High Desert Test Sites is a nonprofit arts institution that supports and stewards experimental artwork in the Joshua Tree region. We support programs that intersect contemporary art with everyday life, creating intimate exchanges between individuals, artworks, landscape, and community, challenging art to be relevant both to a region and beyond.
Since 2002, High Desert Test Sites—cofounded by Andrea Zittel, Andy Stillpass, John Connelly, Shaun Regen and Lisa Anne Auerbach—has hosted the work of more than 450 artists, 11 expansive site-specific programs, and 25 solo projects. Long directed by Andrea Zittel, HDTS leadership was recently handed over to Vanesa Zendejas, Zittel’s longtime administrator and program manager.
Who We Are
PO Box 1058
Joshua Tree, CA 92252
Office hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 10am-5pm PST
Vanesa Zendejas - Executive Director, firstname.lastname@example.org
Elena Yu - Assistant Director of Programming and Communications, email@example.com
Connor Schwab - Facilities and Grounds Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sydney Foreman - Director’s Assistant and Visitor Services, email@example.com
Lisa Anne Auerbach
Shaun Caley Regen
Elena Yu, Emily Endo, Emma Palm, Sydney Foreman and rotating A-Z West Work Trade Residents. Thanks to Elizabeth Carr and Zena Carr at the Sky Village Swap Meet! RIP Bob Carr.
WEBSITE AND DESIGN
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
David Knaus - Chair
Andrea Zittel - Founding Director/Treasurer
Brooke Hodge - Secretary
Marilyn Loesberg - Member
Susan Lubeznik - Member
Aram Moshayedi - Member
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, California Arts Council, Sky Village Swap Meet, Copper Mountain Mesa Community Association and our generous donors for their support over the years.
When HDTS was founded in 2002, part of the original mission was to run on a zero budget. The idea was to support artistic visions in practical terms—provide help, guidance, tools, a cot, and infinite space. For many years this worked and it produced self-driven projects that were ambitious and independently spirited.
Over the past ten years, HDTS has been working towards building a more substantial funding structure for artists’ projects. This has included hosting recurring fundraising projects such as our Artist Painted Rock Auction, Gem/Mineral Expo, pop-ups at art fairs and art museums, and producing limited edition artworks for sale.
But these endeavors never quite add up to what we need—to pay our artists fairly, for venue rentals, for staff, liability insurance, the bookkeeper, to feed our volunteers, pay for all-terrain forklift rentals, and so much more.
As our programs grow every year, so does our budget. And although we make every effort to raise the money that we need with Andrea’s self-sufficient spirit in tow, we still rely on support from donors to make it all happen.
HDTS has been a registered 501c3 since 2013. Please consider a gift in any amount to help us in providing access to engaging, experimental, contemporary art in the high desert region.
Donate via PayPal, via Venmo (@hdts_azwest), or via check:
PO Box 1058 Joshua Tree CA 92252
Many past HDTS projects have only been temporarily sited, but some are permanent and scattered throughout the Morongo Basin. The best way to find these works is to follow the directions on our current HDTS driving map. This map also includes sites we’ve partnered with in the past and admire as independent projects. Most HDTS works are located at sites that we regularly activate and operate out of. Those sites include:
Our new base of operations, A-Z West is Andrea’s lifelong project, where she lived and worked for 20 years before handing the keys to HDTS in 2022. Located a few minutes outside downtown Joshua Tree, this 85-acre compound includes four restored homestead cabins, several experimental living structures, permanent sculptures, 4,000 square foot studio space, and pristine desert landscape.
Public tours of A-Z West are offered every 2 weeks, alternating between 1-hour outdoor only tours, and 2-hour tours that include most interiors. Tickets for these tours can be purchased through the West Works store. All funds raised from tour ticket sales support HDTS programming and general operating expenses.
HDTS office hours at A-Z West are Tuesday through Thursday from 10 am–5 pm. Our office is not open to the public during these hours, but by appointment only. Please email Sydney if you have an inquiry regarding A-Z West.
