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.
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.
It is the things in the desert that do not take shape, may never come to exist, that can manage to feel more arresting than some of the things that do.
A decade ago, Oakland-based BrightSource Energy was on the prowl for desert land—-as solar developers generally are—-on which to site a proposed elephantine 500-megawatt heliostat farm. For reasons that do not on their face seem even faintly logical, the company landed on Broadwell Lake, five miles north of Ludlow, as a choice spot for this 5,130 acre (eight square miles, about the size of all of Santa Monica, CA) solar thermal power plant.
Broadwell Lake sits at the center of the Sleeping Beauty Valley, which has been described by one biologist as a “frontier that is poorly documented” and in which researchers “expect that additional inventory here will unearth considerable new discoveries to science.”
What drew BrightSource to this distinct transition zone between the western and eastern Mojave—-an area in which bighorn sheep migrate, an ancient plant (crucifixion thorn) that may live 10,000 years can be found, along with at least 350 other species of plants?
Was the company’s leadership attracted by the powerful and piercing solitude that can be experienced here? Was it how the dry lake sits between two mountain ranges (Cady, Bristol) and abuts one designated wilderness area (Kelso), offering a view so unfettered by even trace development? Was it this that made it seem a well-suited potential home to 200 foot-tall towers that would boil water? Was it that you can spend a full day here and see no body, no car, no thing, no structure—-for miles—-and almost begin to imagine the world before man?
BrightSource withdrew its bold proposal in 2009 not just amid objections from conservationists and scientists, but also because of the looming possibility of the area becoming part of a national monument. Seven long years later, in early 2016, the Mojave Trails National Monument was at last established. To be clear, Broadwell Lake would have been an absurd and destructive location for a power plant. Had the project been realized, one might travel here to experience sorrow over the works of man and their attendant consequences, from which there is seemingly no turning back. Fortunately, we can still visit to instead experience joy over the sublime quality of stillness available here most days, and with scant evidence of man for miles.
The Desert Research Station (DRS) is a Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) research and display facility located in the Mojave desert. If you happen to be in the Mojave desert or on your way to Las Vegas, Nevada from southern California, you should take a trip to visit CLUI’s Desert Research Station in Hinkley, CA.
The Desert Research Station contains information in a small trailer building about the land, wildlife, and geology around Hinkley. I had been familiar with CLUI and several of their sites for years before visiting the DRS. I have family in the Mojave desert so I pitched it as an informative art exhibition outside of Barstow to a few family members and they agreed to take me. Once we got off the freeway making our way toward Hinkley, it was pretty quiet. The town became known by many across the US in 2000 after the Oscar winning film Erin Brockovich starring Julia Roberts. The film is based on the real story of Erin Brockovich a Hinkley, California resident who helped build a case against Pacific Gas and Electric Company who were responsible for contaminating the groundwater in the area in the early 1990s. The town today looks like a ghost town with little to no people on the roads and abandoned houses throughout the area.
Like the CLUI site in Wendover, Utah, you will find a building painted beige and the formal looking CLUI logo out front. There is a padlock on the door and placard with instructions to call a phone number to retrieve the code to access the building. I wish I thought take down either number, but what’s the fun in that?! I did notice that the CLUI website states the DRS is open to the public by appointment so I would call the Center before making your way out there. Once you enter there is a knob on the inside that you turn to trigger the timed interior lights. The whole station is fairly self sustaining. Everything is a little dusty as most things are in the desert, but well maintained and full of valuable information.
In addition to the building, the station has an outdoor area with information about the area and land and large interactive sculptures. This is definitely a spot to visit for anyone with interest in land, environmentalism, desert wildlife, and or driving. There are also a number of other noteworthy sites in the area which CLUI recommends. Visit their website for more info: http://www.clui.org/section/desert-research-station-0
40083 Hinkley Road, Hinkley, CA 92347
Contact the Center: (310) 839-5722
How to live? In bursts of silence, I think, after a week in this place. Fellow campers busy themselves with touristic endeavour, embracing the eccentricities of this place whilst simultaneously staving off the gnawing anxiety of empty space (their words, not mine). I find myself resisting — I resist the chatter, the taking of trips, the seeing of sights. I find myself just being here, with this air, this rock, and this bush.
I am alone amongst the boulders. I listen to the wind advancing across the landscape, and to the footfall of little white lizards with curled tails in the sand. The anticipation of the unheard snake’s rattle is tempered by the metronomic pace of the asphalt-layers down on the road late into the night. It’s a punctuated silence, a silence-in-proximity.
We paint the walls alongside each other, sometimes in conversation, sometimes not. I realise that is the first time in nearly a decade that I’ve been able to spend more than one night alone, and the opportunities for not-speaking are outrageously enticing. As I paint my patch of wall I wonder how can I live with others and a simultaneous need for silence? Silence seems to frighten people. I don’t mean the kind of silence that requires explanation or discussion when one returns to the fold — what did you do in your silence? — but the kind of silence that just is. Undemanding and ordinary.
Today I’m driving toward Death Valley on a mad, mad journey. Out and back in a day. In the pre-dawn, I scamper across the boulders to the car so as not to wake my fellow campers. I’m driving out through Wonder Valley, Amboy, Mojave National Reserve, Kelso, Baker, Shoshone. There is no one around. I am in my element, alone, traversing this vast landscape in a haze of furious heat. Furnace Creek is just that — smoking and searing and evaporating everything in 110-degree heat. I do not think I have ever been so hot. I stand beneath my standard-issue Encampment hat watching the tourists set off across the valley and realise that this is the most essential element of human shelter in this place. It’s not architecture. It’s the hat.
