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, email@example.com
Elena Yu - Assistant Director of Programming and Communications, 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
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.
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.