-old journalist he traveled to Singapore where he was assigned to report on “Far Eastern affairs” for the Straits Times newspaper. The constricting colonial life of Singapore soon lost its attraction, and he began to travel extensively through Burma, China, India and Central Asia, partly in an effort to produce new accurate maps of the region (writing travelogues and commercial and economic guides) and partly out of what was later described as a personal quest for spiritual enlightenment. He entered Tibet in 1910, becoming one of the first Europeans to visit and reside at a Tibetan Monastery. There he later claimed to have intensively studied Buddhist practices, teachings and philosophy with the resident lamas for nine months.
In 1911 he wrote the first of several accounts of his travels, Across China on Foot, and in 1917 published The New Atlas and Commercial Gazetteer of China. Upon his return to Britain in 1920, he began to present himself as a spiritual teacher, guide and sort of revealer of mystical truths from the East to the pragmatic, capitalist West. In 1921, he relocated to Oakland, California and by 1927 (having adopted the Chinese name “Ding Le Mei”), began preaching the tenets of what he called the “Science of Mentalphysics” — a “universalist spiritual development” based on, among other things, vegetarianism, pranayama and the practice of extrasensory perception.”
He wrote prolifically, producing in the 1930s numerous self-published treatises with titles like Man, The Monarch Of The Universe (1930), Your Mind And Its Mysteries: A Scientific Treatise on the Method of Discovery and Direction of the Great Subconscious (1930), Life's Elixir Discovered: Scientifically Proven Regime for Radiant Health, Beauty, Youth And Personal Charm, The Only Easy Way (1932), The Art of True Living (1937), Science at Last Finds God (1939), and Mysticism—-Lost Key To The Kingdom: Inner Chamber Communication (1940). This conflation of disparate religious disciplines and practices, ancient and modern, scientific and spiritual, East and West formed the core of Dingle's Institute of Mentalphysics, formed in 1928 and fully incorporated in 1934 in Los Angeles. (Dingle also founded a center at the International Church of the Holy Trinity in Los Angeles, where he taught classes and also conducted correspondence courses). The Institute of Mentalphysics moved from Los Angeles to the current 420-acre Yucca Valley site in 1941. It boasts the largest collection of structures designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son, architect Lloyd Wright. Begun in 1946, the mid-century desert futurist campus includes buildings, dormitories, halls and sacral spaces with such names as the Preceptory of Light, the First Sanctuary of Mystic Christianity, and the Caravansary of Joy.
59700 Twentynine Palms Hwy, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
“IN ENGLAND SEVERAL DECADES AGO, A BOY WAS BORN. He came and his mother went. There was no rejoicing.
About the same time in the forbidden land of Tibet, in a weird temple in the heart of inscrutable Asia, wise men were mourning the passing of a beloved brother lama and mourning still his infraction of their rigid code of conduct—-an error which they held to be the psychic cause of his death. Believers in reincarnation however, they confidently expected his return before the passing of many years.
Though the two events took place on opposite sides of the world, though no one imagined their connection at the time, though the one group spoke English, and the other an ancient Asiatic tongue, though one was West and the other East, there was a link—-it was ordained that in the boy just born the twain should at last meet. The boy’s name was Edwin John Dingle.”
So begins My Life In Tibet, the memoir and travel record of Edwin John Dingle, also known as Ding Le Mei, founder of the Science of Mentalphysics. On the Institute’s website, Mentalphysics is defined as “an experiential method of self-realization that teaches the oneness of life embodied in all substance, energy and thought.” It combines Eastern methods of breathing, diet, and yoga with Western (specifically Christian) religious traditions in a mash-up of East-West spirituality referred to as “super-yoga for the Western way of life.” With an emphasis on methods rather than belief, this “provable philosophy” purports to offer keys for unlocking the hidden meaning of all the world’s holy books.
Dingle himself was a journalist and map-maker, a self-described “explorer of geography and the realm of thought and spirit,” who spent over 20 years in China, India and Tibet, where he was (as described above) apparently identified by a holy man in a remote monastery to be the reincarnation of a deceased lama. His intensive studies with this holy man led him to create the Institute of Mentalphysics in 1927. The Institute has enrolled 216,000 member students since its founding.
