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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Sign up for the HDTS mailing list to stay abreast of HDTS updates, events, and projects.
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 Basin is a small taqueria in the back of Kasa, a Mexican food market.
Drive to Yucca Valley, turn onto Pioneer Town Road and after about 2 miles turn right on Sunnyslope Drive. Drive to the end of the road and on the left side you will see a dilapidated church and the entrance to the park. Entering the park you'll see more than 40 stark white statues and a shaded picnic area.
At the picnic area we met a man named Randy and his mom Dora. Randy had been coming to the park since he was a kid, for over 50 years. Randy and Dora agreed, Desert Christ Park is the best place in Yucca Valley besides Joshua Tree National Park. They said, "It's quiet, shady, and you have the best view over Yucca Valley. Not many people come here, except some kids who come to play around the statues. Some kids broke the arm of Jesus by mistake."
After talking with Randy and Dora, we began wandering the park. It felt like some kind of theme park, a Jesus theme park. Jesus is portrayed in different positions, in different scenes, and in different actions. The statues are at least two times bigger than the average adult human size. The statues, some with broken limbs and chipped skin, appear surreal.
56200 Sunnyslope Dr, Yucca Valley, CA 92284
Eating at a diner should be uncomplicated and pleasant. Happily, C & S Coffee Shop is not an exception to this rule. During my Friday afternoon visit I drank three cups of coffee, ate two eggs over medium with hash browns, bacon and toast and chatted with friends from the encampment. Among other things, Kate, Jessica, Sarah, Annie and I all remarked that it had been a good week at A-Z West.
C & S doesn't have much of an online presence but there are lots of reviews- 67 on Google alone with an average rating of 4.6 out of 5. I consider the following to be their finest endorsement, "It's my Birthday this morning and I came here rather than a fee breakfast at Dennys! Best pancakes around."
In general folks agree that the coffee is fresh, the prices are reasonable and that the chicken fried steak is the best dinner item on the menu. The biggest complaint is that you can't put a tip on your credit card so if you go to C & S, bring some cash.
C & S has been around since 1949. It has always been along Highway 62 in Yucca Valley but was originally located across the street inside the old pharmacy. (I suspect that today this is either the same building or at least the same location as the structure currently occupied by the Frontier Cafe.) By 1949 America was in the thick of the post-war population boom during which hundreds of thousands of people relocated to Southern California from other parts of the country. This makes me speculate that the original owner was a member of said demographic but I can't confirm my guess.
During lunch I learned that C & S moved from across the street to it's present location between 1989 and 1991. This could have been precipitated by the earthquake that hit the area in 1989 but again, just a guess. I got most of my information from the head waiter Julio who was a really good sport and answered all my questions. Julio moved to the states from Guatemala in 1985 and has been working at C & S since 1998. He told me that when he started, the owner was a guy from India. He seemed to know most of his customers and hugged a few as they were leaving.
My lunchtime companions also humored my obsession and helped me research the history of diners in general. It turns out that like many aspects of modern culture, diners are a product of the railroad. They were designed as prefab eateries built of inexpensive materials and scaled to be distributed to growing industrial and urban centers via America's railway network. Also worth mentioning is the multipurpose use of space in which kitchen and dining room are separated by a simple counter manned by busy waitstaff. Imagine working class customers coming in on their lunch hour to sit, order and eat.
By now, diners are ubiquitous across America and plenty of them deviate from these design origins. For example, C & S currently occupies a beige concrete stuccoed box. Today experts agree that what categorically defines a diner is the presence of a counter. In my opinion, true diners also exist in convenient locations. The price point and the vibe must also be consistent. The price is easy to define- my meal was $7 plus tip which is just right. The vibe is harder to locate but the way I see it, a diner must attract a local customer base and must not be self-conscious to the point of making it's customers self-conscious. It's also best if the interior includes elements of kitch.
The counter at C & S isn't strictly necessary because the building is quite large and the kitchen is in a separate room. It does, however, interface between the waiter's station and the customer area. On the waiter's side of the counter, a mirrored wall successfully adds depth to the space.
