In the News: Desert Christ Park Needs Some Help

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Desert Christ Park, located in Yucca Valley, in the heart of the southern California desert, is looking for a little cash for some much needed preservation. I briefly mentioned the park in my post about the California Desert Art Environment Trail, here. Antone Martin built the biblical sculptures in the park in the 1950s as a symbol of peace in a time of impending nuclear destruction. In fact he thought that by building them with concrete and steel they would outlast atomic fallout. He originally built a few pieces in Ingleside, CA and trucked them in before moving to a camper outside the church to build on site. Now the statues, all characters from the bible (Jesus and his pals),  cover a hillside beside a small church.

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This is a free park and it is always open to the community. For decades, the city of Yucca Valley maintained the statues and the park. That was until some residents felt this was a clear violation of church and state, due to their tax dollar funding their care. They brought in the ACLU and eventually the Yucca Valley parks had to give up the statues.

Eventually, a non-profit group came into help preserve and maintain the sculptures. Whether or not the statues can survive a nuclear holocaust has yet to be determined, but they are not faring well against more mundane obstacles. The statues have been through a lot, including an earthquake, the cruel desert climate and vandals. At one point in the 1950s Martin himself mad that the neighboring church wanted to charge admission knocked most the noses off (other than Judas’). As you can see in the below photos, some of the statues are pretty beat up, missing not only their noses but hands, legs and other body parts.

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It is a cool site and a great part of the community. The foundation that cares for the statues is hoping to get $100,000 to put the humpty dumptys back together again.

So check out this article out here.

If you have a couple spare dollars, or the whole $100K and want to help preserve an interesting art environment check out the official site here and donate away.

If you are curious to learn more about the site, art environment enthusiast Holly Metz has written a really terrific essay, here.

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The Case of the Blemished Boulders: Samuelson’s Rocks

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John Samuleson was a Swedish immigrant, a miner, a homesteader, a murderer and the inspiration of a totally over the top fantasy story. Also, and the reason I am writing about him, he built one of the oldest surviving art environments in this country.

Before Twitter and Facebook, if you had something to say you had to chisel it into giant boulders located in the far reaches of the desert where only a small handful of people would ever see them.  Starting in 1927, while working at a gold mine and homesteading in a desolate area of the Mojave Desert, Samuelson started scrawling his thoughts into the giant boulders next to his camp site. During the midst of the depression he was chiseling his feelings about morality, religion and the major capitalists of the era, like Andrew Mellon, into hard stone. He was admittedly embarrassed about his poor grammar and spelling skills, but this was decades before thousands of strangers on the internet could mock him in the comments section.

But the question is – how did Samuelson, a sailor and Swedish immigrant, end up in the California desert digging for gold anyways?

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The answer may surprise you. For you see, he had the “sleeping sickness”, that would come on any time it rained, knocking him out for days on end. So he figured since it rains less frequently in the desert he should make his way west.

OK, but how did he get this sleeping sickness?

Well after being shanghaied out to sea, he escaped his captors and ended up on the shores of Africa, where he was captured by a tribe that spoke to monkeys and even had a bona fide monkey-man among its members. From here the story gets crazier and includes a ledge made of gold that was guarded by intelligent killer ants. To make a long story short, Samuelson was able to gain the ant’s trust, and was about to pilfer lots of gold almost as well as the tribe chief’s daughter. But after some trials and tribulations and pissing off the elders, he was forced to eat the “bread of forgetting” – which did not fully erase the jungle escapades from his memory, but was the cause of his sleeping sickness whenever it rained.

Now how do I know this? Well because an L.A. based lawyer and avid desert comber purchased the rights to his story for $20 (the part with the monkey man/ killer ants/ bread of forgetting), turned it into a so so pulp adventure and sold it to Argosy magazine, a major pulp fiction magazine, for a few hundred bucks. And that author was Erle Stanley Gardner, friend of crossword editors all over the land, who would go on to write the crazy popular Perry Mason books, which were turned into the hit show starring Raymond Burr about a crusading lawyer who would take complex cases and solve crimes in the middle of a trial.