The physical site of the Institute of Mentalphysics, also called the Joshua Tree Retreat Center (presumably to invite a broader range of visitors) is quite lovely. The buildings were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and his son Lloyd Wright. The buildings are composed of many triangular angles and Wright’s signature low-slung roofs, earth-hugging walls, latticed and jutting overhangs for shade. The chapel building is especially beautiful - the ceiling rises in triangular planes to a high peak, there is a crystal piano, and stained glass windows letting in colorful light. The grounds are landscaped with a huge variety of beautiful desert plants, a labyrinth, and medicine wheel for walking contemplations.
The land is supposedly home to multiple energy vortexes (areas of increased energy). The office offers a map of the vortexes so that you can seek your own energetic experience. Nobody at the institute could explain what constitutes a vortex or how to identify one.
If you choose to visit the Institute, it is best to check in at the office for maps and information. Sometimes, they host silent retreats and visitors are asked not to wander the grounds so as not to disrupt.
59700 Twentynine Palms Hwy, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
Aside from beer, Sam’s is also well stocked with all sorts of other foods and household needs when you really can’t go back to Wal-mart one more time. They have all basic food items: eggs, milk, bread (good bread actually from a bakery in the lower desert) but they also have a great canned food selection including Hispanic and Indian foods. You need coconut milk? They have it. You need refried beans? They have it. You need some weird 4-pack of flavored jello shots? They have it. I’ve often been really impressed with their selection especially when I’m in a pinch and I need something like brown sugar or corn meal. Plus, their miscellaneous aisle is also pretty good—-I recall buying kleenex printed as dollar bills and a water gun in the summer.
61380 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
It took me about a year of living here before I discovered the “beer cave” at Sam’s Market, the local convenience store owned by members of the same family who owns the Indian restaurant next door (where you can get curry pizza). The “beer cave” is a dimly lit, long and narrow refrigerated room running behind the convenience store’s typical cold drink aisle. In the main part of the store you’ll find regular beers PBR, Bud Light, Tecate, Pacifico, and the like. But step into the refrigerated beer cave and you’ll find dozens of craft beers you’ve never heard of.
It didn’t take long to realize that whoever stocks the shelves is a fan of peanut-butter beer, as well as many other unusual varieties. Turns out the master of the cave is Harry, the guy who’d talked my ear off a multitude of times during checkout, even with a slightly annoyed line of people piling up behind me. I asked Harry if he could recommend a good sour beer, and despite having customers in line at the front of the store, he launched into a 5+ minute tour of recommendations ranging in price from \$6 to \$35. I was loving it, so I asked for stouts, which prompted another long list of recommendations.
This kind of variety is normal for a fancy L.A. grocery store, but my mind is still blown that the local convenience store where I’d bought bread and Takis so many times has this juicy secret (friends who’ve lived here for 5-20 years haven’t even heard of it). Harry is a true beer enthusiast and a convincing salesperson, so my friend and I ended up walking out with \$40+ worth of beer, including “autumnal mole stout,” double IPA brewed with juniper berries and sage, Ballast Point’s “Indra Kunindra,” and a ginger sour.
61380 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
In 1994, the California Desert Protection act established Joshua Tree and Death Valley as National Parks and the Mojave as a National Preserve. While national parks do not allow the removal of fish, game, plants, and minerals, national parks do. The Mojave National Preserve is a dynamic mixture of land use — cattle grazing, private residences, mining, off-roading, wilderness protection areas, and conservation areas. Often, certain areas are closed to allow privacy for American Indian harvesting of traditional materials. The Mojave Desert Land Trust has been acquiring land parcels within the Preserve for the last 9 years in hopes of conserving it - meaning keeping it off limits to off-roading, cattle ranching and mining.
I headed out with three other volunteers from the Land Trust to camp for a few days and monitor some of the parcels. We camped in tents and used a small cabin owned by the Land Trust to prepare meals. The first night the winds were so strong and cold that we climbed into our sleeping bags at 7:45pm, after dinner and a game of dominoes. The wind beat on the tent walls. It woke me from a dream in which I was sleeping on a boat - the tent wind reminding me of sailing, tent parts like the ropes that banged the hollow metal mast of my friend’s father’s catamaran.
Each day, we woke with the sun, slow mornings of coffee and breakfast. Then, we began monitoring. We walked the perimeter of each parcel, and took a photograph at each corner looking into the parcel. We looked for signs of grazing or dumping or roads being carved, and photographed them to keep track of the coordinates. We hiked 7-10 miles a day through remarkably diverse territory. The first day we hiked through a Joshua Tree and Yucca Palm forest (the Joshua Trees were smaller here and the Yucca Palms were bigger, it's the other way around in Joshua Tree National Park). The second day we hiked through a Creosote forest, the third day through a sandy wash.