My companions and I sat in a booth underneath a framed photo of kittens with the title, "Kittens". Hanging on the opposite wall above the counter is another poster in which a single kitten sits between the buns of a fake cheeseburger. Predictably, this is a popular subject on Instagram.
A long strand of ivy graces the line between walls and ceiling. As first I remembered this as fake but then read someone else's account which called it a live plant. Upon close inspection of my photos, I realized the source of confusion- while the single tendril is real, there are also lots of fake ivy places hanging along the walls.
Other decorative elements include parrot motif curtains and a variety of other images and objects that could be classified as Americana. The most striking thing about the decor is that all the seats have been upholstered in turquoise vinyl. Campy!
In the present moment, people here and everywhere are trying to cope with an unpredictable world. In Joshua Tree, one area of uncertainty is the increasing number of people coming to the high desert. This includes tourists as well as new residents.
Current residents are unsure about the sustainability of their quality of life and some are concerned they won't be able to live here much longer. These high desert towns occupy a fragile natural and cultural ecosystem and so I share their concern. This brings me back to why I like diners so much in general and C & S Coffee Shop in particular. The illusion of timelessness remains intact inside the diner with concrete walls acting as a buffer to fast paced change.
55795 Twentynine Palms Highway, Yucca Valley, CA 92284
This is our go-to for tacos and marinated taco meats. The front of the store is a grocery, fully stocked with hispanic ingredients, cooking utensils, dulcés, chicharones, and votive candles. The meat counter can be a little intimidating but I swear it's not---the easiest failsafe things to order are the marinated carne asada and the marinated chicken. They also have packaged guacamole and salsa, which is spicier than you might be prepared for. Past the meat counter, tucked in the back, is the taqueria. The tacos are all great but personal favorites are classic carne asada, carnitas, and shrimp. Burritos are good also, but when I get really hungry I like to get the torta (Mexican sandwich) because it comes with onion rings. Old-timers like to get soup there, which I've never gotten into for whatever reason. They have tamales some days, but our favorite day to go is Mini Taco Wednesday---that's when they sell mini chicken or steak tacos for $1 each. I usually eat 3, but I'm a light eater, most people seem to eat 4-6. For vegetarians I would recommend the bean tostada and the chile relleno.
56089 Twentynine Palms Highway, Yucca Valley, CA 92284
My friend's friend told her about Friday night movies at the "Bijou Cinema," so we decided to check it out. The "Desert Classic Movie Film Society" meets every Friday night, headed by Christopher Perry, whose "Movie Maniacs" bio on the group's webpage reads "I am a professional pianist, music historian, film historian, and swing enthusiast..." The Bijou is actually Perry's home in Yucca Valley, where locals gather to watch classic films such as Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Wizard of Oz, Kiss Me Kate, and Gone with the Wind (the uncensored banned version!). Although it's a "Film Society," anyone is welcome. Some screenings are accompanied by a live music performance before or during the movie (especially when they screen silent films). As Perry is a film historian, he will usually give a short lecture on the history of the film before and after the screening. There are also often 3D screenings, in old-fashioned stereoscopic polarized 3D projection.
On my first visit, my GPS led us to a house in a residential part of Yucca Valley, so we were confused and nervous that we'd be subject to two hours shivering in the freezing wind while watching a film projected on a garage door. Walking down the driveway we realized that the theater is inside Perry's garage. As we stepped inside, the bland suburbia of Yucca Valley melted away and we were transported to a cozy black box theater with thirty-five plush movie seats (which started to hurt my lower back about midway through the movie) and red curtains draped over the walls. There is also a popcorn machine! If you have to go to the bathroom, a local high-schooler escorts you into the main house. While I waited for someone to come out of the bathroom, I asked the high school boy how he likes living in Yucca Valley. In typical moody teenage fashion, he complained that it's super boring because there's nothing to do, and his mom doesn't let him visit his friends in town on his own. It's true, there isn't even a mall to hang out in... but at least he gets to learn about classic movies every Friday night.