Gardner met Samuelson while he was on one of his desert jaunts in the Mojave. At first Gardner didn’t believe Samuelson’s fakakta story and feared that it was something Samuelson had himself read in some paltry adventure rag. After the story was published he figured that the sci-fi geeks of the 1920s would read his story and call him on it, pointing out that he ripped off some other story, but nope. Samuelson’s story was never contradicted.

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Samuelson’s Bed

Decades later in the 1940s, after Gardner struck it filthy rich from his Perry Mason books, Samuelson murdered a man in Compton after an argument. He then went straight outta Compton and straight into the hoosegow. After a spell in prison and an insane asylum he ended up in Washington state where he died in 1954 at a lumber camp.

While maybe not the most thrilling site artistically, it is just a bunch of rocks with one man’s ramblings etched into them, it is  historically interesting as it is a great look into the mind of a desert vagabond and the populist political spectrum of the 1920s. It is also a blast finding them. More than almost every other place I meander on about, it gives you the feeling of discovery, that Indiana Jones aha moment (if all Indy had to deal with was a one mile hike over flat ground in a beautifully preserved and protected National Park). It should be pretty obvious by now that I don’t go out into nature much.

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Wake up you tax and bond slaves and visit beautiful, sunny California

For more information on Samuelson’s Rocks I highly recommend this blog post by Phil Pasquini.

Also, I really enjoyed Erle Stanley Gardener’s desert writings and his Perry Mason books are quick fun reads. You can pick up used copies of his travel essays, including the one about Samuelson, in the book Neighborhood Frontiers. The short story that Samuelson’s story inspired, Rain Magic, can be found in several compilations. I found a really cheap copy of it in Alien Earth and Other Stories, which includes stories by Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov.

How to visit:

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Samuelson’s Rocks up ahead

Samuelson’s Rocks are located inside Joshua Tree National Park. The park is always open. Admission is currently $20 for the whole carload, so pack ’em in, clowns. The park is about two hours east of Los Angeles, two and a half hours northeast of San Diego and 45 minutes north of Palm Springs.

Odds are pretty amazingly high that you won’t just stumble upon the Rocks, the park is huge. Directions provided at your risk. They are sort of tricky to find as there are no signs pointing the way.

The short version directions: drive into the park for a bit , keep your eye out for a Joshua Tree standing next to a handful of small rock outcroppings and a lot of sand and dirt and then get out of your car and wander into the desert. Fun fact – According to the park’s website, Joshua Tree is home to 25 varieties of snakes.

Here is the slightly more comprehensive version: If you want the shortest possible hike, from the northwest entrance gate, you drive almost exactly 3.5 miles down Park Boulevard from the entrance gate where you pay. Set your odometer (The GPS coordinates for the pull off are 34.06116, -116.22692). Pull off to the side of the road. Look to your right, you will roughly see a giant pile of rocks over a mile southwest of where you are standing.  The good thing about pulling off over here is that there is a slight trail towards Samuelson’s Rocks that you can follow.

From here you start hoofing it over pretty flat ground for about 1.3 miles. The slight trail will take you  half way to a wash, here the trail veers off, but you will be able to clearly see a giant mound of rocks about 3/4 mile further to the southwest. Once you get close you will see writing chiseled into one of the larger rocks. The GPS coordinates for Samuelson’s Rocks are 34.04722, -116.2425. If you hit the mountains you have gone too far. For a slightly longer walk you can drive to the Quail Springs Picnic Area, which is an official turnout about six miles from the west entrance gate, from here you wander about 2.5 miles northwest. I have included a map at the bottom of this post.

Once you find the mound, the journey is not over as there are eight chiseled rocks to find, most are easy, but a few are trickier to find, they are all on the same little rocky hill. Finding them all is part of the fun. I have intentionally only put up a few photos of the rocks so you can discover them for yourself.

In the Area:

Well for one thing you are smack dab in an absolutely amazing National Park. You might as well explore/ hike/ rock climb/ fight mountain lions/ picnic.

There is a ton of great stuff to see outside of the park in Joshua Tree (the town) and Yucca Valley.

There are the other art environments I previously talked about on the California Desert Art Environment Trail. The closest being Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Museum, which is in the town of Joshua Tree, about 10 miles from the park entrance. Contact the foundation that cares for the environment here, they will gladly email you the address.