We didn’t find much out of the ordinary. Some of the parcels butted up against ranching land and where we found coils of barbed wire and fence posts to report. The sun went down around 5pm. We tried to stay up until 8pm. Waking up at 5:30am meant 9.5 hours in bed - or in a bag - which is kind of a long time. I learned a lot about the early counterculture days in Joshua Tree. Two of the other volunteers, Al and Ann, have lived in Joshua Tree since the late 60s, first on a commune, and then when that burned down, in a house with an older woman named Teroma whom they looked after with a few others from the commune. Travelers would camp out behind the house. Frequent travelers included a woman named Krishna and her daughter Tree Wind Water, and a man named Teddy. Teddy studied poetry at Yale, and then dropped out to live in the boulders and study Hinduism. Evidence of his life remains in the rocks.
Joshua Tree National Park was declared a U.S. National Park in 1994 when congress passed the California Desert Protection Act. It had been a U.S. National Monument since 1936. The National Park covers a land area of 790,636 acres, an area slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island. The park includes parts of two deserts, each an ecosystem whose characteristics are determined primarily by elevation: the higher Mojave Desert and lower Colorado Desert.
The Joshua Tree is native to California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada, confined mostly to the Mojave Desert between 1,300 and 5,900 ft elevation. The name was given by Mormon settlers - the tree's unique shape reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer. Ranchers and miners who were contemporary with the Mormon settlers used the trunks and branches as fencing and for fuel for ore-processing steam engines.
This tree has a top-heavy branch system, but also has what has been described as a "deep and extensive" root system, with roots reaching up to 36 feet. If it can survive the rigors of the desert, it can live for hundreds of years, up to a thousand years. The tallest trees reach 49 feet. Unfortunately, they are predicted to be severely affected by climate change. There is concern that they will be eliminated from Joshua Tree National Park and that this will fundamentally damage the ecosystem of the area. The trees may also have difficulty migrating to more favorable climates due to the extinction of the giant Shasta ground sloth 13,000 years ago; ground sloth dung has been found to contain Joshua Tree leaves, fruits, and seeds, suggesting that the sloths might have been key to the tree's dispersal.
The west (Joshua Tree) and north (Twentynine Palms) entrances are both on Highway 62. During busy times, using the north entrance is worth the extra driving to avoid long lines.
Something a lot of people don’t know is that there is a trail that runs through the entire east-west length of Joshua Tree National Park. Forty-three miles in length, the CA Rising and Hiking Trail begins at the backcountry boards at Black Cove Ranger Station in Yucca Valley or the North Entrance in 29 Palms. The author of this entry has hiked the trail twice in its entirety, both times beginning in Yucca Valley and taking 2.5 days.
It is a backpacking trail with no services, but (!) you can easily cache extra water at intersecting park roads/backcountry boards that intersect it midway (like Geology Tour Road). If you start in Yucca Valley, the first section takes you up quite high in elevation and rewards you on day one with views of the Salton Sea. Then you pass through park highlights like Juniper Flats and wind your way during the last bit through Jumbo Rocks. The trail is well marked but not well-trodden — I rarely encountered others on my trips. If you are quiet while you walk you will inevitably be rewarded with glimpses of park fauna.
The trail can also be hiked in segments, but I encourage you to plan a full trip. It is a wonderful way to experience the profound beauty of our national park.
We did a number of hikes in the National Park but the highlight was a dawn hike up Ryan Mountain. Our timing was slightly off. We arrived at the summit a while after the sun had risen, but it was still beautiful, of course, and perhaps a bit safer. The temperature was cool and breezy. We only encountered one other person on the trail, plus some big horn sheep. We got back in time to have breakfast in Joshua Tree and join the rest at AZ West for the Hour of Power.
I was an artist in residence at the Joshua Tree National Park for the month of November, 2015. I logged my activities each day. Some days, the entries were lists of little ideas, not fully written out. Sometimes it’s hard to talk about an idea before it has bones, sometimes talking about it is just what it needs to be fleshed out.
I had a busy few months leading up to the residency. A week and a half was the longest I had stayed in one place for three and a half months, so three weeks in a cabin in the middle of the park sounded perfect.