On the radio, itself a curiosity in this desert place, I am told I am a mirror. We are all mirrors. The thing that binds us together is a blemish upon our mirror-surfaces — an inescapable, universal imperfection. Our goal in life, apparently, is to buff that blemish. To buff it and buff it and buff it and buff it in the futile hope that we might live better, we might be better, whilst all the while being conscious of the fact that the blemish will always be there and that ultimately, all effort is futile. I turn the radio off. Spontaneous combustion seems more and more likely. Perhaps it has already happened.
In the late evening, after this epic journey, I return to this place. To the chilly late-evening air whistling around the boulders, and the now-familiar sounds of the camp. I sleep to the sound of my towel flapping in the breeze, to the gravel-crunching of fellow-campers on the pathways, to the clinking of bowls and only bowls, to the distant calls of coyotes and to the occasional siren that is an unexpected and comforting kind of anchor through the night.
Before arriving at A-Z West, I had this idea of a lonesome, romantic desert experience, but there, I got caught up in the social life and practical preparations at camp. Once I got both my ideas and things together, I set out for Death Valley. Death Valley is a very dry, very hot, with lots of funky rock formations in all kinds of colors and shapes. Through the day, I wandered around in my Japanese rental car that was a little too low for the road conditions. In the evening, I searched for secluded camping spots far enough away from the main road. Once settled, I cooked my little meal on my mail order camping stove, staring at the big starry sky before crawling into my mail order tent to sleep tight through the desert night.
The Kelso Dunes are a collection of sand deposits in the Mojave Desert, locked into place by the vegetation that lives there. From a distance, the dunes look like washed up beaches amongst rockier mountain ranges. Clouds of sand make the dunes look like the tops of waves as they crash into the beach. The dry vegetation constantly traces small patterns into the sand to be quickly blown away by the wind.
Hiking the largest dune is as difficult a feat as it appears to be from a distance. It’s a climb through pure, smooth, fine sand at a near vertical elevation. Your feet disappear into the sand with each step, as the sand scales down the dune around your ankles. It’s easiest to climb the most vertical elevation on all fours, like an animal. Half way, you may feel like turning around. But if you can carry on to the summit, you will be rewarded with the patterns of the sand, not visible from below.
If you do make it to the summit, run down the dunes and the sand will moan under your feet in such a way that you can both feel and hear (when the dunes are dry).
To get to the Kelso Dunes, take Amboy road east out of Twentynine Palms and through the town of Amboy. Turn right onto the historic Route 66, left onto Kelbaker Road, and left onto Kelso Dunes Road.
This January I rode out to the 12th annual King of the Hammers, apparently “the largest off-road race event in North America.” Held in the OHV (Off Highway Vehicle) area of Johnson Valley, the home base of the festival is a trailer village on Means Dry Lake called “Hammertown.” My grandfather worked for TNT Motorsports in the 80’s, so I grew up going to see Bigfoot and Grave Digger monster truck shows in Kentucky. KOH isn’t quite the same, but it conjures the memory and interests me with its DIY wrenching culture and camaraderie between competitors. The enormous event seems so wrong and horrible for the environment in its use of resources and physical impact to the landscape, but it feels so right at the same time. Follow the dust cloud!
The Sunrise Mountain Recreational Area is composed of a very deep and large gypsum sedimentary deposit, pyroclastic rock, sandstone clays, sulfides and other mineral deposits. The area is also known to be called “Rainbow Gardens”. Pabco a gypsum board factory is North, Nellis Air Force Bases’ Storage Area 2, stocked with nuclear munitions, is north-east. East is a large expanse of walkable desert that reveals an incredible variety of diminutive plants that I have never seen elsewhere in the Southwest. It is an area crossed north to south by high tension wires owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power that connects a Utah power plant to the Southern California power grid. The road leading to the area, Lake Mead Boulevard East, is scattered with memorials, the beautiful lands that surround you can be a great distraction. The often-stereotyped image of southwestern abandonment is present complete with mountains of broken glass, abandoned boats on the side of the road, metal burn offs (stolen copper wire melted down into ingots), bullet casings and other refuse. The meteorological conditions eat away at these remnants, a steady grind on a timeframe that humans rarely have patience for. To the West is Frenchman’s Bluff, the mountain that separates this serene postindustrial landscape from Las Vegas, Nevada. This space lies in perfect contrast with the spectacle, it strips away any glitter and reveals itself in profound humility, but only if you step out of your car.
The best way to get to and from the Sunrise Mountain Area is to head East on Lake Mead Boulevard, through North Las Vegas. There is an exit past Downtown Las Vegas on I-15 North, you will drive through North Las Vegas, keep an eye out for one of the best Las Vegas neon signs, the Lawless Center on the left. Keep going all the way up the mountain, once you reach the top you will find several dirt roads on the descent to park your car, the best one is right before the high tension wires cross the road to the right, if you reach the Lake Mead National Recreational Area you’ve gone too far. On the way back you will pass one of the greatest Las Vegas look out points at the top of the hill. Lake Mead Boulevard is also known as NV Route 147.