Also, Desert Christ Park, in the town of Yucca Valley, is only about 11 miles from the Park entrance.

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Pioneertown

From Desert Christ Park drive about 5 miles further west into the mountains where you will find Pioneertown; a small town front that was actually built to be a backdrop in old westerns movies. The western facade hides an actual real working town. During the day there are small quaint shops. But at night the only thing really going is Pappy and Harriett’s. It’s a large, really popular roadhouse, that has live music throughout the week and pretty decent food. It is amazing for people watching – you get bikers (Harley not Schwinn), hippies, desert outcasts, L.A. hipsters and confused tourists. For such an odd, large out of the way place it does get really packed, so call ahead for reservations.

Sky Valley Swap Meet

The Joshua Tree, Yucca Valley, 29 Palms area is pretty strange and remarkable place. Luckily for us there is the High Desert Test Sites, a very cool group of desert artists who have mapped a lot of the weird and strange places, stores (including an amazing weekend swap meet). If you are going to be in the area I recommend checking out their website for other points of interest.

I really am just scratching the surface of the interesting things to see in this area but I fear this post is already getting too long. Hopefully, in another post I will mention the Integratron and Giant Rock, in nearby Landers, CA.

Go get yourself new hiking boots!

Map to Samuelson’s Rocks

California environment map

 

 

 

In the News: Bottle Village needs your help

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Bottle Village – July 2014

As a feature of this blog I have decided I will start posting shorter art environment related news items.

Hear ye hear ye, – Grandma Prisbrey’s Bottle Village in Simi Valley, just outside of Los Angeles needs money. Preserve Bottle Village, the organization that now cares for the site has started a GoFundMe campaign. Bottle Village is a very significant site for several reasons. First, is that it is one of the few art environments built by a woman, Terresa “Grandma” Prisbrey (1896 – 1988). The site was pretty beat up by the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Bottle Village was eligible for a FEMA grant to help with repairs, but a local politician denied them the funds calling it a waste of tax payers money. Many politicians vastly underestimate the tourism potential that art environments bring to a community and they completely ignore a site’s historical and cultural significance to the area.

Well Bottle Village has set up a GoFundMe campaign to help stabilize the bottle houses that Prisbrey built. This is really great project and they seem to be making some nice progress. So spread the word and if you have a few spare shekels weighing you down consider contributing to Bottle Village and helping to preserve a great and important undervalued piece of Americana.

Click here to go to the GoFundMe campaign

Also, Bottle Village is open to the public a handful of times a year for tours. Check out their website HERE. They usually post upcoming tours several weeks, or months in advance.

If you have news about an art environment, whether it is being repaired, being torn down, needs savings, needs money, is now closed to the public, is now open to the public, etc, please let me know. If there is a site I missed on my big MAP, or I have incorrect or missing info, please let me know.

It’s not a Mirage: The California Desert Art Environment Trail

It is time to start talking about California. The Golden State has a lot of documented art environments, over 20 all told. Probably more than any other state. The vast majority of these places are located in the southern part of the state, which sucks for me, because I live in the northern part. There are a handful of terrific sites in the greater Los Angeles area, but the rest are found east of the city in the desert. Or deserts, plural, including the Mojave (high desert) and Sonoran/ Colorado desert (low desert) and the small towns scattered throughout. Basically, the eastern half of California is mostly either mountains, military bases, mines or meth-labs. In between is mostly a lot of nothing except rattlesnakes and scorpions duking it out in the empty night; meaning a lot of land for people to build whatever strikes their fancy without their neighbors kvetching.

The summers in the desert are brutal, with most days over 100 degrees. The nights not much better. It takes a certain ruggedness to live in these areas (except for perhaps Palm Springs, which is a beautiful resort town with amazing architecture and lots of swimming pools). This area is fan-fuckin’-tastic! I absolutely love this part of the country. I would move here in a heartbeat if we could just dim the Sun a bit in the summer (I am a giant baby when it comes to weather). For as barren as the desert is, it is all that much more spectacular, as the ratio of coolness and weirdness is off the charts.

