If you’re one of thousands flocking to the desert for the annual Coachella music festival —or the sixth ed. of the one-night sonic showcase: the Wonder Valley Experimental Festival— and are curious to see what’s beyond the line-ups…. Or perhaps you’re still sweating out low-cost sleeping accommodation… Or searching for adventure-stops along your route… Congratulations, you’ve arrived to the right place. WOAH’s scouted the sprawling desert oasis to present 10 picks for visual attractions that may leave you in a state of ‘whoa,’ or inspire mobilizing plans outside of the valley. Here’s our EZ Desert A-Z…enjoy:
50800 Seminole Dr, Cabazon, CA 92230
from Coachella: via I-10 W · 40mi · 45min
— Creationist Dinosaur Displays
For the past 35 years, SoCal travelers headed west on Interstate 10 can see the monumental 150 ft Apatosaurus, ‘Dinny.’ At the Cabazon exit, the ‘World’s Biggest dinosaur’ is joined by his 65 ft Tyrannosaurus Rex counterpart, ‘Mr. Rex,’ together forming the Cabazon Dinosaurs. Conceived by theme park mastermind, Claude Bell, the dinosaurs were intended to attract customers to The Wheel In Cafe (permanently closing Sept ’13), and to permeate a local monument. Built from salvaged materials over 11 years, Dinny was completed in 1975, independently at the hands of Bell and ironworker Gerald Hufstetler. ‘Mr. Rex’ was nearly finished prior to Bell’s 1989 death, but to this day the artist’s vision— a prehistoric garden complete with a Wooly Mammoth— remains incomplete. However, an everlasting roadside attraction remains, with the Cabazon Dinosaurs immortalized in commercials and feature films (first cameo in Wim Wender’s ’84 film Paris, Texas, pictured) , and to every eye in transit from LA to Palm Springs. For the inquisitive tourist, stop in to Dinny’s abdomen where the Creationist Museum lies, a gift store and museum promoting… yes, Creationism.
PALM SPRINGS AERIAL TRAMWAY
1 Tram Way, Palm Springs, CA 92262
from Coachella: via I-10 W · 26mi · 35min
—Ephemeral space-time travel in under 15 minutes
The largest rotating aerial tramway in the world, The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway opened in September 1963. Designed by Albert Frey and Robson Chambers to provide an efficient method and mode of transit from the Indio Valley to the highest peak of the San Jacinto Mountains, the twelve and a half minute ride encapsulates passengers in a rotating module providing aerial, infinite panoramic views of a changing scenery. Traversing landscapes, tramway riders start in the Sonoran Desert and arrive in the seasonally snow-capped alpine forest. Hours and more info here.
PHILLIP K SMITH III: Lucid Stead: Four Windows and a Doorway
3190 El Paseo, Palm Desert, CA 92260
from Coachella: via CA-111 N · 11mi · 20min
—Infamous light and mirror house, resurrected
For those at Coachella, it will be hard to miss the launch of artist Phillip K Smith’s largest light installation to date, Reflection Field. The installation consists of five freestanding volumes of light and mirror scaled 18 ft high by 17 ft wide and spanning a diameter over 100 ft. Reflection Field lights-up on Friday April 11th and remains on view throughout the festival, ending April 20th. BUT don’t despair if you missed the artist’s project in Indio Valley (or simply wish you never saw the ‘selfie wall’)… An abbreviated installation of the artist’s infamous LED mirrored shack, Lucid Stead— a light-based installation originally set-up for two weeks in Joshua Tree in Oct ’13— is currently on view within the walls of the Palm Springs gallery, Royale Projects.
BOMBAY BEACH at SALTON SEA
Bombay Beach, CA 92257
from Coachella: via CA-111 S · 40mi · 48min
—California’s French Riviera: land of a forgotten American dream
The ruins of Bombay Beach are ideally suited for any ghost town purveyor or seeker of the abandoned and forgotten. Geographically, it is one of the lowest altitude settlements anywhere in North America. Before ceding to the demolition of the Salton Sea’s rising waters, Bombay Beach’s initial development plans were intended to create an attractive playground for wealthy vacationers in the 1940s and ’50s. Modeled and packaged as California’s version of the French Riviera, Bombay Beach now sits as a visible urban and natural gray field, with much of the wildlife succumbing to the increased sea salinity and a series of tropical storms destroying the area in the 1970s. Today, few permanent residents remain— with the US Census Bureau measuring the population at just 295 people in 2010. Scattered trailer homes animate a barren desert-sea-scape, haunting the destination that never was with a post-apocalyptic aura making it a must-see for the coast-inclined curious.