Back in the garage-theater, I enjoyed Perry's succinct and informative pre-movie lecture on the history of Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator, in which Chaplin plays a parody of Hitler. The second time I went to the Bijou was for a 3D screening of The Wizard of Oz. A local couple shared wine and cookies with the whole audience to celebrate their 50^th^ wedding anniversary. Unfortunately, my friend and I ended up leaving quite upset after some distressing post-movie joking about munchkins and little people... Sadly this left me skeptical enough that I haven't gone back, but the Bijou is still worth a visit.
To become a "Movie Maniac" and RSVP for an upcoming screening at the Bijou Cinema, visit www.meetup.com/DESERT-CLASSIC-FILM-SOCIETY. Screenings typically cost $10, sometimes $5.
There are a surprising number of thrift, antique, and vintage stores in the Morongo Basin. Driving through Yucca Valley, a lot are easy to miss, but if you look closely and dig through clothes and old stuff, you’ll find some real gems… Here are some favorites.
Famous spot for curated vintage clothing, perfect for that everyday desert music festival look, but priced for city tourists. If bright-patterned long flowy dresses, chunky jewelry and fur collared jackets aren’t your thing, you’ll probably still find something (and probably with a discount, if the desert music festival crowd passed it up for long enough). There’s often a $5-$15 rack or box outside. Kime, the owner, is an expert vintage hoarder and we’re lucky she shares…
55872 29 Palms Hwy, Yucca Valley (M-Su 11-5)
Best antique mall in Old Town Yucca Valley, always manned by a team of jovial older folks, who I’m guessing are some of the antique dealers whose stuff you’ll look through across the store’s five or six rooms. When I first moved here, AZ gave me a long list of antique spots to check out, this is the only one that I’ve returned to. For a while I stopped in every time I was in the area, and always left with something special. Don’t miss their annual Harvest Sale from late October through the first week in November: 40%+ discounts, free hot spiced cider and other Fall treats.
55854 29 Palms Hwy, Yucca Valley (call for hours: 760-228-0603)
This n That Desert Treasures
Name says it all. Next to the XXX adult store.
57533 29 Palms Hwy, Yucca Valley (M-Su 10-7)
Joshua Springs Thrift Shop
Local church thrift store, which means you’ll hear Christian rock blaring and encounter a book section full of Christian texts. Clothing selection is hit or miss, but definitely worth a look. The best part is their craft section, where on separate occasions myself and more than one friend have scored big on additions to our yarn stashes.
56867 29 Palms Hwy, Yucca Valley (M-Tu, Th-Sa 9-5, W 9-4, closed Sunday)
Angel View Yucca Valley
The desert thrift store chain equivalent to Goodwill. Lots of great clothing if you’re in the mood to flip through the racks. Vanesa found a handwoven Chimayo jacket once; purchased for $35, valued at $600. Really good accessories too; my favorite scarves, vintage beaded purse, and jewelry is from here.
57594 29 Palms Hwy, Yucca Valley (M-Sa 9-7, Su 10-5)
Angel View Clearance Center
This is where all the Angel View stores’ overstock goes to die. According to Shari Elf, everything is $1.
64669 Dillon Rd (M-Sa 8-5, Su 9-5)
So many secret back rooms with secret back rooms full of clothes and the usual thrift store junk. One room’s walls are lined with shelves and shelves of mugs. The best part is that to get to one of the rooms you have to walk through a giant, genuine, bank safe door. I mean, really, why??
56300 Twentynine, Palms Highway, Yucca Valley, CA 92284
Black Luck Vintage (formerly Trailer Trash)
7350 Acoma Trail, Yucca Valley (F-Sa 10-5, Su-M 10-2)
Even more! From Carmelle Safdie’s Thrift Guide, featured in the 2017 Desert Destination Log
Rosie’s Place Thrift Store
Furniture and bric-a-brac with cavernous women’s clothing department in back.
