Tuesday, July 7, 2020

High Desert Drama

High architectural drama, in the form of classic modern dwellings, is starting to come to the high desert. There seems to be a vibe, an undercurrent of interest and excitement about high desert living. Before the pandemic broke out, VBRO and Airbnb locales were everywhere. Even now with a slowdown in real estate activity, there still seems to be a strong interest in escaping to the quiet and serenity of the vast open desert. And this is nothing new for the region.

Before and during the 1950s, the high desert was home to simple shacks on homesteaded land. No water, electricity, or amenities. Initially the outlaws, urban rebels and adventurous few gravitated to this Spartan existence. Over time, the elements took their toll and many shacks were abandoned and forgotten. Most reverted back to the Bureau of Land Management.

Then in the 1960s and 70s, artists, musicians, urban castaways and bohemian rebels found the high desert a perfect refuge from the craziness that had overtaken most of the coastal cities. These new explorers flocked to the area in their VW pop-up campers, tents, sleeping bags and simple woolen blankets. It was like an unorganized gathering of like-minded souls each of whom was lost inside their own head.

Now a whole new generation of architectural aficionados, Gen Xers, boomers, outlaws, urban pioneers, and retirees are reclaiming the desert and rebuilding those dilapidated shacks into something more attractive only this time with all the amenities. A lot of the Airbnb listings are remodeled versions of these old shacks that used to be part of a homesteading craze decades ago.

Since its founding as a refuge for tuberculosis patients to escape the confines of LA and San Diego, Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley have always attracted a strange assortment of colorful characters. The Valley’s surrounding locales have pushed that equation even further by attracting an eclectic assortment of artists, musicians, painters and other veterans of the school of hard knocks. Taken together, the region is a mecca for the rich, the famous and the enfranchised. For me, it’s a virtual chalkboard for any number of story lines.

Whether it’s the weather, the proximity to Los Angeles and San Francisco or the distance between it and the rest of the world, the valley, and its surrounding high desert has always been a sanctuary for lost soul-searchers seeking the ultimate creative elixir.

Some choose to express themselves and show their wares in galleries in the valley or in the high desert. Others are off radar and like it that way. It’s as if there is another world just beneath the surface of shimmering pools, lush green golf courses and cloud-less aqua skies. Whispers come from the wastelands surrounding the Salton Sea as do siren calls from the high desert. Like a resistant drug, fatal attraction or sinful thought, it keeps drawing me back for more exploration. It is a world that offers the opposite of the known, contentment and comfortable.

The high desert of the Morongo Valley, Yucca Valley and Joshua tree continue to attract musicians now as it has since the turn of the century. Far from the crystal clear pools of Palm Springs and its emerald green golf courses lies another world of vast nothingness peppered with the sad remnants of past lives.

The area has become a mecca for aging rock stars, artists and modern-day bohemians along with ordinary people all in search of a new beginning. It’s the place where people go to get lost and be creative. A place where stillness thunders louder than the wind and God did some of his finest paintings. A vast virtual sound studio for the creative mind.

The high desert of the Morongo Basin is like a modern day outback of more than 9.5 million acres of public land in the California desert. Its home to old walking trails first used by Native Americans between seasonal encampments then followed by Spanish explorers and finally 19th century gold seekers and pioneers. Reminders of past human lives are everywhere.

Abandoned mines litter the area with their relics of past hopes and dreams scattered about the ground. Ramshackle old cabins planted amid miles of sage and scrub brush, sit isolated and lonely in the desert. The evidence is all here if you can look past the dust and dirt and castles made of boulders to imagine all the past lives that once pasted through this place on the way to a better life.

Now a new generation of seekers is trudging down those same dusty pathways and hiking the boulder-strewn mountain trails in search of something they’ll only find inside their head. It’s a wonderful atmosphere for self-reflection, contemplation, and wandering ‘what ifs.’ The only distractions are the thoughts that keep pushing their way into your head, each clamoring for attention.
It’s a meditation mat complete with sun and sand and endless horizons.

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