Before covering it deep for AOS, I had only visited Joshua Tree three times in my life, but each experience enlivened my senses and opened my heart and mind a little more. It was clear this community in the High Dez was like no other, which is why I’ve chosen to share it with you as my first AOS market!
I learned quickly that desert magic is real. So is desert madness. The allure of this landscape is nothing new, especially to artists who have long reveled in its vastness and quietude, seeking to create in perfect harmony with nature. Joshua Tree, in particular, has long been the modern Wild West -- a home for America's counterculture crowd. While much of the art they create is on the edgier side, some of it isn't because, really, anything goes here. There's room for it all and that's the magic and the madness.
They both struck over 60 years ago, forever changing the life of a former aircraft mechanic and flight inspector, named George Van Tassel. In August 1953, Van Tassel claimed he had been contacted both telepathically and later in person by beings from space, who gave him a technique to rejuvenate human cell tissue.
Just let that sink in for a second.
It sounds crazy, but he believed buried beneath the sand and stone was a network of electromagnetic energy, the strongest in the world, that could be harnessed in ways that would add 10 years to a person’s life. Following the aliens' instructions, Van Tassel began constructing the Integratron in 1954. His premature death, at age 65, makes it difficult to believe he was right, but what can be proven is the desert pulled him in and pulled out of him his best self.
He was not the first to hear the calling, nor the last.
It happened to Noah Purifoy.
Born and raised in Alabama, he established himself as a revolutionary artist, activist, and the director of the Watts Towers Art Center in Los Angeles until he heard the desert’s call at age 72.
He packed up and moved to Joshua Tree, where he lived for the last 15 years of his life creating a massive, ten-acre compound of found object sculptures on the desert floor.
In 1982, Harriet Aleba and Claude “Pappy” Allen opened Pappy & Harriet’s, a spot with its own magic. It's a rare place where rugged bikers and free-spirited artists could share a bar and beers and no one thought it was that weird.
After Pappy’s passing in 1994, it changed ownership a few times before landing safely in the hands of Robyn Celia and Linda Krantz, two transplant New Yorkers who were called to the great wide open.
Their love for music combined with their restaurant experience fueled their desire to maintain the soul of Pappy and Harriet’s. They turned the place into an unlikely beacon for both local folk singers and international rock gods. Music lovers from all over the world descend on this legendary barbecue joint to catch concerts by Vampire Weekend, Little Dragon and Paul McCartney.
Shari Elf built a creative oasis in the sand. Art Queen is her showcase gallery of all her paintings, clothing and anything else she can put her artful stamp on. It’s also a space where she hosts Art Not Walmart, a workshop series where she helps other people do what she did; escape their dead-end jobs and take the leap to supporting themselves with
Her World Famous Crochet Museum puts an old-timey craft on a pedestal, housing yarn-based animals, baby clothes, cakes, pots of flowers, and other oddities within a converted, vintage, neon green photo mat.
Joshua Tree, in particular, has become the modern Wild West — a home for America’s counterculture crowd.
After spending 5 years roaming the country in a motorhome, Adina Mills fell in love with the quiet spaces of the desert. She’s made her home in Landers and is building a jewelry empire, massive crystal by massive crystal.
She sums it all up by saying, “The bigger, the better and the more colorful, the better.”
Sarah Harris and Cody Montgomery's time in the desert has led them to transform the gun from a killing machine into a creative tool for their airy, flowing fashion brand, Totally Blown.
A lofty goal and a high-minded concept, they’re encouraging people to think critically about the subject and not just have visceral reactions that end potentially mind-opening conversations before they even start.
Also, they make beautiful clothes.
In 2012, Paul Andrews, a Los Angeles event coordinator co-founded Contact In The Desert, what he calls a “safe environment” to discuss human origins, secret space programs, crop circles, UFO sightings, contact experiences, extraterrestrial life, and ancient aliens.
Thousands make the pilgrimage to the annual conference every year. That includes the Ancient Aliens guy with the hair.
Van Tessel’s electromagnetic energy theory might not actually have been able to connect with aliens or medically add years to people’s lives but maybe, just maybe, it has more of a subliminal narcotic effect. One that stimulates brain function, increases creativity, and sends desert dwellers on a journey to create their own fountains of youth. Perhaps it drives them to the brink of madness and magic to live whatever life they have left in full on pursuit of their dreams.