High Desert Top Ten+

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I moved to Joshua Tree, CA from New York City in March ’18. After six years in the urban jungle, I yearned for a connection to nature, a slower pace of life, and to have my surroundings influence my art in new and unforeseen ways.

While the future has yet to reveal to me all of the fruits of the California High Desert, there are some special places you should consider visiting when your travels bring you here.

In no particular order, here are my High Desert Top Ten!

UPDATE: I have since added a few more high and low desert tips for you all 8/26/19

ONE

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The Noah Purifoy Outdoor Museum. I have written about this place in a previous post, and I will remain a loyal visitor of the grounds for as long as they keep the gates open.

Read more about the Museum in my blog post here, or head straight to the source here.

TWO

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The High Desert art scene! Yes, more art, but art created by the living, breathing community of High Desert artists. Here we have monthly Second Saturday art walks, annual artist open studios that span two weekends every October, and a growing number of great new galleries in town.

  • Compound YV is a gallery and event space in Yucca Valley. With thoughtfully curated exhibitions, fun community events like puzzle night, and a killer online store, you’d be sorry to miss this great spot on your way up. Fun fact: my show opens there on September 7, 2019!
  • Unpaved Gallery is another great spot in Yucca Valley where the art is good and the openings are always a blast.
  • A new space to open in Joshua Tree in 2019 is the Mincing Mockingbird shop and the Hey There Projects gallery space, which happen to share a storefront. A refreshing offering of items that are a cross of eclectic and beautiful. Lots of great books, some art supplies, and gifts.
  • The High Desert Test Sites is a nonprofit that supports artists, creative dialogues, and events here in the High Desert. You MUST check their site before visiting, and visit it all.
  • Shari Elf Art Queen and World Famous Crochet Museum. Right next to the Joshua Tree Saloon, stop by to see the wonderful world of Art Queen.
  • Also of note are the October HWY 62 Open Studio Art Tours, which Nate and I will open our studios for this fall. Come on out and see what the artists of the high desert have to offer.
  • Finally, if you happen to make it on a year that Desert X takes place, there is no shortage of stunning public art to seek out.

There are so many incredible artists who call this place home. Get out there, say hello and visit a studio or two – we’d love to open our doors to you!

THREE

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Get out and go for a hike! Whether you venture into the Joshua Tree National Park or find a local hidden gem, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the beautiful landscape at varying levels of difficulty (or ease, if you’d rather look at it that way.)

  • My favorite easy park hike is out to the Barker Dam. When there’s been rain, seek out this oasis to see all kinds of lush, green plant life and desert animals flock to the new supply of drinking water and food. (photo below)
  • The 49 Palms Oasis hike is exactly that: a three-mile round-trip hike that leads you to an oasis of many palms, probably 49 of them. It’s a beautiful and rewarding hike.
  • The High View Nature Loop Trail is just that – you’ll get up to a spectacular view and find some pretty incredible yucca trees with trunks the size of small cars.
  • If you don’t feel like tackling the park, just before you get to the Joshua Tree entrance of the park, there’s public land with plenty of hiking and mountain biking trails in a part of land. Section 6 details can be found on this page via the JT Bike Shop.

FOUR

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Shop! Support small, local businesses in the High Desert. Not only do I work at one of these fabulous shops, but I try to support them all and buy local as often as I can.

  • Shop on The Mesa. Furniture, dry goods, local artisan items, and ongoing events like workshops, yard sales, and art markets. Image below.
  • The Wine and Rock Shop. This is definitely one of my favorites. I have tried so many new, delicious wines the owners have recommended, I’ve never been unhappy with a bottle. They also stock a great shop – it’s hard to leave with just a bottle of wine. Also, they have great branding. Who doesn’t love a smiley face?!
  • Love Always Tattoo, formerly a gallery/tattoo studio, they are now shifting gears to operate as an apothecary and tattoo studio.
  • The Station – great for gifts, photos, and a lounge and coffee at the tables out back. Who doesn’t want a photo with a vintage Muffler Man.
  • The End, both in Yucca Valley and Morongo Valley. Fabulous vintage goods and art.
  • Cactus Mart. I love plants and this is where I get many of mine. They even have a few chickens who live there and they’re really cute and friendly. (however, I have also found some pretty spectacular cacti at the Home Depot garden center in YV)
  • A trip out here wouldn’t be complete without sifting through the offerings at the Sky Village Market Place. Whether it’s cactus trimmings or a piece of well-loved furniture, you can find a wide array of things both treasure and trash.