73911 29 Palms Hwy, Twentynine Palms (T-Sa 9-4)
The Palms Restaurant
The best dive bar in the world also happens to sell used cowboy boots, blue jeans, sweatshirts, T-shirts and books. Quality Bloody Marys and burgers at unbelievably low prices. Sunday brunch is a good place to make new friends.
83131 Amboy Rd, Twentynine Palms (Th-Sa 3-6, Su 9-6)
Call to confirm store hours before making the trip. Neighbored by another thrift/junk store.
66169 Pierson Blvd, Desert Hot Springs (M-Th 10-5)
Gypsyland Palm Springs
Gypsyland’s weekend location.
2675 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs (Th-Su 11-4)
DHS Buy and Sell
Great little thrift/pawn shop. Buy – Trade – Sell
2230 Palm Dr, Desert Hot Springs (M-F 9-5, Sa 10-2, closed Sunday)
Angel View Palm Springs
454 N Indian Canyon Dr, Palm Springs (M-Sa 9-7, Su 10-5)
67555 E Palm Canyon Dr, Cathedral City (M-Sa 9-9, Su 10-8)
Revivals Resale Market
Used clothing and furniture, as well as large selection of new rayon “resort wear.”
611 S Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs (M-Sa 9-6, Su 10-5)
The Sky Village Swap Meet is a giant, seven-acre weekend treasure hunt where locals and tourists can explore the shacks and stands of the swap meet vendors. You'll find tents filled with everything from crystals, rocks, and beads, to vintage jewelry and enamel pins advertising political campaigns you haven't heard of since the 70's, to old electronics in case you really need an extra remote controller for your Nintendo 64. There's artwork and metalwork to be scouted and purchased, all the second hand clothes you could possible ever want, and even some furniture and old appliances. Toward the northeast end of the seven-acres you'll find Dakota Bobs, the best shack to buy inexpensive vintage cowboy and girl wear like boots, hats, and buckles.
In the center of the seven-acres, near the chicken statue, you'll find the Sky Village Café where you can find breakfast sandwiches, breakfast burritos, and the best buttermilk pancakes in town, all at a very low cost. If you want to wander the swap meet after placing your order, they'll call your name over the swap meet loud speakers to let you know when your food is ready.
The High Desert Test Sites headquarters are located at the swap meet, open Saturdays from 9am-1pm. You can pick up a Swap Meet map, an HDTS map, crystals and desert rocks, tote bags, and new and archived issues of the HDTS catalog, postcards, and more.
The swap meet is open every Saturday from 6am-2pm and every Sunday from 7am-2pm, just north of the 29 Palms Highway off of Old Woman Springs Road in Yucca Valley. 7028 Theatre Rd, Yucca Valley, CA 92284
"...What is a swap meet?"
East Coasters and others always ask us... It's essentially a flea market. This question underscores the locality of the words, pointing out that they are specific to the West Coast. Swap meets are everywhere in the West Coast and some, like the Slauson Swap Meet, have been made famous in West Coast rap.
We grew up going to swap meets nearly every weekend, tagging along with our grandparents at the break of dawn and riding illegally amongst the boxes in the back of their customized white Toyota minivan. Our grandparents worked at the swap meet every weekend for years, selling videotape rewinders and novelty erasers imported from Taiwan. We would help out and watch all the strange characters pass through, everyone buying or selling something. These are some of our earliest memories: the improvised look of each booth, everything on the go. If we were good, at the end of each day our grandparents would let us buy one thing from the used book vendor next door. We would get things like old paperback books published by Mad Magazine, full of jokes and innuendo that we were still too young to fully understand.
The Sky Village Swap Meet in Yucca Valley is a world of its own, born on the grounds of a former drive-in movie theater, now it is a dense shanty-like town of booths and stands packed with curios, desert junk, overgrown cactus gardens, and bright green Palo Verde trees. The former drive-in loud speakers broadcast a soundtrack of country music, periodically punctuated by announcements that someone's burritos or french fries are ready for pickup at the cafe.
