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, email@example.com
Elena Yu - Assistant Director of Programming and Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org
Connor Schwab - Facilities and Grounds Manager, email@example.com
Sydney Foreman - Director’s Assistant and Visitor Services, firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Pioneertown proper is located at the top of Pioneertown Road. It was originally built the 1940s as an old-west motion picture set. Movies were shot on Mane Street and the actors stayed in what is now the Pioneertown Motel. Some of the films shot in the area include The Cisco Kid and Judge Roy Bean.
Pioneertown has an interesting history and wound up in the possession of USC and the Catholic Church before being sold off to private individuals who then moved in to make real homes in buildings that once were fake movie homes. Now, as tourism increases, businesses are starting to take over these structures as Pioneertown invents itself yet again. There is also a gun slinging fake shootout every weekend, and Pappy and Harriet’s, a bar and restaurant that is a widely acclaimed music venue and weekend destination.
The area commonly known as Pioneertown also includes other smaller adjacent communities like Rimrock and a large swath of Pipes Canyon.
Nestled in the far off landscape of Pipes Canyon (near Pioneertown) are a few High Desert Test Site artworks awaiting visitors willing to drive the dirt roads to the 100-acre site where they rest.
The most immediately visible artwork is Scout Regalia’s Trail Registry, a large wooden frame fitted with aluminum rods for visitors to take or leave notes or moments from or on. The frame visually dissects the bit of desert visible between the aluminum rods. It looks like a giant musical instrument for the wind.
The next most visible artwork is Halsey Rodman’s gradually/we become aware of/of a hum in the room, a three-sided structure divided into three identical rooms. Each of the three rooms holds a circular window through which visitors of all kinds (human, animal, spiritual) can enter and exit. Light streams through each window to cast circular shapes across the brightly painted walls, and through the spaces between the walls and roof to cast fascinating geometric patterns across them.
The last easily discoverable artwork is Tao Urban’s Tap Water Pavilion, a small structure under the sun that holds three twenty-five liter jars of water from three different rivers, the Sacramento, Owens, and Colorado. Between each jar of water there’s a bench and a cup dispenser, where visitors can sit and enjoy the refreshment.
To read more about the current, less visible, or former artworks on the parcel, visit http://highdeserttestsites.com/sites/andys-gamma-gulch-parcel
(excerpt from the 2015 Institute of Investigative Living reader)
Garth (Clyde Garth Bowles) has been living on 640 acres of high desert land for the last 30 years. His primary residence is a very small Teepee made out of concrete, skimmed over newspaper and cardboard. The interior is elaborately decorated, partly with his mother’s old Christmas ornaments. Adjacent to the teepee is an outdoor kitchen and living room area. The area above Pioneertown, where Garth lives, is higher in altitude and gets very cold in the winter, which makes his ongoing outdoor lifestyle even more exceptional. There is no power or phone reception up at Garth’s so people who wish to visit him generally approach without any advance notification. It is generally appreciated and expected that visitors make a financial contribution.
I’m curious to know more about the circumstances under which Garth came to the desert. I remember he once explained that he came to this land after living homeless on the streets, while wearing all white and engaging in a spiritual quest. We should ask him about this on our visit. The road that leads to Garth’s was originally named “Devil’s Gate” but Garth re-named it “Gods Way Love”. Garth is deeply invested in permaculture and has slowly been “greening” his land by building tiered walls across a long valley in order to catch the water when it rains, and adding organic matter to create soil. The valley still appears fairly natural but now has an orchard and vegetable gardens. Giant strawberry and asparagus plants look as if they are growing wild.
When we visited Garth in 2012, there were 14 people living on his land in various structures. Nicademus, from South Africa, was building a sustainable house out of concrete and dirt packed into sand bags along the road that enters Garth’s Property. Another former guest built a house on top of a large boulder that appeared to be part of the rocks. Others live in trailers and RVs tucked around the property.
Garth’s overall ethic is to respect the land, although much of his land is “tended”. It is interesting talking to him about the parameters of what he considers appropriate interventions. For instance he was unhappy when a former resident built a wooden deck on top of a rocky outcropping because it was clearly a man-made structure. However he has also built an amazing swimming pool and sauna out of concrete that is directly grafted onto the boulders. “My spiritual theory is my life,” he told photographer Alec Soth in 2008.
Originally working under the professional pseudonym Women, designers Scott Barry and Neil Doshi were awarded a Creative Capital Grant for a five-year initiative in which they planned to inhabit a different location and set of working conditions each year. Their house, which was begun as the first phase of the project, has been sited on Garth’s land. They called this phase “Connections” - the structure will one day culminate into two living structures, which will operate as a design residency and a library. The buildings began with no plans or drawings, the terrain’s large rock formations and natural environs were used to dictate the form. Aiming for a “total design”, from the construction of the buildings, to the furniture that fills the interiors, to the utensils that are used for eating, each component is considered part and parcel of the whole. The project, which began in June 2012, remains unfinished. Scott left the project in late 2013 and since early 2014 Neil’s been working with Jaime Beechum, a photographer, to complete construction.