So, the California desert art environment trail is roughly 250 miles and you could probably comfortably hit all nine spots in a long two to three day weekend. San Diego, Los Angeles, or Palm Springs all make great launching pads. But for the ultimate experience I say shack up in the city of Joshua Tree. There is so much to see and do in the area beyond these nine art environments that that it is probably best to just move out here, buy a yurt and slowly take it all in. Eventually, I will have longer posts to go into more detail about the sites and all the other cool non-art environments in the neighborhood, but for now, here is a little overview.

Starting from the north and heading south.

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Elmer’s Bottle Ranch – 24266 National Trails Hwy, Oro Grande, CA

Elmer Long built his bottle tree ranch to showcase the 1000s of bottles that he and his dad had collected for years. This site is located along the Mother Road – Route 66, between Victorville and Barstow. Bottle Trees are long metal poles with shafts sticking out, with a beer or soda pop bottle resting on the metal branch. I initially was not all that excited to visit the ranch as I have seen bottle trees before, but man-o-manoshevitz, this place is great. There are a few hundred bottle trees, creating a dense glass forest. There are no set hours and from what I have read, it is open if the gate is open, but I get the impression it is open pretty regularly. There is a donation box.

CAdesert3Noah Purifoy’s Joshua Tree Outdoor Museum – Joshua Tree, CA (email the foundation for the exact address)

In the late 1980s Noah Purifoy (1917-2004), moved to the town of Joshua Tree in the high desert to create his masterpiece. Purifoy would not fall into the “self-taught” category. He was a working artist, who had exhibited his assemblage artworks at museums and was actually a founding director at the Watts Tower Art Center in Los Angeles, making him no stranger to art environments. His museum covers several acres and is chock full of various sculptures made from found materials either from around the area or brought to him by visitors. This is a great site. It is open 24/7, but the foundation that cares for the site does ask that you make an appointment. Check out their website and shoot them a quick email and they will send you the exact address.

CAdesert91Desert Christ Park – 56200 Sunnyslope Drive, Yucca Valley, CA

Next to a church, the sculptures, as the name implies, are all biblical. Frank Antone Martin created them in the 1950s. Created from concrete and steel, covering various scenes from the good book, this site is open daily from dawn to dusk and is only about a 20-minute drive from Noah Purifoy’s museum. These two sites and Samuelson’s rocks are in the same general area, the high desert. Check out their website here.

CAdesert96Samuelson’s Rocks – Located in Joshua Tree National Park

John Samuelson, a Swedish immigrant, lived and worked in the desert in the 1920s  in what is now Joshua Tree National Park. Samuelson carved his political/ philosophical ramblings on eight boulders around his homestead, which at the time was in the middle of nowheresville. This place is a true joy to visit, first off, it is a about 1.5 miles off any roads in the park so you have to hoof it (over pretty flat ground, but nonetheless). Then you find a little hill covered in boulders (if you don’t get lost and fall in quicksand first) and then you have to wander around looking for all eight carved rocks. I am typically not the outdoorsy type, but I absolutely love Joshua Tree Park. The Park is open 24/7. The rocks are a bit tricky to find. Bring lots of water, a compass, and some chupacabra repellent.

Next week I plan to write a longer entry about Samuelson’s Rocks and will include directions, so please be patient.

CAdesert93Cabot’s Pueblo – 67616 Desert View Ave, Desert Hot Springs, CA

From Samuelson’s Rocks, you head south into the low desert (or “down below” as residents of Joshua Tree/ Yucca Valley call it). Here, in Desert Hot Springs, just north of Palm Springs, Cabot Yerxa, staring in 1941, built his home in the manner of a Hopi-inspired pueblo. One thing, which I will jaw on about in a future post, is a that a lot of early folk art environment academia (which basically started in the late 1960s) dealt with art environments that were actually unique homes, hand-built built by a single person. I think the days of the folk art architect are over. Building codes are just too strict and you can’t really get away with just constructing a house whatever way you see fit. Almost all the art environments built in the later part of the 20th century up to now are typically sculptures crafted outside the house. Sometimes rooms are gussied up, but I think the days of an untrained builder with no blueprints creating their personal domicile are over. Cabot’s Pueblo is open to the public for tours, check out their website for hours.

