High Desert Test Sites , cofounded and directed by Andrea Zittel, is a nonprofit arts organization based in Joshua Tree, California. Started in 2002 by a loosely knit group of collaborators (Andrea Zittel, Andy Stillpass, John Connelly, Shaun Regen and Lisa Anne Auerbach), HDTS has since hosted the work of more than 450 artists, 11 expansive site-specific programs, and 25 solo projects.
As a conceptual entity HDTS is dedicated to “learning from what we are not” and the belief that intimately engaging with our high desert community can offer new insights and perspectives, often challenging art to take on new areas of relevancy.
To challenge traditional conventions of ownership, property, and patronage. Most projects will ultimately belong to no one and are intended to melt back into the landscape as new ones emerge.
To insert art directly into a life, a landscape, or a community where it will sink or swim based on a set of criteria beyond that of art world institutions and galleries.
To encourage art that remains in the context for which it was created - work will be born, live, and die in the same spot.
To initiate an organism in its own right-one that is bigger and richer than the vision of any single artist, architect, designer, or curator.
To create a center outside of any preexisting centers. We are inspired by individuals and groups working outside of existing cultural capitals, who are able to make intellectually rigorous and culturally relevant work in whatever location they happen to be in.
To find common ground between contemporary art and localized art issues.
To contribute to a community in which art can truly make a difference. HDTS exists in a series of communities that edge one of the largest suburban sprawls in the nation. Many of the artists who settle in this area are from larger cities, but want to live in a place where they can shape the development of their own community. For the time being, there is still a feeling in the air that if we join together we can still hold back the salmon stucco housing tracts and big box retail centers. Well maybe.
Who We Are
Lisa Anne Auerbach
Shaun Caley Regen
CURRENTLY ADMINISTERED BY
Andrea Zittel - Founder/director
Vanesa Zendejas - Administrative Director
Elena Yu - Administrative Assistant
Kristy Campbell, Aimee Buyea, Emily Endo, Sarah Greenlee, Eloise Hess, and Tayler Straziuso. Thanks to Bob Carr, Elizabeth Carr, and Zena Bender at the Sky Village Swap Meet!
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, Sky Village Swap Meet, and our generous donors for their support.
When HDTS was founded in 2002, part of the original mission was to run on zero budget and generate relevant and rigorous programming through the most efficient means. Fourteen years later, the socio-economic climate has changed—Joshua Tree has changed—and the world has changed. HDTS artists have always been resourceful, but we are increasingly aware that an important part of showcasing and supporting their work is compensating them for their time, efforts, and ideas.
Bringing our audience such programming also wouldn’t be possible without the small, paid staff who we rely on. Each event that we host requires hours of planning, managing, and communicating—from finding the right site for an artist, to sourcing volunteers, to updating our website and managing the books.
Together, along with countless dedicated volunteers, we’ve managed over the years to:
- Showcase the work of over 450 artists and presenters
- Host 11 large, site-specific programs
- Support over 25 solo projects
- Produce 10 publications
- Host a monthly book club
- Maintain a local presence with our HQ
- Host workshops and community events
- Pass out hundreds of maps to HDTS sites
- Build a Desert Archive
- Provide an online resource for those interested in local sites and projects
As a small arts organization, in a rural community, we heavily rely on the support of our donors both from the High Desert region and beyond. Every contribution, large and small, helps support the staff and artists in continuing to offer more immersive and intimate experiences and exchanges between critical thinkers from many different walks of life.
(Please use the "add special instructions to the seller" box in PayPal to let us know if would like your contribution to directly support a specific upcoming project.) You can also mail a check to High Desert Test Sites at P.O. Box 1058, Joshua Tree, CA 92252.
Thank you so much for your support - any amount helps!
Although many of our projects are only temporarily sited, some are permanent and are located throughout the Joshua Tree region. The best way to find these works is to follow the directions on our current HDTS driving map.
The HQ at the Sky Village Swap Meet
The HDTS HQ is temporarily closed. We hope you'll visit us when we reopen (as soon as it's safe to do so)
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–1 pm—and please check our website regularly to see what special events we have on the calendar.
The HQ is collectively run by a small group of volunteers who review and accept proposals several times a year. We are open to a wide variety of projects to present at the HQ, but are particularly interested in work that engages with our local community (who have a strong presence at the Swap Meet), encouraging their participation in a contemporary practice. Proposals are accepted via email and are reviewed about once every three months.
