High Desert Test Sites advances Andrea Zittel’s vision of creating art within the context of everyday life. The organization stewards A-Z West, Zittel’s 80-acre compound and artwork, where artists, writers, and thinkers spend time in residence while realizing projects that engage with our surrounding desert communities.
Co-founded in 2002 by Andrea Zittel, Andy Stillpass, John Connelly, Shaun Regen and Lisa Anne Auerbach—High Desert Test Sites has hosted the work of more than 460 artists, 12 expansive site-specific programs, and 25 solo projects.
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
Connor Schwab - Facilities and Grounds Manager, email@example.com
Sydney Foreman - Director’s Assistant and Visitor Services, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lisa Anne Auerbach
Shaun Caley Regen
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
Paul Bessire - 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 base of operations, A-Z West is Andrea’s project, where she lived and worked for 21 years. Located a few minutes outside downtown Joshua Tree, this 80-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 twice a month. Tickets for these tours can be purchased through the West Works store. All funds raised from tour ticket sales support HDTS programming and operating expenses.
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 some deeper 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.
This 40-acre site, located at the most eastern edge of Wonder Valley, in the Sheephole Valley Wilderness area, is surrounded by BLM wilderness land. Located at the very end of the valley, but feels like the end of the world, this site 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 in order to find. 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.)
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.