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
Vanesa Zendejas - Acting Director
Elena Yu - Programming Manager
Kristy Campbell, Emily Endo and Sydney Foreman. Thanks to Elizabeth Carr and Zena Carr at the Sky Village Swap Meet! RIP Bob Carr.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
David Knaus - Chair
Andrea Zittel - Director Emeritus/Treasurer
Aram Moshayedi - Secretary
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 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 (closed July-August)—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.
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…
Parker is about a two-hour drive from A-Z West, due east on Hwy 62 to the Colorado River. We left Joshua Tree in the late afternoon in early February - the first part of the drive was during the golden hour so it was incredibly beautiful. It was dark by the time that we got to Parker, and since it was a Thursday didn’t anticipate any trouble finding a hotel. What we hadn’t counted on was that we were arriving at the same time as the annual “Best in the Desert” - an off-road race with over 200 trucks and off -oad vehicles covering a vast course of off-road terrain. Every hotel was full and there were fields of large fifth wheel trailers camped all around Parker. We pulled up next to a brightly illuminated drinking water dispenser in an empty dirt lot so that we could look at Trip Advisor for a hotel. Everything looked book so we decided to try the BlueWater Resort and Casino on the north side of the town - when we arrived we realized that the casino was ground zero for “Best in The Desert.” The parking lot had a million RVs and dune buggies parked in it, and the palm trees were wrapped in strings of colored lights. We went into the casino but were told that the only room left was a suite for $250 a night including tax. BlueWater might be an interesting place to check out in the future when they have lower priced rooms available - I couldn’t tell if it had waterfront access, but the name would lead one to believe so. Plus, you can gamble, have cocktails ,and watch a band do Metallica cover songs without having to get in the car.
We managed to get the last room at Quality Inn - a former Motel 6 that had undergone a design transformation. No complaints. We found Parker both interesting and complicated. First of all, it’s right on the Colorado River - and water in the desert is a big deal. The town seems to have grown and shrunk several times, so there are lots of cool empty buildings and the most amazing gas stations on my greatest hits list of things to see in Parker. First check out the two matching “Terrible’s” Chevron Stations on both sides of the 95. Then further east on 95 for the Running Man Gas Station. The Kofa Hotel is a mid-century architectural Gem - but sadly is very run down and gets sketchy Trip Advisor reviews. We tried the Kofa Coffee shop anyway and wanted to love it but couldn’t. Also, we drove through the neighborhood and found the school where Katy’s school team from Cave Creek Arizona used to play the Parker teams at softball and basketball. The mid-century dome-shaped school gym on South Navajo and West 18th is definitely worth a drive-by.
There are a bunch of interesting places to check out in the desert east of Parker that aren’t on the water - but the river itself remains the most attractive and perplexing part of Parker. The waterline is lush and green - but every foot of the water front has been built up with narrow two-story houses that make Venice beach feel like a low-density suburb. And where there aren’t tall skinny houses tightly stacked next to each other there are RV parks with RVs parked side by side with only a few feet in between. If you want privacy along this stretch of the river it seems that it’s all about owning a boat and using that to find some nook with a little personal space. We spent part of a day looking for a swimming beach with public access but couldn’t find anything.
But we did visit several other destinations as well as some good restaurants that will be described on following pages. Also for anyone interested in vehicles, off road racing, or river racing - check out the schedule of events for Parker Arizona.
The first night in Parker we ate at Mayas which was open until 10 PM. Because it was so late when we arrived, we had to sit in the fluorescently lit canteen side which was a bit noisy, but the main dining room looked really cozy (Katy called it “dreamy”). We liked Mayas and next time we will come earlier so we can sit there. The service was good as was the Mexican food. I had street tacos and Katy had fish tacos.
We went to Crossroads for breakfast and at first were daunted by the line and wait list, but were seated in about ten minutes. The interior is classic 1972 and very well maintained. I had an omelet with mushrooms and sausage and avocado (no cheese or toast) which was delicious. Even though the place was crowded because of the races that weekend, people were served at a brisk pace and the staff was super competent and friendly. Plus, the back wall had an amazing mural of the Parker bridge over the Colorado River.