SALVATION MOUNTAIN at SLAB CITY
Salvation Mountain, Niland, CA 92257
from Coachella: via CA-111 S · 60mi · 1hr
—Mountain of God’s love at abandoned navy base
Built by Leonard Knight after his hot air balloon failed in this bleak patch of desert near the Salton Sea, the monumental Salvation Mountain exudes messages covered in and created from God’s love. Beginning construction on the mound in 1986, Knight felt ordained by God to continue spreading his message of love in the hostile environment he unintentionally landed in. For over twenty years, Knight lived out of his truck and worked continually on this colorful art ‘mountain,’ which forebodes the entrance to Slab City— a free campsite and alternative living community, namesake to the concrete slabs remaining long after the former WWII military base was bulldozed and abandoned. Located near an active bombing range in the desert city of Niland, ‘The Slabs,’ is hailed as ‘the last free place on earth’ and commonly referred to as an ‘anarchist RV town.’ The off-the-grid housing and living community attracts thousands during winter months, with some permanent life retirees and residents enduring the blazing heats and populating the largely impoverished area year-round.
HIGH DESERT TEST SITES (HDTS) HQ
6470 Veterans Way, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
from Coachella: via I-10 W and CA-62 E · 56mi · 1hr
—Pop-ups throughout the desert
Located along a stretch of desert communities including Pioneer town, Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, 29 Palms and Wonder Valley, High Desert Test Sites (HDTS) provides alternative space for works by both emerging and established artists. An ongoing ‘experiment,’ co-founded by artist Andrea Zittel, HDTS hosts workshops, events and an array of site-specific art projects in the desert, which remaining continually elastic and calendared on its website alongside affiliated curated events (like the recent three-day event Spectacular Subdivision, showcasing Highland Park’s Monte Vista Projects, curated by Jay Lizo). With a mission to ‘insert art directly into life,’ encourage site-specificity, and create a platform where art can be showcased on zero budget— HDTS serves a common ground belonging to no one, with floating experimental projects and permanent sites worth checking-out. Visit the HDTS HQ for driving maps to project locations, catalogs, and more. Open Sat-Sun, 11am-3pm.
DESERT CHRIST PARK
56200 Sunnyslope Dr, Yucca Valley, CA 92284
from Coachella: via I-10 W and CA-62 E/Twentynine Palms Hwy · 50mi · 1hr
—#Selfies with Jesus at the Last Supper
On a barren hillside in the Yucca Valley, the slowly decaying Desert Christ Park has attracted pilgrims and kitsch hunters for over 50 years. Near Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert, this Christian theme park was conceived by former local pastor Reverend Eddie Garver. Visualizing the faith-based attraction to serve as a light monument and symbol advocating world peace, the US government assisted Garver’s realization and granted the ‘Desert Pastor’ 5 acres of south-facing land on this desolate and picturesque mound. Today, the forty religious statues made of steel-reinforced concrete— ranging in scale from life-size to over twelve ft— attract those in search of capturing the perfect weird photo-op with each fragmented Christian hallmark weighing up to sixteen tons apiece. Plus you can stop-in to visit the adjacent Rock Chapel— the perfect way to celebrate Christ Easter Sunday.
NOAH PURIFOY OUTDOOR DESERT ART MUSEUM OF ASSEMBLAGE SCULPTURE
63030 Blair Lane, Joshua Tree, 92252
from Coachella · via I-10 W and CA-62 E/Twentynine Palms Hwy · 62mi · 1hr
—Sculpture museum in the middle of nowhere
Nearly 10 acres of desert land serve as permanent exhibition space for artist Noah Purifoy’s assemblage sculptures. The sprawling open-air desert scenery houses Purifoy’s quirky artworks, all created on-site between 1989 and 2004. Immersed in the open-air, visitors to the site are invited to wander the unfenced, unwalled, and unmarked museum. Casually left to encounter and discover each project in an experience akin to a scavenger-hunt, the museum presents an opportunity to engage with the uncanny and to partake in a social experiment exploring the in-between. Directions to the fairly anonymous desert site available here.
2477 Belfield Blvd., Landers, 92285
from Coachella: via I-10 W and CA-62 E/Twentynine Palms Hwy· 66mi · 1.2hrs
—Sound baths in a dome invoked by extraterrestrials
Built by engineer and UFO enthusiast, George Van Tassel— with a design inspired by Moses’ Tabernacle, the writings of Nikola Tesla and telepathic directions from Venusian extraterrestrials — the Integratron hosts recurring sound baths in its dome-shaped ‘resonant tabernacle and energy machine.’ Possibly the most intense 60-minute sound bath one can experience, visitors lie on the floor while listening to a sonic healing session of crystal bowls amplified by the space’s unique acoustics; awakening and reenergizing the body’s chakras. We recommend inquiring on space availability—or booking a private group appt in advance— as this is arguably the most visitors the Integratron sees in the brevity of two weeks annually… If you miss the chance this time, check back for the no-reservation req’d events held two weekends per month and the pop-up sound bath calendar.
LEROY STEVENS: UNDERGROUND SCULPTURE
—As above, so below. Sound art, underground.
For the more ambitious traveler, the Mojave Desert is the site for a unique underground sound installation by LA artist LeRoy Stevens. Comprised of seventy-five 20 ft lengths of rebar buried below ground, viewers use an on-site provided metal detector to ‘see’ and experience the subsurface work. Activated through changing pitches, the installation is open to the public throughout the year. Contact the artist for directions and to schedule a site visit. More on the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) supported project available on the CLUI website.