In the heart of the swap meet is the Crystal Cave - a phantasmagorical "masterpiece-in-progress" by Bob Carr, owner and creator of Sky Village Swap Meet. Bob's larger than life personality and creative sensibility has been the driving force behind the success of this highly eccentric community. In 2008, despite the swap meet's popularity, the Yucca Valley City Council decided to take the land that the swap meet occupied through eminent domain. As their legal claim became more and more of a reality, Bob decided to demolish his structures, including the Crystal Cave. However, as the result of local civil uproar, the council gave the land back to Bob. Unfortunately Bob was left with a broken Crystal Cave as well as what he describes as a broken heart.
In admiration and respect for Bob and all that he represents, two Danish art and curatorial students, Merete Vyff Slyngborg and Mette Woller initially worked with him on the ongoing restoration of the Cave and since their departure the Cave has continued to grow, expand and evolve, now including an adjacent courtyard area. The latest addition to the Crystal Cave is a running river that flows through the center of the cave (Bob says that eventually there will be three rivers -- so that means two more tributaries still to be built in the future). It has once again become a continuous and never-ending creative endeavor.
The Sky Village Swap Meet features seven acres worth of flea market vendors every Saturday and Sunday. It draws regulars and visitors who rummage together among the clutter for the many hidden treasures, brunch at the Sky Village Cafe, and chat amongst one another. It's a fun filled weekend community gathering. On the particular weekend of our visit, a bus load of folk singers from Oakland played several consecutive sets. We bought a white cotton sheet from a woman for one dollar to shield ourselves from the pounding sun.
Amid the Sky Village Swap Meet's maze of hats, racks, vintage electronics, and various knick-knacks lies the Crystal Cave and its smiling creator, Bob Carr. Bob is a generous and wizened man with an extra long stylish beard, grey hair, and a poetic, almost rhyming way of speaking. He admits that one of the keys to happiness is one's ability to surrender. Bob, along with his wife Elizabeth and daughter Zena, are the Swap Meet's hosts and organizers, and the Crystal Cave is Bob's baby. Nestled between some buildings next to HDTS Headquarters, the Crystal Cave's exterior is a one story wormed-out mound of spray foam insulation. Brightly painted and shaded passageways provide a cozy escape from the desert sun. Small windows or portals as Bob calls them provide glimpses into a brightly colored otherworldly land with a long trickling waterfall, miniature trees, pond of koi fish, and the sparkles of thousands of crystals and geodes embedded in the foam. Bob Carr is often there himself to open the secret door and guide no more than a pair of persons into the Crystal Cave at a time. He awaits the moment the people emerge in anticipation of seeing a giddy smile on their faces.
The Crystal Cave is a work in progress. Bob who has been involved with the Sky Village Swap Meet for 36 years began this creation 11 years ago. He recently removed some miniature houses which he, along with Elizabeth and Zena, agreed did not work. Instead, he began adding tiny animals such as bear and deer. Awaiting entry to this space---which one spectator referred to as a sort of temple---is the perfect opportunity to chat with Bob and get a sense of his life philosophy. He might reveal to you how he threw his ego to the ground and stomped on it when he was twenty-eight years old. Or he might regale you with stories of family travel around the country. He had not initially intended to stay at with the Swap Meet for so many years but felt compelled by the people to stay. He feels fortunate to have been able to grow rich without money.
The six or so people we watched emerge from the Crystal Cave all gave Bob a big hug on their way out, and we wondered if they were old friends of his. However when we came out of the crystal cave we felt compelled to hug Bob and thank him for giving us this experience as well. The finely detailed, humid, and distinctly un-desert like environment was filled with the sound of water, glistened with geodes and crystals, and put us in an altered state of mind.
If you ask Bob Carr of the Crystal Cave, how you doing? he'll likely respond: I do fine, children.
The following is a transcription of a recording from one day with Bob in October, 2016:
I love to share the joy with the cave... I began a selfish pursuit 50 years ago to achieve happiness, unshakable happiness, and in achieving that, a lot rubs off on others.
A man approached Bob about sharing his joy with others, to which Bob responded, Your purpose here is to create energy fields, guy. If you don't do that, you fail as a human being. You can't get rid of it, so to speak. The more you give, the more energy you generate, and you're in a big energy circle that comes back around and slaps your face for you. I like it. Hit me again.