Directions: Head east down Hwy 62 past downtown Joshua Tree. About 1 mile past Park make a right at the “Bail Bonds” sign onto Neptune. When the road hits a “T” make a left, then the next right. At the hanging wooden signs, go straight to park in the Encampment lot, or make a left to go to the house, cabins, or studio.
Behind the Bail Bonds
Sited on this 10-acre boulder strewn parcel adjacent to A-Z West are several works that may take a few hours of exploring to divulge: Morongo by Nathan Lieb, Surveillant Architectures by Julia Scher, and CA Truck Heads by Sarah Vanderlip. Feel free to visit this site sunup to sundown but make sure you park in our designated parking and do not block the road.
Directions: Head east down Hwy 62 past downtown Joshua Tree. About 1 mile past Park make a right at the “Bail Bonds” sign onto Neptune. When the road hits a “T” make a left. Follow along power lines, park just before the turnaround area.
Andy’s Gamma Gulch
Co-founder Andy Stillpass has generously allowed countless HDTS projects to take place on this wildly beautiful 100-acre parcel north of Pioneertown off of Pipes Canyon Rd. Several works are sited here, includingGradually/We Become Aware/Of a Hum in the Room by Halsey Rodman, Trail Registry by Scout Regalia and Tapwater Pavilion by Tao Urban. Andy’s is also available to visit from sunup to sundown but make sure you park in our designated parking or if you do need to park off the side of the road, be careful not to end up in soft sand.
Directions: From Hwy 62 turn right at Pioneertown Rd. Drive about 7.5 miles. Turn right on Pipes Canyon Rd. Drive 2.2 miles to Gamma Gulch Rd, turn left (respect our neighbors – do not drive above 20 mph on this road!) Drive 1.6 miles to God’s Way Love (if the sign has blown off look for Dave & Jeannie’s sign), turn right. Drive 0.4 miles.
Purchased from a tax sale back in the early aughts, this 40-acre site is surrounded by BLM land. Located at the most eastern edge of Wonder Valley, in the Sheephole Valley Wilderness area, this site is a commitment to get out to, and feels like the end of the California high desert before being clearly on the way to Arizona. This flat, sandy, washy land is home to several permanently sited works, including Dineo Seshee Bopape’s HDTS 2022 work, and a mostly “invisible” project: Bob Dornberger and Jim Piatt’s Secret Restaurant. On the opposite side of Ironage Rd and slightly to the north is a work by Kiersten Puusemp (Untitled) that you will probably need to get out of your car and explore a little in order to find. Also accessible from sunup to sundown, be very careful when parking off the side of the road as the sand is very soft here.
Directions: From 29 Palms continue east on Hwy 62. Drive forever (23 miles) and turn left at Iron Age Rd. Drive a mile or so until you see something. (Iron Age Road connects both Amboy Road and Hwy 62, so you can reach it using either access road.)
HQ at 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–12 pm (closed July-August)—and please check our Instagram page regularly to see what special events we have on the calendar. More on the HDTS HQ here.
Directions: 7028 Theater Road (just off Hwy 247, right behind Barr Lumber), Yucca Valley, CA 92286; 760-365-2104
One of our favorite community partners is Copper Mountain Mesa Community Center, where we’ve hosted many past HDTS programs and events. CMMCC is located in North Joshua Tree, about 15 minutes north of A-Z West. On the property is an old firehouse that served the neighborhood in the 80s, and now HDTS rents for community programs, public exhibitions and events. Currently HDTS is working on siting our Desert Research Library at the Firehouse Outpost and later opening this resource to the public. Stay tuned for project updates!
The Firehouse Outpost is currently open to the public only during public events. Please email Elena if you have questions about the space or are interested in Firehouse Outpost programming.
Directions: 65336 Winters Rd, Joshua Tree, CA 92252; Driving west on Hwy 62 into downtown Joshua Tree, pass Park and make a left on Sunburst. Right on Golden, left on Border, past Aberdeen and make a right on Winters. Take Winters past where it turns to dirt road, CMMCC is on the left.
