I first went to Joshua Tree about 15 years ago. I stayed at a friend's place where we slept on the roof of the house, watching the stars and the beautiful night sky, listening to the howling wolves. I was amazed. The next day, we wandered around for hours, ending up in Joshua Tree National Park. I had never seen anything like it! It was like we were on another planet! It was so odd and magical. The rock formations were stunning, how they would sit on top of one another in the most precarious positions. I felt as if I blew even a small breath at them they could tumble over. We would climb over rocks for hours and listen to our echoes. Or we would sit there in yoga poses and imagine what the American Indians had done in the same place, like what berries they had eaten or where they would have walked. I remember feeling so grateful to President Roosevelt for the National Park system. It was such a definitive moment in time, one in which my passion for nature's wonder was so intense. I knew this was a place I would be returning to. I felt so calm and connected, and it has become a place that I run to for solitude and clarity, a place to be still and listen. Joshua Tree is one of my spiritual heavens.
About 10 years ago, I found myself working fairly often in Palm Springs, before it became the sort of modern Mecca that it is now. I was working quite a bit with a photographer friend, Dewey Nicks, and we noticed that properties were pretty inexpensive. Joking around one day, we said, "Wow, we should buy a hotel!" I am fanatical about architecture, so I always enjoy looking at houses, and we found ourselves looking at real estate whenever we were in town. Somehow, this joke of ours turned into a reality for me. But I quickly realized I could not stop thinking of Joshua Tree...
I had no idea where to begin, so I just started Googling real estate for sale in Joshua Tree. One day, an expired auction popped up. The property looked amazing, exactly like the type of thing that I would want. My mom told me to go look at it, even though the auction was over -- she just knew. I arrived and the owner opened the door... my mouth dropped. I knew immediately that this was the place for me. It had once been an artists' commune, where they had lived together on the property but each had their own studio. I made an offer that day. I bought everything that was in the main house and the studios, too. I went through all the things I found, piece by piece, the lives of perfect strangers. I felt connected to them, I became obsessed with Dorr Bothwell, an artist who had lived there. I am very connected to the artist's spirit there, and my goal, when fixing it up, was to design a creative, natural environment for everyone to enjoy and be influenced by. I have had friends come and stay for artist retreats all the time, it's wonderful. Truly inspiring!
I've also been able to fulfill certain ambitions with creating a property like this. I actually rent my place and the three studios when I'm not in town, which is quite often with my busy schedule. Just call up the fantastic Joshua Tree Inn, or go to their website, and anyone can have their own artists' retreat! Or, if you want to be more central to the town, which is about four miles away, stay at the Joshua Tree Inn. It's a lovely Hacienda-style motel that's fun and kitschy with a big pool. Almost every room has a theme, from Gram Parsons to John Barrymore. They also have a lovely Buddha in the garden that sits on a deck for meditation or yoga, which can be a wonderful way to start or end your day. I also love the Mojave Sands. It's owned by the designer, Blake Simpson, and reflects his gorgeous style at every turn. It's a cool, contemporary hideaway, while the Joshua Tree Inn is a bit more rock and roll.
Joshua Tree is an artists' enclave. For years, people have been going there to escape and work, and many celebrated contemporary artists work and live there now. One of the coolest things that takes place out there are the "High Desert Test Sites." They were started in 2002 by the artists Andrea Zittel, John Connelly and Andy Stillpass as an experimental way to have emerging and established artists show new work. All the works are outdoors and incorporate the desert in some fashion, or at least comment on it. I have loved going to these installations and performances over the years. One of my favorite Joshua Tree memories is from the opening night of last year's work by Ephraim Puusemp called "Rise." He created a giant, second moon in the desert sky. We spent all night dancing under the two beautiful moons! It was an enchanting experience. It is such a great community to be a part of.
I just love the people in Joshua Tree. Such a wonderful, eclectic mix of retired and current military families, old desert-rats, cool L.A. hipsters, ardent nature lovers and the artists, of course. I feel so relaxed, and it's great talking to everyone in the shops and around town, especially at the farmer's market every Saturday. It's a welcome break from the fast-paced environment of Los Angeles and all the craziness and chaos of life. It's very grounding. I still go to Joshua Tree National Park all the time. There are so many amazing things to do and see there, whether I just want to go for a quick stroll and look at some flowers or take some friends for an adventure deep in the park for an amazing hike or to explore Lost Horse Mine or Keyes Ranch. The high desert has a rich history of mining, and it's very interesting to learn about it's place in the California Gold Rush. Plus, the story of the Lost Horse Mine is a real "Cowboy and Indian" or old Western story with of all the actual details that make those movies so great.
One thing that is very unique to Joshua Tree -- and I encourage every visitor to check out -- is a sound bath at the Integratron. The Integratron is a geodesic dome that was built by George Van Tassel, an aeronautical engineer who had worked at Lockheed and with Howard Hughes at Hughes Aviation. He chose the site based on the powerful energy vortex, and scientists who have studied the building itself say that it acts as a sort of "magnetic room" and a "mass battery." It is really something to be seen! It is known as a place of rejuvenation and people come from all over for meditation or yoga retreats, to works on various projects or to study the place itself. The sound baths are what I go for and are amazing! You lie down in the domed room and they "play" seven crystal bowls of various frequencies and you meditate, or just listen and space out. The sound is incredible. It is so relaxing. There is lots of talk about how positive and healing this can be, all I know for certain is that I feel wonderful and clear-headed afterward.
No trip to Joshua Tree is complete without an evening spent at Pappy and Harriet's Pioneertown Palace nearby. It's in an old Western town that was built as a movie set in the '40s, and it's an awesome bar/restaurant and, mostly, a music venue. I've seen the amazing band Gram Rabbit play here many times! And so many others, too. It's just this wonderful, friendly place where you can meet people you never thought you'd meet and the owners and staff just foster this lovely environment. And the food is great, too... they have the best ribs I've ever had!
When I was renovating my home, I really wanted to exercise my feelings about the earth, recycling and reusing everything I could find, and I managed to do almost nothing on my property that might have a negative impact on the environment. One of my favorite things to do was to go to thrift shops and look for furniture and other cool things for the house. For some reason, Joshua Tree has the absolute best thrift shops I've ever encountered, and I've been to them all over the country! I always have an idea of what I'm looking for, like a birdcage for my collection or an amazing chair, but I always manage to find something that I never would have dreamed I'd come across. It's such a great way to explore the local community. And also talk to people you meet among the treasures of someones else's junk.
The weather is also stunning. It actually snows there. Once it was thundering over my house, and when I went outside I could hear it hailing nearby. I started running, following the storm, it was actually snowing or hailing in one spot and then nothing in the next. The wind can be phenomenal, too. The way it whips and howls across the desert at night. Then in the morning it will be so calm, with the gorgeous orange sunrise, the birds singing softly. And the spring is intense, the flowers are so bright and gorgeous, everything is in bloom and full of color.
Joshua Tree is a remarkable, seemingly hidden gem. It is a spiritually powerful place that draws people in. Being there is good for the soul, it clears my head and calms my heart. It brings me peace as it reignites my creative spirit. I don't think anyone that spends time there can deny it's magic.