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.
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.