The town was first built as a live-in “Old West” motion picture set in the 1940s, which provided an on-site location for the actors to live and at the same time to have their “lodgings” used as part of the movie set. A number of Westerns and early television shows were filmed here, including The Cisco Kid and Edgar Buchanan’s Judge Roy Bean. Roy Rogers, Dick Curtis, and Russell Hayden were among the original developers and investors, and Gene Autry frequently taped his show at the six-lane Pioneer Bowl bowling alley. Its construction was credited to one “A.E. Thompson” in 1947 and Rogers himself rolled out the first ball in 1949. School-age children were hired as pinsetters until the installation of automatic pin-setting equipment in the 1950s. According to the Morongo Basin Historical Society, the bowling alley is one of the oldest in continuous use in California. To retain the old-west flavor and spirit of Pioneertown, the re-enactment group, Mane Street Stampede Wild West Show, performs a variety of shoot-‘em-up acts on Mane Street every Saturday in the summers.
On July 11, 2006 some of Pioneertown was burned in the Sawtooth Complex fire, which also burned into Yucca Valley and Morongo Valley. Firefighters managed to save the historic movie set buildings, but much of the surrounding desert habitat was damaged. Among the structures saved was Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace.
In the 1990’s, the alt-rock band the Counting Crows wrote “we drove out to the desert/just to lie down beneath this bowl of stars/we stood up at The Palace/like it was the last of the great Pioneertown bars.” And indeed, that is just what Pappy & Harriet’s is, a palace of a bar that sleeps under a bowl of stars in the desert of Pioneertown. Pappy’s, as it’s referred to by the locals, is a large bar, restaurant, and music venue in an old Western motion picture set built in the 1940’s.
Before it was Pappy’s, the building functioned as a cantina set for old Western motion pictures. Later, it became a fully operational outlaw biker burrito bar called The Cantina, owned by Francis Aleba. In 1982, Aleba’s daughter Harriet and son-in-law Pappy bought The Cantina and re-named it after Pappy and Harriet’s. In 1994, Pappy passed away. Harriet still lives nearby. Today, Pappy and Harriet’s is owned by a couple of New Yorkers.
Lots of famous musicians have performed at Pappy’s, including Paul McCartney, Ricki Lee Jones, Queens of the Stone Age, Neutral Milk Hotel, Niko Case, Modest Mouse, Leon Russel, and Robert Plant, amongst many more. Often, bands in the area for Coachella will stop in and perform between festival weekends.
The food at Pappy’s is delicious, especially the BBQ, but even their vegetarian additions. They are open Thursday through Monday for lunch and dinner. Reservations are highly recommended.
53688 Pioneertown Rd, Pioneertown, CA 92268
The idea of the “American West” took root in the sandy, wild landscape of the western United States. The film tycoons who founded Pioneertown loved it for its versatile terrain —- scenery of severn western states could be duplicated by immediate surroundings. The true origin story of Pioneertown is hotly contested. The legend of the place often overshadows its true historical trajectory, and the more people you talk to, the more scrambled it gets. Alice “Honey” Fellers, who wrote the book Pioneertown, Then and Now, was quoted saying, “Psychologically speaking, Pioneertown is not a town. It is a legend.” What we know is that Pioneertown began in 1946 when perennial movie bad guy Dick Curtis —- a strapping man with a black mustache —- whoa’d his horse on a grassy knoll and proclaimed, “This is the place.” Other accounts say an old lady owed him twenty-five dollars and repaid him with a deed to an unseen homesteader plot. Along with Curtis, Roy Rogers, Philip N. Krasne, Gene Autry, Russell Hayden, and the Sons of the Pioneers (for whom the town was named) were some of the original investors and personalities who helped build and invent Pioneertown. More than fifty films and several television shows were filmed there, most notably The Cisco Kid and The Gene Autry Show.
Pioneertown Motel exists at the nexus of desert culture —- a mélange of experimental art and philosophy, kitsch and caricature, wild, natural beauty, resourcefulness, spiritual searching, rock n’ roll and the proverbial “Escape from LA.” Though only a few minutes from Yucca Valley, and a few more from the glitz and fanfare of Palm Springs, Pioneertown feels a world away. There’s security knowing you’re not far off, but a convincing solitude and remoteness nonetheless. You are safe, but you are free —- a rare and utterly appealing sensation.
5240 Curtis Rd, Pioneertown, CA 92268
Emmanuel and Kiloo moved onto Judy’s land in 2015 or 2016. They were looking for a new place to live, in their beautiful vintage RV, lovingly referred to as “the Barth.” Emmanuel had recently acquired several goats so wherever they moved had to accommodate a small herd of animals as well. Kiloo had been helping the local “goat lady,” Judy, who had been getting on in age. She could no longer fully manage her 20 goats on her own and was also having trouble keeping control over her 30 cats. So it seemed like the right fit—-Emmanuel and Kiloo permanently moved the Barth onto Judy’s land and have since been helping her take care of the land and farm, which includes: goats, cats, dogs, chickens, fruits and veggies.
Emmanuel and Kiloo took care of both their goats and Judy’s: walking, milking and midwifing. Emmanuel started a small dairy processing endeavor—-they produced so much milk that he took orders once a week from friends for goat milk, yogurt, cheese, and kefir, $5 per jar. It was heaven.
At the end of 2016, tragedy struck—-right before Christmas, Judy’s house and barn burnt down to the ground. She had amassed a huge collection of newspapers and books which had unfortunately fueled the fire. The Barth was not damaged, but several goats and other animals died in the fire. It was awful. But the community rallied ‘round and thousands of dollars were raised to purchase Judy a trailer to live in temporarily, while Emmanuel and Kiloo rebuilt the barn and a small house for her.
Everything is still under construction and the goat milk products have gone on hold, but the goats still need to be walked. They’ve become known for inviting friends on these walks, which are magic. Emmanuel leads the way, the goats follow, and maybe you’ll see some petroglyphs.