Amboy was once a major stop along the famous Route 66, but after cross country traffic was rerouted to a major interstate to the north it dwindled down to more of a ghost town. There are a total of ten surviving buildings and a population of about four. Amboy has been used for film and movie shoots over the years, and it is also the site of an art residency program called Matza Amboy organized by the Swiss artist Séverin Guelpa. To get to Amboy from Joshua Tree, take Amboy Road through the length of Wonder Valley. After the road crests near the Sheephole Mountains, drive past the deep salt trenches on the left, as well as a turn off for Amboy Crater. If you continue past Amboy, you can take the road north to the Mojave Preserve.
The unincorporated town of Amboy sits on the stretch of the historic Route 66 between the Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park. To get there, head east on Amboy road out of Twentynine Palms. The straight desert road curves north through the Bullion Mountains to a vast expanse of salt flats and utility poles. Bright blue rivers formed by salt mining operations streak across the otherwise still, light beige of the desert.
Eventually, Amboy Road will end in the near ghost town of Amboy. The unofficial town slogan is “The Ghost Town That Ain’t Dead Yet!” When the nearby Interstate 40 opened in 1973, travellers stopped passing through. When the travellers stopped coming, the residents moved out. According to the most recent census, only four remain. One of those four is named Kevin. You’ll find him pumping gas, selling root beer, and if you’re lucky, sharing stories of Amboy’s only functioning business and that of his employment, the gas station/café Roy’s. Next door, Roy’s Motel is closed. Across the street, the post office is closed. The school, closed in 1999, remains filled with racist graffiti, soviet-era text-books, and likely, the screaming ghosts of the long gone school children. In a 2010 flood, the old tree down from Roy’s floated away. Down Route 66, two Temple Dogs (giant white statues that look more like lions) still stand 6-feet tall.
Amboy is owned by Albert Okura, who also owns the Juan Pollo fast-food chain. In 2003, Okura put Amboy up for sale on e-Bay for $1.9 million. It remains for sale to this day.
Although Amboy was first settled in 1858 by salt miners, the town was not established until 1883. Lewis Kingman, a locating engineer for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, created the town as the first of a series of alphabetical railroad stations that were to be constructed across the Mojave Desert. In 1926, Amboy became a boomtown after the opening of U.S. Route 66. In 1938, Roy’s Motel and Café opened, which prospered due to its isolated location on the route. By 1940, Amboy’s population had increased to 65. Its growth was tied not only to tourists, but also to the Santa Fe Railroad over which high-speed freight trains still run today. During the Great Depression and World War II, tourism declined nationally. But the remaining travelers need for lodging, meals, and gasoline kept the town busy. The town remained this way until the opening of Interstate 40 in 1973, which bypassed Amboy.
Amboy was originally owned by Buster Burris who sold the town in 1995 to investors who mainly used it for photo and film shoots. After the investors lost it in foreclosure, it was repossessed by Bessie Burris, Buster’s widow. Bessie sold the property in 2005 to Albert Okura, owner of the Juan Pollo restaurant chain for $425,000 in cash and $100,000 so far on restoration. Albert has faced challenges in getting basics such as electricity and water services restored and operative. His restoration hurdles predominantly involved Amboy’s infrastructure, most of it had been laid by Buster Burris himself (not to current building codes). Okura has experience with preservationist efforts and stewardship, being the owner of the Original McDonald’s in San Bernardino, California, which he operates as a museum. Unlike the investors, who wanted to maintain Roy’s and Amboy in a “weathered” condition for use as in film shoots, Okura plans to fully restore Roy’s to its former glory as a “nostalgia tourists” destination, and Route 66 rest stop for travelers en route to and from the Colorado River scenic and recreation areas.
When I reached the salt flats between wonder valley and Amboy, the landscape opened up and I felt like I had landed on the moon. 80 mph. Faded pink. Muted beige. Sprawling. Endless.
