Alan, originally from Port Talbot in Wales has been in California for 20 years. A gentle soul who migrated to the desert to find a more peaceful existence, he now hikes for miles into the desert, pratices non duality and does handyman and gardening work to get by.
Eva is close friend and collaborator of Lou Harrison, one of the great composers of the twentieth century, a pioneer in the use of alternate tunings, world music influences, and new instruments. He built the Harrison House here in Joshua as a retreat for fellow musicians. It is a straw bale “composer’s cave” that Lou Harrison completed in 2002 on the edge of Joshua Tree National Park. Of his chosen construction method Lou Harrison noted, “America grows enough straw in one year to satisfy all of its building needs.” The design, inspired by the great Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy, is a unique structure featuring a vaulted hall that measures 36′ X 12′ with a sixteen foot ceiling– proportions chosen by Harrison to create a superb and intimate sound environment for acoustic music. Harrison had one year to visit and enjoy his studio retreat where he worked on his final musical composition “Scenes from Nek Chand” for custom-made steel guitar. I talked to Eva about the residency program she now runs here and the impact the precious gift of time in the desert can have a great impact on the residents.
I went in to Mojave National preserve this week with staff and volunteers from the Mojave Desert Land Trust (MDLT). One of their primary missions is to acquire, restore and convey conservation lands which is often gifted back to the National Park. They took me to see a recent aquisition which had been a private homestead since the 1930’s but abandoned since the 1970’s. It was quite the find for the MDLT and NPS archeologist, David R. Nichols, who was helping to make an inventory of the historical tools, machinery and buildings. Once cleaned of the thick piles of the rodent droppings, the property will become a kind of public mid-century homestead museum within the National Preserve.
Wonder Valley is just north of Joshua Tree National park and known for dilapidated cabins melting back into the desert and the hundreds of people, the retirees, the artists and writers, the nomads and squatters, who have reclaimed these mid-century homesteads. Wonder Valley came into existence because of the Small Tract Act (STA) of 1938. The act allowed for the disposal five-acre allotments of federal land in the American West and the greatest concentration of these tracts were released in what is now Wonder Valley. Many cabins have been transformed into artist studios and homes, leading to a kooky desolation with the desert still winning in many places.