Directions: 7028 Theater Road (just off Hwy 247, right behind Barr Lumber), Yucca Valley, CA 92286; 760-365-2104
*Email us if you'd like to get involved with the HDTS HQ at Sky Village Swap Meet!
Ok. So I'm excited about the next HDTS event. What should I bring with me to the desert?
You are awesome. We love your enthusiasm. Bring plenty of drinking water and snacks. Bring sunscreen and a wacky wide-brimmed hat for extra protection in the bright sun. Bring a sweater or jacket, as it can get chilly at night. Bring lots of cash.
Cell phones and mapping apps don't always work out here, so be sure to look up directions and print out driving maps ahead of time (many addresses in the desert don't register properly on cell phone mapping applications, and service can be spotty).
Please remember this is a fragile desert environment. Leave no trace! Be prepared to haul out everything that you haul in.
I am coming to the desert this weekend, is there anything up to see?
Most of our current HDTS projects are short term or temporary, but you can download the current HDTS driving map for directions to ongoing HDTS projects and points of interest.
When is the next HDTS event?
Check our website as we do list all upcoming events well before they happen and you can also sign up for the HDTS mailing list to stay abreast of HDTS updates, events, and projects.
Does HDTS have a physical space? Where are you located, and what is your operational structure like?
HDTS is a conceptual project as much as a physical one – so while we have a full schedule, almost two hundred acres of land at our disposal, and a (small, part-time) staff - we do not have a physical roof over our heads. Because our mission supports work that actively engages the world at large, we like to spend as much time as possible out in that world.
We have a small core team who all work part-time on the project. We do lots of work remotely on our computers, or driving around out in the desert, and then tend to meet up in Andrea’s studio when we need a big table and things like envelopes, scotch tape, and a stapler.
You are welcome to visit the HDTS HQ at the Sky Village Swap Meet in Yucca Valley, open Saturdays 9–1PM.
How can I get involved?
We periodically need help assisting artists with their installations. This may include hard labor, sweat, and blisters, but installations are generally a lot of fun, and a good way to meet people. If you are sturdy, reliable, and up for the task, please email us, and we will let you know about upcoming installtions.
You can share information with us about a destination that we should check out, or an inspirational figure who we might be interested in researching.
I'm interested in proposing a project - are you accepting proposals, and what kind of proposals are you looking for?
We are not taking project proposals at this time, except for projects done at the HDTS HQ at Sky Village Swap Meet in Yucca Valley. Programming at this site is geared towards a diverse local audience, and due to its unique swap meet context we ask all artists to visit the swap meet at least once before sending in a proposal.
OK - I’m confused... What's the difference between A-Z West and HDTS?
A-Z West is Andrea Zittel’s home and land in Joshua Tree, dedicated to her life practice and special programs. It includes her home, studio, A-Z Wagon Station Encampment, and the Institute of Investigative Living. The activities that go on at A-Z West are primarily related to Andrea's practice and are separate from HDTS, but at certain times A-Z West will expand by hosting HDTS programs/installations/artists.
High Desert Test Sites is a non-profit support entity for artists whose practices explore the intersection between contemporary art and life at large. The HDTS sites include many different pieces of land used for projects and programming. These include A-Z West, as well as other parcels scatted throughout Pioneertown, Joshua Tree, and Wonder Valley.
I love what you are doing and can see that you are a small program desperately in need of resources - how can I help support HDTS?
How do I contact a High Desert Test Sites representative?
Send us an email at email@example.com. Sign up for the HDTS mailing list to stay abreast of HDTS updates, events, and projects.
AZ West is the home of both the Wagon Station Encampment and High Desert Test Sites -- the two entities that are collaboratively working together to create this desert destination log. A-Z West is also the private residence of Andrea Zittel and is dedicated to personal practice and special programs.
High Desert Test Sites is a non-profit support entity for artists whose practices explore the intersection between contemporary art and life at large. Part of the HDTS mission includes "learning from what we are not." HDTS programs include guides to the high desert's cultural test sites, immersive excursions, solo projects, workshops, publications, and residencies.
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 during busy seasons in the spring and fall.