CAdesert97Robolights – 1077 E Granvia Valmonte, Palm Springs, CA

Located in an affluent neighborhood in Palm Springs, Kenny Irwin now in his early 40s has been building amazing robots in his parent’s yard for decades – since he was a kid. What is most shocking about Irwin’s art is its location. Most art environments are found in the boonies, or if they are in a city, they are usually in more impoverished neighborhoods. Irwin’s yard is in a really nice part of town, only a block from what was once Frank Sinatra’s desert retreat/orgy pit.

This is a true fantasy world. Walking into his yard you are surrounded by giant monochromatic robots and assorted space creatures cohabitating peacefully in a winter/ Christmas themed universe. This place is awesome, fascinating, chaotic, totally unreal and unexpected!

Annually, Irwin opens his yard evenings around Christmas time for a holiday themed robot lightshow, thus the name Robolights, open during the Christmas season. Also, you can visit the site throughout the year with an appointment by calling 760-320-1500. When I texted him he replied the same day inviting me over. He does ask for a meager $5 donation to help with upkeep. As always, be respectful this is private property.

Update: July 2016, Kenny is having major issues with the city of Palm Springs and currently they are not allowing him to have visitors and the annual Robolights show may stalled out. The best source of info seems to be his Facebook page, which you can reach here. So check out his site before rushing over there.

CAdesert7Galetta Meadows- Sculptures by Ricardo Breceda – Located throughout Borego Springs, CA

Sculptor Ricardo Breceda was commissioned by Galetta Meadow’s landowners to create these pieces and thus to me it does not exactly conform to the art environment definition. However, other people do list this site alongside other art environments, so who am I to argue. There are over 130 sculptures littering the sand over a rough 10-mile area. This is another great one folks, (I fear that I am being overly gushy in this post, but seriously half of these desert sites are my among my absolute favorite art environments/ places in this world). The town of Borrego Springs is completely surrounded by Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. An attraction does not have to be remote to be cool, but it helps and it is pretty awesome to drive for miles through the desert void to then stumble across a metal zoo. Once you get here be prepared to be amazed. Breceda’s statues are mostly of critters that you can find in the desert today (horses, scorpions), or critters from desert days past (dinosaurs, woolly mammoths, dragons).

There is a map on the official website, showing the location of all the sculptures. You can also purchase guides and maps in town, or on Amazon.com before you hop on your pack mule. Most of the pieces are found off Borrego Springs road.

CAdesert2Salvation Mountain – Niland CA

Salvation Mountain is perhaps one of the most famous of America’s art environments and it is easily the most crowded one I have ever visited. The acclaim is deserved; it is one of the world’s greatest visionary art environments.  Leonard Knight (1931-2014), literally built a rainbow mountain out of hay, adobe and thousands upon thousands of gallons of paint in no-man’s land, not far from the Salton Sea (a very strange part of the country). It is unique, upbeat and positive. While it is overwhelmingly Christian, with a large cross and the words, “God is Love” emblazoned on the mountain, Knight was non-denominational in his beliefs. No dogma. Churches and other religious groups had tried to buy or co-opt the site and Knight always turned them down, as he felt that the site is his own personal beliefs and is meant to be viewed, shared and enjoyed by everyone. Knight passed away in 2014 and now volunteers and a non-profit organization have kept the thing going against all odds. It is free to visit, but donations are appreciated. Open daily, from dawn to dusk.

CAdesert99Desert View Tower and Boulder Park – In-Ko-Pah Rd, Jacumba, CA

Here you get a twofer. First, a classic tourist attraction/ rest stop, the Tower, built between 1922 and 1928 developed by Bert Vaughn, built along the interstate route between San Diego and Phoenix, AZ. The Tower is an old school attraction and gift shop where the selling point is the amazing view from the top. And next to that is an art environment, the Boulder Park, which was built in 1933 by an itinerant out of work engineer named Merle Ratliff, who carved several of the boulders to look like animals and skulls. You pay your admission at the Tower and then you can go scrambling about through Boulders. There is a small charge, but it is well worth it. The Tower is open most days, but I recommend calling (619) 766-4612 to confirm they will be open.

So take care, polar bears. Time to get some sun.