Your Psychedelic Joshua Tree Getaway: High Desert Test Sites

Here are five things to check out on your way to the high desert’s wackiest art experience.

This weekend, the Southern California desert becomes the epicenter of various art, culture, and music happenings. The Joshua Tree Music Festival will host scores of bands including effervescent Nigerien hitmakers Tal National and jam rock gurus Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, while Palm Springs Modernism Week unleashes its Mid-Century mayhem, another festival in the desert caters to art-lovers who want to have their minds melted.

For 10 years, the High Desert Test Sites project has brought artists, makers, and thinkers to the Joshua Tree area and the Morongo Basin. Founded by Andrea Zittel and Aurora Tang as an antidote to the biennial art fairs and international confabs that had become more about commerce than creativity, High Desert Test Sites takes a different approach.

In this age of corporate-sponsored cross-country art trains (see: Doug Aitken’s Station to Station) or Banksy’s much publicized move to New York City, High Desert Test Sites focuses on works that interact with the landscape while inspiring creativitybut without all the hoopla. Some pieces are heady brain-busters while others are silly, absurd, and fun. This year marks the first time HDTS takes its show on the road, making stops at San Bernardino County’s Amboy Crater, Arizona’s retro-futuristic commune Arcosanti, and finally ending in the land of Walter White, Albuquerque.

In honor of this weekend’s kickoff, here are five things to check out on your way to High Desert Test Sites:

❶ HDTS Headquarters (Joshua Tree)

WHAT: Make this the first stop on your journey so you can pick-up a map of the installations in the area, a copy of the book Ways to be in the Desert by Katie Bachler, or the Collaborative Determined Telluric Sites mapbook in the “Life Enhancement shop.” (10 a.m. -4 p.m.)

WHERE: 4670 Veterans Way in downtown Joshua Tree. Just off 29  Palms Hwy, around the corner from Pie for the People Pizza.

❷ Art Queen (Joshua Tree)

WHAT: Discover the kitchily/amazing World Famous Crochet Museum and explore the numerous artwork by Shari Elf (Saturday, 10 a.m.–midnight; Sunday, noon–midnight)

WHERE: On the south side of Hwy 62, just west of Park in downtown Joshua Tree. 61855 29 Palms Hwy.

❸ Pink Post Office Projects/Amboy Road (Wonder Valley)

WHAT: Interface with the infinite at Margot and Philip Ittleson’s pyramid structures, whose original building was designed by Palm Springs mid-century architect Donald Wexler.  

WHERE: From Hwy 62, head north on Adobe Rd in 29 Palms. Turn right on Amboy Rd and drive just about 6 miles. 78201 Amboy Rd.

❹ Giant Rock (Landers)

WHAT: UFO freaks love this giant boulder not only for it’s X-Files-ish reputation but also it’s proximity to the famous Integratron, a hut where you can bathe yourself in sound. Check out Bettina Hubby, Googly Eyes for Giant Rock, which make the oversized stone look more like a Pet Rock and enjoy Glow-in-the-Dark Cocktail Party Sunday sundown.

WHERE: From Hwy 62, take Sunburst north, until the pavement ends at Golden. Turn right at Golden, continue to the hard left at Border. Follow Border until it turns left on Reche. Drive 2 miles, turn right on Belfield. You’ll see the Integratron–turn right after Integratron. Follow dirt road to the left for 2 miles (look for markers).

❺ Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Art Museum (Joshua Tree)

WHAT: An open air museum showcasing artist Noah Purifoy’s assemblage sculptures created between 1989–2004.

WHERE: From Hwy 62, drive north on Sunburst. Follow the paved road as it turns right, then turns left and becomes Border. Turn right on Aberdeen. Drive onto the dirt road and turn left on Center, and then right again almost immediately on Blair Lane.