Upon arriving, I was asked about my proposed project. I described it as an unbound, multi-media book tracing human and nonhuman land use in the park. I dug through the park archives, hiking and photographing, taking notes, mapping, volunteering with the wildlife ecologist, and gathering stories of people’s encounters with nonhuman creatures by facilitating story circles in the visitors centers. All of the material I gathered was assembled into layers of documents, cutouts, notes, and photographs. A copy of the physical book will live in the park archives. An alternative assemblage of pages from the book will be available online.
I gave a presentation about my project at the Black Rock Nature Center as part of the parks evening program of presentations by park rangers. It’s incredible that the park invites artists working in multi-disciplinary modes, and not only traditional modes of landscape painting or photography. But to a non-art audience I find it very challenging to define what I do. I define my practice as research based, and when people ask me “what my art is” I say that I make multi-media archives that explore human and nonhuman environmental relations to a particular place. I’m not entirely satisfied by my answer, but I’m also not entirely sure who my audience is. I’m not so interested in showing work in galleries, but in more community-based spaces such as environmental organizations or national parks, where the audience often doesn’t have the access points that an art audience might. This is my challenge.
I love art for its willingness to deal with the odd and the uncomfortable. I’m interested in its ability to transform ways of knowing. But this implies that there is a right and a not so right way to know things, which can lead to didacticism, so often a characteristic of political art and the high art elitism that shuts people out. These are not easily resolvable issues, but I was glad to have the time and space to feel them out for a while.
Artists’ Tea is a destination and community experience all rolled into one stimulating Sunday morning. When I happened upon this event series in early 2017, I participated in a juicing ceremony and explored mindfulness through drawing exercises, all because I noticed the delightful, hand drawn poster in the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor’s Center.
Artists’ Tea hosts different guest artists - all local or regional experts in their fields - to guide conversations and immersive experiences on issues related to Joshua Tree National Park.
Artists’ Tea begins February 18 and runs through April 29, 2018; every Sunday 9am- 11am at Cap Rock, Joshua Tree National Park. Park entrance fees apply but the events are free and open to all. No need to be an artist, just come with a curious mind.
Bring your own mug to share in a cup of tea or cocoa during the program.
Every Friday and Saturday night at 7pm at three locations in the park - Black Rock, Jumbo Rocks and Cottonwood - a Ranger does an hour-long presentation on a topic of their choice. Rangers are pretty cool. Each has a handful of topics of specialty. I went to one with Ranger Lorna Shuman, who has degrees in science and history. She's been at the park for fifteen years and spent a few years gathering creation stories from the Cahuilla and Chemehuevi elders in the area.
I gave a presentation as a resident of the parks Artist In Residency program. It was a Saturday, when Ranger Sarah Jones usually does her night sky presentation as a way to get over her fear of telescopes. I gave a presentation on the project I was working on with the park. It was the first time I gave a presentation about my artwork to a non-art crowd. It was a tough crowd, but everyone signed the project mailing list. There were lots of looks of confusion. Luckily, the drunk ones were uninterested. As I work more towards methods of social engagement, I find that art jargon often gets in the way of a connection with an audience. Overall, it was good practice to feel those moments when the audience felt lost. It gave me a sense of where to adjust the language.
7 miles (out + back)
The Willow Hole trail extends around 3.5 miles through the northern edge of Joshua Tree National Park, from Park Boulevard towards Highway 62. The trail begins at Key West Backcountry Board/Boy Scout South Trailhead, approx. 25 min by car from the West En-trance Station of the park. Follow Boy Scout Trail for 1.2 miles north, then veer right onto Willow Hole Trail. From there, the trail descends from a forest of Joshua trees into monzogranite boulder piles and a wide, winding wash. The clear expanse ahead gave my eyes a nice break from snake scanning while the sandy wash slowed my pace. The trail dead ends at grove of willow trees. Crickets were chirping and the air felt damp. On the return, I noticed a cholla variety I’d never seen with coloration like a bruise— jammy purple flesh, yellow needles. I later learned it’s a pencil cholla, Cylindropuntia ramosissima, going through a dry spell.