FIVE

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The town of Amboy. From the Amboy Crater to the infamous Roy’s Motel and Cafe to the ice blue “rivers” of the Amboy salt evaporation ponds, this is one drive that will call for a few stops on your way through town but won’t necessarily offer anything to keep you too long. I like this town because of this story about a chicken magnate who won the town in a winning eBay bid.

SIX

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The Desert Christ Park, which features a bunch of larger-than-life religious sculptures. They glow in the desert sun and there’s a resident road runner who will stop by to say hello.

SEVEN

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The Salton Sea. Though technically the High Desert as it sits about 200ft below sea level, it is a must-see for strange beauty and resiliency.

Most specifically, you should visit the town of Bombay Beach. This place deserves a blog post of its own, which will follow as an elaboration on the subject is necessary for the more timid tourist. Also, read about the Bombay Beach Biennale. More on all of this soon.

Also around the Salton Sea neck of the woods, you should stop to see:

  • The Salton Sea mud volcanoes – it’s like The Land Before Time! They are moving “volcanoes” so DM me and I’ll tell you where to find them these days.
  • Salvation Mountain. I call it Jesus Mountain, which it is. It’s like being in the Wizard of Oz when you finally see everything in color.
  • Slab City and East Jesus. It’s weird, there are pet cemeteries, there’s a library, and there’s a lot of junkyard art. If you’re down there you may as well swing through, but don’t plan to get comfortable.

EIGHT

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The Algodones Dunes. Okay, so these DEFINITELY aren’t in the High Desert, but if you’ve got a long vacation to enjoy, make the drive and see this beautiful place. It’s no White Sands, NM, but it is just as special.

NINE

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The Integratron! I don’t think my writing will do this place justice, you just need to experience it for yourselves. I’ll just say that I have never in my life experienced sound like this before and it was a very, very cool thing to be a part of. I hope you see an alien.

TEN

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How to spend your evenings. There isn’t much of what you would consider a nightlife here in the High Desert. One of the first terms I learned when I moved here was “desert midnight” because everyone seems to set with the sun, and once it’s down it’s time to light a fire, get cozy and get some zzzzz’s.

But don’t fear, there are some great spots to spend your evenings if you don’t score an invite to someone’s beautifully set and prepared dinner party in their gorgeous desert home.

  • Yucca Bowl! Yes, bowling. And if you go on a Tuesday or Wednesday night, you can score dollar games!
  • La Copine. This is where you want to eat when you come here. This is where I want to eat every day they’re open. Two amazing women opened up a few years back and they’ve been in incredibly high demand ever since.
  • Pappy + Harriet’s in Pioneer Town. Grab a beer, some BBQ and stay for one of the great gigs they get coming through. Whether it’s an offshoot performance during the Coachella Festival weeks or a casual night with the Sunday Band, you have to see this place and this town.
  • Landers Brew is definitely a trek from most places you’ll rent an AirBnb in the high desert, but it is certainly worth the trip. It’ll teleport you to another time. What time exactly I am not sure, but I’m very happy we finally made our way there one afternoon.
  • Frontier Cafe. I’ve never been here at night, though they have beer and wine and that’s a nighttime thing (for most) so give it a shot. The food is excellent.
  • The Joshua Tree Saloon. This is where you can find Nate and I on a night when we don’t want to cook and can’t eat another frozen pizza. While most nights the music is too loud to talk, it’s a place you can linger with a tall beer and spend a little time away from home.

While getting out to see the local crowds and sample the cuisine may sound like a great way to spend an evening in town, I would like to encourage you to take some time to cook a simple dinner and sit outside and enjoy the stars. With so few places to go out for an evening, you’re almost certainly guaranteed to encounter a long wait and a crowded restaurant.

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