For Lunch the following day we at the Kofa Diner. I wanted to love this place but couldn’t and probably would not eat there again.
Stark Family Bakery
This is a full-on donut shop. All of the classic donuts and coffee in styrofoam cups. Beautiful interior with saturated pastel colors and very friendly staff.
Tierra Caliente Carniceria
Katy did some research and says that if we go to Parker again we are going to eat at the taco stand inside Tierra Caliente Carniceria - They also have a roving taco cart that pops up at different parts of town.
A floating bar on the Arizona side. This is probably the main place my family eats out when we are out there (we usually access it by boat). They grill burgers, have eggs and bacon for breakfast, etc. The bar can get sort of rowdy and sometimes they have live music, sometimes they have “wet t-shirt contests” and other spectacles…my dad always says he liked to take me there as a young kid so I could learn how ridiculous drunk people are early.
Fox’s Floating Bar
Another floating bar on the river, which claims it is the Parker Strip’s oldest drinking establishment. The whole place is covered in one dollar bills stapled to the siding. It’s very similar to Roadrunner and usually has live music too.
Also a bar on the river, though quite different in form from the others, as Sundance is a huge multi-level complex with people up on different tiers of balconies, stages, and bars. It was closed and visibly damaged by fire for most of my childhood, so I always saw it as this foreboding haunted place. There was a lot of lore around it, as it was apparently the best party spot on the river in the ‘70s and ‘80s. According to my dad, who hung out there often in his youth, the owner of a competing bar called Rock Palace supposedly lit Sundance on fire, but the bar survived. Then mysteriously Rock Palace burnt down and never was revived. My dad says “ “In the ‘80s Sundance would be wall to wall people at night and rage until 2 AM when they kicked you out. There would be a traffic jam out of that place.” The same owner who ran it at that time reopened it in 2014, and since then it has changed hands and become another river drinking spot.
Sundance RV Resort + Outlaw Saloon
Not to be confused with the original Sundance Saloon—this one is much newer and I think was opened in the early 2000s when Sundance Saloon was still shut down. This place is also on Parker Dam Road, between Rio + Windmill. You can swim here, and in normal times they also have a little water taxi that will take you for free across to the Pirate’s restaurant on the AZ side (Pirate’s has decent food, slightly overpriced, and it’s a little nicer than Roadrunner, with a pool/outdoor bar and a lot of pirate-themed paraphernalia). The taxi goes every hour all day I think until 6, but it’s not very reliable…regardless, that’s sort of beside the point unless you want to be on the water for a second, which I’ve enjoyed when I’m out there without a boat. The saloon actually has pretty good pizza, one of the main places my family will stop to get food out.
Blue Water Casino
This hotel/casino is at the southern end of this part of the river, and I think it’s a decent place to park, walk around by the water, have a drink or bite at the outdoor cantina, and/or go for a swim. The cantina is to the right of the docks in front of the casino. If you keep going right there’s a little beach I think would be nice to swim at. In non-covid-times, the casino is a sort of hub of activity as there is a pool with a waterslide and also a movie-theater.
There is great Mexican food in Parker, if you’re passing through and want takeout this is where I would go.
Good greasy spoon diner in Parker, wonderful for breakfast.
We decided to visit the Nellie E Saloon on a Friday, even though we knew it would be closed because it seemed like it could be interesting to check out the structures and general area. It’s only about a five mile drive on a dirt road, but the road is really rough (much rougher than the road to Swansea), so the trip took a while even in my 4x4 truck. Having said that we saw a minivan driving on the same road, so it’s theoretically passable by car - though maybe not a super comfortable ride. When we got to the site of the bar the road was barricaded with a very serious no trespassing sign so we looked longingly at what we could see of the structures over the crest of the hill and then turned around to do the bumpy return drive back to the Hwy.