Responding to a man's jacket that read "Prisoner: Doing Life," Bob said, Well, we are prisoners in the material world. Material life is slavery by its nature. You don't decide. You're not thinking you can decide are ya? It's all decided for you in the material world. You can't not buy groceries. You can't not pay your rent. You can't not do this that the other.
Another man asked Bob about the story of his cave, to which Bob responded, I don't know. I didn't make it. It's about you, my fellow humans. That's part of my quest for happiness. One basic thing is first you gotta forget your hang ups and fall in love with everybody. That covers everything. I did start a selfish pursuit 50years ago when I was 28, my first solar return I woke up really fast to a bunch of stuff and the creator kept sending me people, you know, with messages, so I've been working on that for 50 years. It starts with surrender. Surrender. Starve your ego to death. Make it about the person you're looking at instead of yourself. Abandon humanity and create your own. I believe the whole universe is already inside me, guy, and that's a wake up point where you wake up and surrender to that and understand that it's all already inside you. You're not gonna create anything. the creator does that. You're gonna discover if you go inside, it's already there. Yeah. And to me, happiness is the key. You can only have happiness by training your mind to think the right thoughts, which will cause you to do the right deeds, which will bring you happiness.
I set up my Real Imaginary (Desert) Archive as part of the High Desert Test Sites art show at the Sky Village Swap Meet the weekend of October 25th. The Friday prior, I set up my archive and met Bob Carr. He invited me into his "Crystal Cave," which I was told, is an honor. Most people peer through the portals to view the flowing river and gems, the fake moss and undulating levels of spray insulation covered in bright paint. He said he is very sensitive to energies, so he only wants good energies inside his cave. I annoyed myself thinking of all of the toxicity involved in its creation, but after a few minutes sitting on the worn sofa with the pillow that said "KING OF THE REMOTE" supporting my lower back, I found the cave pretty soothing and magical.
After a few minutes I came out and talked to Bob about his masterpiece, which has been 10 years in the making and will never be finished. Many hands have been involved over the years. Insulation had been donated, along with hundreds of dollars of gems. But Bob has spent much of his social security money on the project. Working on it, he said, kept him from becoming sane. People often give him a hard time for putting so much effort into a work that won't be for sale. He said he didn't understand the profit oriented drive of modern society. He said, "If that's the way one is 'supposed' to live life, supposed to be 'sane' -- I want nothing to do with it! That's Insanity!" Although people and their murderous ways terrify him (comments like these often follow others about war and the military), he does it all out of love.
A man with googly eyes stood at his swap meet market stall over colored bricks, reading glasses made out of plastic hangers, spinning tops, and vivid maps of most places in the world. I didn't know I needed that stuff, but that stuff was just what I needed.
He told me it was his dead wife's stuff. She was a schoolteacher. He asked me where I'm from. When I told him I was from Ireland, he asked if I knew the Stapletons from Tipperary. I do -- I once bought a school uniform from them. He gave me two rocks, a large stick of Selenite, and a clear Quartz tied to a piece of leather. He told me they would protect me.
I put the Quartz around my neck and added the Selenite to my growing Mojave rock collection (which numbers over a hundred). My collection includes a soft brown stone with a white line of Quartz, a lump of mud from the farting mud hot springs that I molded into the a closed fist, and a large chunk of salt from the desert floor.
I also have a collection of sticks. Back at the encampment, Katie takes one twisted stick and twirls it to make invisible circles over the stones laying on the maps of most places in the world. I attach a piece of hair to a button and follow her motion. We don't need to talk anymore. We understand everything that is flowing between us. The rocks become our language. I feel as if I am an uncanny double presence: I am myself but I am also more than myself. Questions are answered. Time slows down.
I become a medium. When someone asks me a question, I am able to answer because the previous person who asked me a question gave me the answer. I know people ask me questions and receive answers, but just after, I can't remember what they asked or what I answered.
What is a medium? The gift to experience.