Yucca Valley is the largest town in the Morongo Basin. It is incorporated and is governed by a Mayor and Town Council. It is where you will drive for a plethora of larger grocery stores, Home Depot, Super Wal-Mart, and an assortment of food establishments. (Twentynine Palms also has some large grocery stores and an assortment of restaurants and other businesses). The far west end of Yucca Valley near the intersection of Hwy 62 and Pioneertown road is known as Old Town and has the best antique stores in the area. Further east, off of Old Woman Springs Road, is a vibrant family run swap-meet called Sky Village Marketplace (which also has a giant art installation created by Bob Carr). The best Mexican food in the Morongo is a small taqueria in the back of Kasa, a Mexican food market.
Morongo Valley is the gateway town to the Morongo Basin. It is the most western of the small of communities along Hwy 62, and the first that you enter after coming up the grade. The topography in Morongo tends to be hillier and has more vegetation. It is home to the Morongo Preserve, a lush oasis that has water even during the warmer months of the year. One of our favorite businesses in Morongo is Holly's Trading Post where you will find all sorts of amazing vintage artifacts from all over the world for incredibly reasonable prices. After Holly's don't forget to stop at Cactus Mart for the best selection of succulents and cacti in the larger Morongo Basin.
Landers is a small community north of Yucca Valley, accessible by Hwy 247 or Old Woman Springs Road. The general name Landers is often used interchangeably to refer to both the community of Landers and its sister community of Flamingo Heights. An interesting fact: because of its elevation, Landers actually has many more Joshua Trees than the town of Joshua Tree.
Twentynine Palms at the west end of the Morongo Basin. The town of Twentynine Palms is perhaps best known for the nearby Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center. It is also the site of the 29 Palm Oasis (around which the 29 Palms Inn was built) and it has over twenty-five murals depicting the history and native elements of the area. Not too far from 29 Palms Inn is a small Indian reservation belonging to the Twentynine Palms Band of Mission Indians. There are no coffee shops in Twentynine Palms, but a plethora of establishments where you can get massages and Marine haircuts.
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.
Wonder Valley is the large open area just east of Twentynine Palms -- there is no center "town" in Wonder Valley, but rather a scattering of homestead cabins that that extend about twenty miles out into the desert. Two parallel highways traverse the valley, one on the north side, Amboy Road (which eventually turns north toward Death Valley and Las Vegas), and one on the south side, Highway 62 (which you would take if you wanted to go straight to Arizona or the Colorado River). The heart of Wonder Valley, both literally and figuratively is a roadhouse restaurant bar run by the Sibley family called The Palms. Wonder Valley is home to an extremely diverse population and is the best location in the Morongo Basin for those who want solitude and wide-open spaces.
Amboy was once a major stop along the famous Route 66, but after cross country traffic was rerouted to a major interstate to the north it dwindled down to more of a ghost town. There are a total of ten surviving buildings and a population of about four. Amboy has been used for film and movie shoots over the years, and it is also the site of an art residency program called Matza Amboy organized by the Swiss artist Séverin Guelpa. To get to Amboy from Joshua Tree, take Amboy Road through the length of Wonder Valley. After the road crests near the Sheephole Mountains, drive past the deep salt trenches on the left, as well as a turn off for Amboy Crater. If you continue past Amboy, you can take the road north to the Mojave Preserve.
There is so much to explore a few hours beyond the Joshua Tree area, both north and south. The Mojave Preserve is a National Monument with many different destinations within its boundaries, and Death Valley is about a four-hour drive from the Morongo Basin. You can even take tiny, isolated two-lane highways heading north until you connect with Interstate 15, which takes you directly into the heart of the Las Vegas Strip.
From the Morongo Basin you can either cut directly through the park or around either end to explore the area to the south. The Palm Springs area is a more developed string of communities with golf courses and shopping malls. The original city of Palm Springs is known for its richness of mid-century architecture, and it hosts an annual Modernism Week when some of the mid-century homes are open to the public.
The larger area around Palm Springs is called the Coachella Valley and there are many great hiking destinations throughout the valley. Further south is the Salton Sea and the the Imperial Valley, which is a vast agricultural area that continues to the border of Mexico.
To the east are Arizona and the Colorado River. High Desert locals go to the river in the summer to cool off (it's best if you have access to a boat to explore in). Keep driving further east and you'll get to places like Flagstaff and Phoenix.
There is so much to explore, from tiny roadside dining reached via nearly impassable dirt roads, to sprawling and bustling tourist destinations like the Grand Canyon. Keep driving...