Here are the things to know about Nellie E Saloon: The saloon is in the Buckskin Mountains just north of Parker Arizona. The land used to be an old mining camp - and even though the camp didn’t survive, the land did come with a liquor license so the current owner decided to give the ”bar in the desert” idea a try and originally opened it in a temporary structure in 1983 until building the current saloon five years later.
Water was originally hauled to the bar in a 50-gallon tank loaded on the back of the owner’s truck - later an old fire truck was used. In 1989, a well was finally drilled that now operates on solar power. The “Nellie E” saloon was completed in 1988. Then the next project was a covered walk bridge in 1991, and the church was started in 1993, and completed in 1996. The church is made of solid steel and the walls and ceiling are made of the same stamped tin used inside the bar and the roof is made of copper. The church is used for weddings and photo shoots, but does not have regular services. The owner, Ken, lives in a house across from the parking lot.
The “Nellie E Saloon” is located 5 miles off the Cienega Springs Rd exit on Hwy-95, approximately 5 miles north of Parker, Arizona. It is open October thru April, Saturdays and Sundays only, from noon till 6:00 pm Arizona time. The bar is closed during the hotter summer months.
According to my dad, “It used to be a mining claim. The owner had a liquor license from a closed down bar and when he decided to open the bar there there was no electricity and no water. The big towers are like giant a/c units that don’t use power. Food is burgers and tri-tip sandwiches (my favorite) and fries. They usually have a band playing too.” They have limited hours and take cash only—their website it says they are open Oct through April, Saturdays and Sundays only from high noon until 6PM AZ time.
Desert Bar is pretty much an all-outdoor space. You can get there by taking a dirt road, Cienega Springs, and it ends up being about 40 minutes from town. It’s a popular destination for off-roaders as well, and the off-road route, which is an old mining road closer to the dam, is a bit harrowing—you have to crawl over huge steep red rocks and this takes a while and some skill.
Their website tells the story and the physical structure’s particularities best, so here it is in their words:
“The “Nellie E Saloon” (DESERT BAR) is situated in the Buckskin Mountains, in Parker, Arizona, on land that was an old mining camp. The camp was located on the portion of land that is now the parking lot. When Ken acquired the land in 1975, there was nothing left of the old mining camp. With the land and a liquor license from an old business on leased river land, Ken decided to give the “bar in the desert” idea a try. In 1983, Ken opened for business in the temporary three-sided structure which is across from the outdoor restrooms. He operated there for the next five years, until the current saloon was constructed. The name “Nellie E” originates from the old mining claim. They used to mine copper and then take it to the smelter and get gold.
When Ken opened the bar, he hauled water in a 50-gallon tank loaded on the back of his truck. Then he purchased an old fire truck, which he used to haul water. In 1989, he started using a well in the canyon as his water source. In the summer of 1997, Ken drilled a new well on the north side of the saloon that operates on solar power, with the pump set at 360 feet.
The fire truck in the parking lot was acquired from Scott Winter in March of 2001. The fire truck was used by Scott’s father in the development of “Bluewater Lagoon”
The “Nellie E” was completed in 1988. The inside of the saloon is unique in many ways. It has windows that are old glass refrigerator doors, the bar stools are made of steel and they sway from side to side. The top of the bar is brass and the ceiling is made of stamped tin purchased from a factory in Missouri. The saloon is powered by solar energy and is stored in batteries and run through inverters.
Built in 1991, the covered walk bridge was the next big project. It was dedicated in October of that same year. The church was started in 1993, completed in 1996 and dedicated in October. The church is made of solid steel and the walls and ceiling are made of the same stamped tin used inside the bar and the roof is made of copper. The names inscribed on the plaques in the church are people who donated money to help build the church. The church is a unique place
and great photo spot. There are no services held in the church and all religions are welcome.
Across from the saloon is an outside bar, cooking area and stage. The tall structures you see on the property including Ken’s house, located across from the parking lot, are “cooling towers”. They work similar to an evaporative (swamp) cooler, except they don’t have a fan. When you wet the pads on top, cool air falls and you get a nice cool airflow.
Behind the outside bar is a horseshoe pit and to the right is a stage for live music or D.J.
