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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Sign up for the HDTS mailing list to stay abreast of HDTS updates, events, and projects.
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.
The unincorporated town of Amboy sits on the stretch of the historic Route 66 between the Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park. To get there, head east on Amboy road out of Twentynine Palms. The straight desert road curves north through the Bullion Mountains to a vast expanse of salt flats and utility poles. Bright blue rivers formed by salt mining operations streak across the otherwise still, light beige of the desert.
Eventually, Amboy Road will end in the near ghost town of Amboy. The unofficial town slogan is "The Ghost Town That Ain't Dead Yet!" When the nearby Interstate 40 opened in 1973, travellers stopped passing through. When the travellers stopped coming, the residents moved out. According to the most recent census, only four remain. One of those four is named Kevin. You'll find him pumping gas, selling root beer, and if you're lucky, sharing stories of Amboy's only functioning business and that of his employment, the gas station/café Roy's. Next door, Roy's Motel is closed. Across the street, the post office is closed. The school, closed in 1999, remains filled with racist graffiti, soviet-era text-books, and likely, the screaming ghosts of the long gone school children. In a 2010 flood, the old tree down from Roy's floated away. Down Route 66, two Temple Dogs (giant white statues that look more like lions) still stand 6-feet tall.
Amboy is owned by Albert Okura, who also owns the Juan Pollo fast-food chain. In 2003, Okura put Amboy up for sale on e-Bay for $1.9 million. It remains for sale to this day.
Although Amboy was first settled in 1858 by salt miners, the town was not established until 1883. Lewis Kingman, a locating engineer for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, created the town as the first of a series of alphabetical railroad stations that were to be constructed across the Mojave Desert. In 1926, Amboy became a boomtown after the opening of U.S. Route 66. In 1938, Roy's Motel and Café opened, which prospered due to its isolated location on the route. By 1940, Amboy's population had increased to 65. Its growth was tied not only to tourists, but also to the Santa Fe Railroad over which high-speed freight trains still run today. During the Great Depression and World War II, tourism declined nationally. But the remaining travelers need for lodging, meals, and gasoline kept the town busy. The town remained this way until the opening of Interstate 40 in 1973, which bypassed Amboy.
Amboy was originally owned by Buster Burris who sold the town in 1995 to investors who mainly used it for photo and film shoots. After the investors lost it in foreclosure, it was repossessed by Bessie Burris, Buster's widow. Bessie sold the property in 2005 to Albert Okura, owner of the Juan Pollo restaurant chain for $425,000 in cash and $100,000 so far on restoration. Albert has faced challenges in getting basics such as electricity and water services restored and operative. His restoration hurdles predominantly involved Amboy's infrastructure, most of it had been laid by Buster Burris himself (not to current building codes). Okura has experience with preservationist efforts and stewardship, being the owner of the Original McDonald's in San Bernardino, California, which he operates as a museum. Unlike the investors, who wanted to maintain Roy's and Amboy in a "weathered" condition for use as in film shoots, Okura plans to fully restore Roy's to its former glory as a "nostalgia tourists" destination, and Route 66 rest stop for travelers en route to and from the Colorado River scenic and recreation areas.
Just southeast of Amboy is a snowy white dry lake (the remnants of a large ancient inland sea) and a series of long trenches with bright aqua colored water. The white crystallized formations are calcium chloride and sodium chloride, types of salt typically used as road salt and common table salt. The network of long narrow evaporation ponds are created by the National Chloride Company and Tetra Technologies Co. to produce salt from a brine solution pumped from wells beneath the lakebed. The surface "playa" layer of sand, clay, gypsum, and some volcanic ash, ranging from three to seven feet thick, is excavated in order to get at the underlying salt, and dumped in long rows of conical piles along the trenches. The water is eliminated through natural evaporation, allowing the salt to be subsequently harvested. Salt has been extracted from the dry lakebed since 1858, and it is estimated that there are still some 60 million tons of salt in reserve. Core sample in the 1950s found salt at a depth of over 1000 feet.
When I reached the salt flats between wonder valley and Amboy, the landscape opened up and I felt like I had landed on the moon. 80 mph. Faded pink. Muted beige. Sprawling. Endless.
There was nothing ahead of me for what appeared to be miles; the land seemed to extend and foreshorten simultaneously. I drove through the salt flats - the horizon line a blur in which there were moments when I couldn't tell where the earth ended and the sky began. I drove down into the valley -- 80 miles per hour. 85. 90. Beige, pink, brown, white. The salt flats reflected silver in the haze of the late afternoon sun -- flashes of light in my peripheral vision; a sea of broken glass. The road began to turn and my GPS told me I would soon turn on to National Trails Highway. Shortly thereafter I reached Amboy, nickname: "The ghost town that ain't dead yet."
Amboy Road came to a T. There was a freight train disappearing into the desert on my left and a handful of buildings down the road to my right. I turned right towards the town and crossed over the train tracks. A huge sign rose ahead of me, lit not by neon, but by the afternoon light:
"Roy's Motel and Cafe -- Vacancy," it read.
Lots of it.
In 1956 the Federal Aid Highway Act was passed, allowing new interstate highways to be built. By the mid-70s, the I-40 had been built between Barstow, California and Wilmington North, Carolina, and cut off traffic for many of the businesses along Route 66. There are now miles and miles of abandoned diners, gas stations and other businesses along the route, Roy's being one of them.
"Are you Roy?!?" I asked the attendant inside the cafe, eyes as wide as saucers. He smirked a little; grey t-shirt, medium wash 501s, slicked back silver hair, clear blue eyes and an easygoing smile. He gave me an incredulous smile. "No." "I bet you get that question a lot," I replied, laughing off my ridiculous question. We introduced ourselves -- his name was Kevin.
There are ten people that live there in Amboy at any given time. Kevin is one of them. He works at Roy's. The diner's kitchen no longer functions and they sell nothing save for a small selection of snacks and cold drinks, a few souvenirs, and gasoline from the old pumps. The dining room and kitchen appear to be in perfect working condition, but the handwritten sign above the counter that reads "NO KITCHEN" makes it clear that it's not. The motel is abandoned.
It's a living relic of American history.
I was fascinated with the gas station and the man working there in the middle of nowhere. I knew I wasn't the first person to visit this place or be smitten by its sheer existence, but I felt like I had discovered it myself and immediately claimed a tiny sense of ownership. Kevin was kind enough to field my questions and eventually offered me a root beer and found an old photo album of the town. We sat at a table in the café and went through photos -- old black and white photos from when the town was more bustling -- pictures of the school, the church...sepia-toned anonymous faces. He attended to the occasional gas customer, albeit a bit impatiently as he suddenly had company. We sat and talked until dusk, as I was anxious to get back to Joshua Tree before dark.
I ended up spending a lot of time with Kevin during that week in Joshua Tree. He showed me around the old motel which he holds the key to, as well as the remaining buildings in the small town. What started as a friendly conversation turned into three days of driving around showing each other our favorite sites between Yucca Valley and Needles. He showed me some of his favorite weird sites along Route 66 - an abandoned diner, the shoe tree, the giant foo dogs, and the graffiti gas station. If you find yourself driving along Route 66 and go through Amboy, stop at Roy's and please say hi to Kevin for me.