The strange and beautiful Joshua Tree at dusk

Hello from the high desert!  I am here near the magical Joshua Tree National Park, doing an artist residency, collecting material for an internet art project supported by a Wolfstein travel grant from the University of Cincinnati.  Joshua Tree is perhaps my favorite place on earth (so far).  I have not yet been able to explain with words exactly why, but perhaps I can do so with other media.

Joshua Tree at sunset

Joshua Tree National Park is a sprawling area of 790,636 acres (about 12,000 square miles) on the transition zone between the Mojave and Sonoran (Colorado) deserts of mostly wilderness.  Sand and boulders team with creatures such as lizards, roadrunners, rattlesnakes, mice, and even some bullhorn sheep.  The park gets its name from the wonderful Joshua Trees in the Mojave section of the park (where I am staying).  The trees were so named by the Mormons during their first trip through the desert.  For the Mormons, the trees were like the Biblical Joshua, pointing the way.  However, most other early American explorers had the opposite reaction, describing the trees as grotesque and terrible.  The trees are not actually trees at all, but a member of the Agave family, a yucca.

Yes, the Joshua Tree is also the namesake of the popular album by the Irish rock band U2, although i don’t think they really spent any time here.  Bono found out about the tree after the album was recorded.  He allegedly enjoyed the biblical tie-in, and came to the Southwest with a photographer to take the cover shot.  Other interesting rock and roll tales include the theft and burning of the body of original alt-country star Gram Parsons here in the desert, after his untimely death in a motel just up the street from where I am staying.  Parsons did solo albums and played with several bands including the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers.  Apparently he and Keith Richards used to drive out here and get wasted and look for UFO’s.  Because of its relative proximity to Los Angeles (2 or 3 hours), Joshua Tree National Park has been a mecca for LA musicians and artists looking for inspiration or solace.

Joshua Tree Rockhouse

i am staying in the fabulous Joshua Tree Rockhouse just outside the park.  the house is incredible.  the Rockhouse is a homesteader’s house from the 1950’s which has been slightly upgraded to include more contemporary amenities.  it is stocked with some odd instruments and my favorite thing here–a white Steinway baby grand piano.  i have spent the last few days creating in the house, exploring the backyard, and venturing into the park in the evenings and at night taking pictures and watching the Perseid meteor shower.  i have also been reading and researching local geography, ecology, and sociology.  if you are interested in learning more or visiting, the most comprehensive book I have found is James Kaiser’s Joshua Tree: The Complete Guide.  this area is so rich visually and culturally i hardly know where to begin; i am still sorting out how all the sounds, melodies, images, and ideas i am gathering will come together in an online project, but for now, here are some documentary photos of the house and the desert.