We have live music October through April, depending on the weather. Music is on Saturdays is from 1:00 p.m. Till 5:00 p.m. and Sundays from 12:30 until 4:30 […] Ken has big plans for a future town, so be sure to visit every year! He is always working on a new project.”
Swansea is about an hour from Parker on a dirt road. Take the 95 east and turn left on Shea Road and then right again on the dirt road marked Swansea. If you are driving directly from Joshua Tree it would take a total of about three hours to get there; two hours on paved highway and one hour on a fairly smooth dirt road that gets a bit bumpy and rocky for the very final stretch. The morning when we drove there happened to be the day before the annual Parker “Best of the Desert” off-road race and a good portion of the road had signage that indicated that it would be part of the race course the following day. I’m assuming that many of the areas along the road are also BLM (Bureau of Land Management) because there were a lot of RVs and race rigs parked in various camps the entire way. It seems like it could be fun to camp out here on a non-race weekend - it’s legal to camp for free for up to 14 days on BLM land. You can often buy BLM maps at a BLM office, or ask around in town if you want to confirm where camping is allowed. (I will check on this on the next trip)
From what I’ve read on-line, Swansea’s post office was established on March 25, 1909 and discontinued on June 28, 1924. The town was the headquarters for the Clara Consolidated Gold and Copper Mining company and was connected by railroad to nearby Bouse. In 1908 the camps population was 750 - Supposedly it didn’t have buildings and stores like Jerome, Oatman or Bisbee — but it did have an electric light company, auto dealer, lumber yard, and insurance agent. The original mining company went bankrupt in 1912 after just five years, but the town was active to some extent until 1924.
There are a few different accounts of the name - but the most interesting says that Swansea was named after Swansea, Wales, where refined ore from the site was shipped. The ore was sent via railroad to a destination on the Colorado River, where it was transferred to river freighters and then again transferred to ships on the gulf of California for shipment to Swansea, Wales via Cape Horn.
There is a row of miners quarters that have been partially rebuilt - but most of the other structures have melted back into the desert. We spent about two hours exploring - but could have spent more of the day or even camped overnight if we didn’t have a list of other things that we wanted to check out on the same trip. The location is really beautiful but remote. Good to keep in mind that there is no cell reception or water. Also, the last two miles of the road are very bumpy and hilly, so a high clearance vehicle is preferable.
52558 Parker Dam Rd, Earp, CA 92242
A historic mining town on the AZ side, about 25 miles east of the Parker strip of the river. You can see some buildings, mine shafts, and foundations that remain. According to the BLM website: “Mining in the Swansea Area began around 1862, but major activity had to wait for the coming of the railroad. In 1904 the Arizona & California Railroad began constructing a line from Wickenburg to Parker. Seeing an opportunity for further development several of the original miners, Newton Evans and Thomas Jefferson Carrigan, secured investment money and began to develop Swansea. By the end of 1908, a 350 ton capacity furnace, a 3.5 mile water pipeline from the Bill Williams River, and the hoists for five mine shafts were under construction. By 1909 Swansea had a population of 500. The following year the Arizona & Swansea railroad began operation from Bouse. The railroad was key in moving supplies and people in and out of the growing mining town. Financial problems set in by 1911 and the mines shutdown with a brief reopening in 1912. The American Smelting and Refining Company bought the mines in 1914 and rebuilt much of the town. The new owners ran the mines until 1937 when the Great Depression closed the mines for good.”
London Bridge + Channel
This is the obvious Havasu destination. The channel that bridge is over is a very happening spot for folks to pull up and park their boats all day to socialize and party during the summer months. It gets incredibly packed!
Copper Canyon and Steamboat Cove
Areas where people hang out and cliff dive on the lake.
Sandbar at Topock
The Topock Gorge is an offshoot of the lake on the AZ side, with beautiful red rocks. This is a place that I would guess is most exciting to access by boat, but there’s a bar/restaurant called Topock 66 in a resort/RV park that is a decent place to stop if you wanted to see the area by car.