John Samuelson, a Swedish citizen, spent his early life at sea. In 1926, he appeared at pioneer Bill Keys’ ranch looking for work. Keys hired him to help with his Hidden Gold Mine, located below the overlook at Keys View (within the current bounds of Joshua Tree National Park). By 1927, Samuelson had decided to homestead and located a piece of property in the middle of the Lost Horse Valley to the south of Quail Springs. On top of a small hill he called The Rock of Truth, he built a wood and canvas shack where he lived with his wife Margaret. When not working the Hidden Gold Mine, he carved defiant, topical, impassioned, sometimes puzzling and often witty political statements on the rocks surrounding his house. When Samuelson attempted to file on his homestead in 1928, the land office discovered that he was not a U.S. citizen and ruled that he could not legally hold title to the land. He sold the land to the Headington family and moved to Los Angeles. The following year, while at a dance in Compton, he got into an altercation with two men and killed them.
Erle Stanley Gardner, who first met Samuelson in February of 1928, discovered that, although arrested for the murders, Samuelson was never tried. Instead he was judged insane and sent to California’s State Hospital at Mendocino. He made his escape in1930. He evaded the authorities and made his way north to a lumber camp in Washington. In 1954, Samuelson wrote to Bill Keys that he would like to return to the desert but was afraid the authorities would catch him. Keys later received a letter from the lumber camp where he was working reporting that he had suffered a serious logging accident. Soon after, another letter came informing Keys of his old friend’s death.
The Joshua Tree Saloon is one of the first buildings you see when driving into town from A-Z West. Although it looks like a shanty shack from the outside, inside is a cozy place to get burgers, drinks, and most importantly, sing karaoke. Karaoke is offered every Wednesday and Friday, and is administered by the one and only Ted Quinn.
Friday nights are always a hodge podge of rowdy weekenders from LA and Marines from the nearby base. While that can be a good time, there can be fierce competition to get on the line-up, and less diversity in music (mostly Nickelback and hair metal). Wednesday nights are always locals, less assholes, and performers who seem to know their song inside-out. Either night, you’ll have a great time, so long as you follow these guidelines:
Get a drink. I recommend a Dark and Stormy. Halfway through, you’ll be ready for anything.
Pick the right song. At the DJ control station, you can browse the binder with all their availabilities. Pick a song you know well, the audience knows well, and you can dance to. The goal is not to showcase your incredible vocal talent, but to let loose and have a good time.
Be supportive - Applaud strangers as much as you would applaud your friends. Getting up there in front of strangers isn’t easy, but if you show your consistent support, you’ll have a room full of new friends by the end of the night.
Find a partner - If you’d rather not go through the embarrassment alone, find someone equally tipsy/enthusiastic to join you. This person should be of similar or lesser vocal talent, but better at dancing.
Sing your heart out - This is your big moment, your name gets called and you rush to the microphone. As soon as you start singing, you realize the speakers are pointed away from you, leaving you unable to hear yourself. Don’t panic; let it go, start moving. The only way to make up for your vocal imperfections is to dance it out.
Know when to stop - So you’ve sung a few songs and the crowd seemed to like it, but don’t let it go to your head. No one likes a microphone-hog, and no one wants to feel like you and your crew are turning the saloon into a private party. Give someone else a chance, and enjoy the sweet potato fries.
61835 Twentynine Palms Hwy, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
An animal inside of his brain tells Simi Dabah what to do. He is not in control, the images come to him. The images turn into monumental iron sculptures, some 30 feet tall, at the rate of 50 or 60 a year. Simi is 89 years old. He’s been making these monumental sculptures for 40 years in his backyard in Joshua Tree. The sculptures are simultaneously reminiscent of minimal Piet Mondrian paintings and primitive cave drawings.
He scavenges the iron from scrap yards in Los Angeles. Simi and his partner Julie invite me into their modest and minimal desert home. We sit and chat about life, how to be who we want to be, how to make money and follow our passions. I am inspired by his life, his way with materials, his inability to not make art.
Talking to him about the function of art in our current world reminds me of one of my favorite books, The Gift, by Lewis Hyde, 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 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.
Simi and Julie spend most of their time in Los Angeles, where Simi welds the sculptures in an alleyway studio where he has a forklift, a truck, and an assistant, Bob.
Simi and Julie walk me outside to see his 700+ sculptures. The wind hits my face and my eyes water — I’m reminded of my late Fall days picking apples in Vermont. Julie remarks, "they blend into the landscape, reflect the desert browns and tans, space…." The more I spend time with them, the more I feel their scale, their freedom, their purity.
*The Simi Dabah Sculpture Foundation recently formed as a 501c3 and is moving forward with their mission to place Simi’s sculptures in as many public sites as possible.
5255 Sunfair Rd, Joshua Tree, CA 92252