There was nothing ahead of me for what appeared to be miles; the land seemed to extend and foreshorten simultaneously. I drove through the salt flats - the horizon line a blur in which there were moments when I couldn’t tell where the earth ended and the sky began. I drove down into the valley — 80 miles per hour. 85. 90. Beige, pink, brown, white. The salt flats reflected silver in the haze of the late afternoon sun — flashes of light in my peripheral vision; a sea of broken glass. The road began to turn and my GPS told me I would soon turn on to National Trails Highway. Shortly thereafter I reached Amboy, nickname: “The ghost town that ain’t dead yet.”
Amboy Road came to a T. There was a freight train disappearing into the desert on my left and a handful of buildings down the road to my right. I turned right towards the town and crossed over the train tracks. A huge sign rose ahead of me, lit not by neon, but by the afternoon light:
“Roy’s Motel and Cafe — Vacancy,” it read.
Lots of it.
In 1956 the Federal Aid Highway Act was passed, allowing new interstate highways to be built. By the mid-70s, the I-40 had been built between Barstow, California and Wilmington North, Carolina, and cut off traffic for many of the businesses along Route 66. There are now miles and miles of abandoned diners, gas stations and other businesses along the route, Roy’s being one of them.
“Are you Roy?!?” I asked the attendant inside the cafe, eyes as wide as saucers. He smirked a little; grey t-shirt, medium wash 501s, slicked back silver hair, clear blue eyes and an easygoing smile. He gave me an incredulous smile. “No.” “I bet you get that question a lot,” I replied, laughing off my ridiculous question. We introduced ourselves — his name was Kevin.
There are ten people that live there in Amboy at any given time. Kevin is one of them. He works at Roy’s. The diner’s kitchen no longer functions and they sell nothing save for a small selection of snacks and cold drinks, a few souvenirs, and gasoline from the old pumps. The dining room and kitchen appear to be in perfect working condition, but the handwritten sign above the counter that reads “NO KITCHEN” makes it clear that it’s not. The motel is abandoned.
It’s a living relic of American history.
I was fascinated with the gas station and the man working there in the middle of nowhere. I knew I wasn’t the first person to visit this place or be smitten by its sheer existence, but I felt like I had discovered it myself and immediately claimed a tiny sense of ownership. Kevin was kind enough to field my questions and eventually offered me a root beer and found an old photo album of the town. We sat at a table in the café and went through photos — old black and white photos from when the town was more bustling — pictures of the school, the church…sepia-toned anonymous faces. He attended to the occasional gas customer, albeit a bit impatiently as he suddenly had company. We sat and talked until dusk, as I was anxious to get back to Joshua Tree before dark.
I ended up spending a lot of time with Kevin during that week in Joshua Tree. He showed me around the old motel which he holds the key to, as well as the remaining buildings in the small town. What started as a friendly conversation turned into three days of driving around showing each other our favorite sites between Yucca Valley and Needles. He showed me some of his favorite weird sites along Route 66 - an abandoned diner, the shoe tree, the giant foo dogs, and the graffiti gas station. If you find yourself driving along Route 66 and go through Amboy, stop at Roy’s and please say hi to Kevin for me.
(excerpt from the 2015 Institute of Investigative Living reader)
Just southeast of Amboy is a snowy white dry lake (the remnants of a large ancient inland sea) and a series of long trenches with bright aqua colored water. The white crystallized formations are calcium chloride and sodium chloride, types of salt typically used as road salt and common table salt. The network of long narrow evaporation ponds are created by the National Chloride Company and Tetra Technologies Co. to produce salt from a brine solution pumped from wells beneath the lakebed. The surface “playa” layer of sand, clay, gypsum, and some volcanic ash, ranging from three to seven feet thick, is excavated in order to get at the underlying salt, and dumped in long rows of conical piles along the trenches. The water is eliminated through natural evaporation, allowing the salt to be subsequently harvested. Salt has been extracted from the dry lakebed since 1858, and it is estimated that there are still some 60 million tons of salt in reserve. Core sample in the 1950s found salt at a depth of over 1000 feet.