Tortoise hibernation is a controversial subject and there are lots of differing opinions about the best way to do (or to not) do it – especially with winter temperatures on the rise. While Rosemary Desert Willow, our tortoise from the local rescue, sleeps in her deep burrow in our back yard, just like she did in the wild, her babies spent last winter in a huge terrarium that took up most of my desk in the office. Finally this year I finally decided to take the leap, and after weiging the pros and cons it seemed like the refrigerator method was the way to go – If the babies stayed outside all winter in their shallow burrow they could freeze to death. Same thing goes if I put them in a shipping container (plus there are rats in the containers who seem to find their way into almost everything) and there aren’t really any other out structures that at AZ West that could maintain consistent temps.
After two months at 41-42 degrees Fahrenheit in their refrigerator bedroom the babies were finally ready to wake up. Ravenous, but in good spirits, they are now back to living on my desk until it gets warm enough outside to put them back in their outdoor run.
Now that we have moved the studio out of the shipping container compound it is time to breath new life into the containers.
Lars Fisk and his girlfriend Betil are visiting from NY to help mastermind a buildout of two little guest cabins in the the central container – the units will be minimal, like the inside of a van, and just right for an overnight stay when it is too hot or too cold to sleep in the Wagon Stations.
By the end of Friday Lars has the container all insulated and framed out – ready for plywood sheeting which will happen next week.
These are the shipping containers that Lars built out as his own home, installed in a secret location in NY – they are incredibly well thought out… After using my own three containers as a studio for seven years, I’ve come to have a love/hate relationship with these structures. But after checking out the living compound that Lars made, I started to believe feel that there might be a way find love for them after all.
His five 20′ containers are configured in a way that feels both spatially complex and surprising roomy. Part of this success is because he didn’t attempt to use the ultra long 40′ containers so his rooms are small, but the proportions feel really good. (which is why we are splitting up my long unit into two separate apartments) And they are tucked full of “special features” like the rooftop greenhouse and circular skylight, hand crafted for the upstairs unit.
After my second visit back to check out his progress (it seems like things were always completely new and different each time I stopped by) we started talking about my container compound in the desert and Lars suggested that he could come out for a visit and do a consultation. That was last year. Now this year he is back for phase one which feels like the begining of a whole new life for this small compound. I’ve given the project a two year window (all projects at AZ West have prescribed timeframes so that nothing is left dangling too long) so there is a lot yet to come!
On Saturday morning I set off into the desert in search of a particular strip of rock graffiti. The graffiti consists of words and texts that are written out on the side of a railroad berm using different colored pieces of rock and gravel. It is an amazing sight, and seems to run for an infinitely long distance. I was frustrated that I couldn’t quite remember it’s exact location and figured that I could find it fairly easily with a long day of driving. Plus It had been a mind numbingly busy week and it would be good to have some alone time in the car. So I headed out through Wonder Valley, past Philip and Margot’s pink post office with their chakra healing pyramids, turning up the grade on Amboy Road, noticing that something interesting seems to be happening to the cabin that Bettina Hubby bought from Chris Viet a few years ago.
Reaching Amboy I turned right on National Trails Hwy – with the idea that this is where I would most likely find the grafiti. Unfortunately no luck, so I drove onto Essex and then took the poorly paved road north to the 40 – in the distance some amazingly huge and alien-like fiberglass tanks that had been abandoned and left to disintegrate into the desert.
I had been driving for two and a half hours thinking that for sure that by now I would have found the site. There was a train nearby which added some element of hope – and since backtracking would be a long drive anyway, I decided to continue on to Needles and then head south to Vidal, making a giant loop. Needles is near Near the Colorado River, when you drive through you can sense the water but you can’t see it. The town used to be route 66 and has some great old houses and structures, but seemed eerily empty for a saturday afternoon.
Finally right after town, a little rock graffiti materialized on the right side of the road, but not the kind I was looking for. However the strip south on the 95 was insanely beautiful – dense cactus thickets and crazy jagged mountains. There is no rational reason for this theory, but I’m convinced that the most beautiful roads are always north south rather then east west. Finally at Vidal Junction I turned and headed back on he long stretch of hwy 62 toward Joshua Tree.
Finally, about 70 miles out from 29 Palms, I sighted rock grafiti – and this time it was the kind I was looking for – though not the astounding and complex motherlode that I had remembered seeing (which I’m still convinced is out there). Five and half hours of driving on narrow desert roads is a long day and certainly not a “correct” way to use fuel – but this failure may still yet be an excuse for yet another weekend winter excursion. (though if anyone reads this and knows what I’m talking about, please feel free to drop a hint or two about where this thing is at)
It is hard to describe the feeling when your well goes out. On Tuesday afternoon when the water first stopped flowing I figured the problem was one of the above ground pumps that moves water around the property. Finally when it became clear that the well wasn’t filling the main holding tank, I started to have flashbacks to life at AZ West before we had water. That was back before the kid, the studio, the guest house and the encampment with it’s string of visitors. Having water brought in by truck was expensive and difficult, even back then – so it is hard to imagine trying running this operation with no water now.
Then Walter from North American Drilling showed up with my reality check. The well hadn’t run dry – but the pipes and pump were going to have to be pulled… at a price. On Tuesday the rig arrived to pull up all 660 feet of pipe. (my well is deep!) By mid day the final lengths appeared…
revealing a hole so tiny that it doesn’t even show up in this photograph. Or it is there if you look really hard. About the size of a pea, and the culprit of all of this effort and expense. By Wednesday night there was new pipe (PVC so it won’t rust out) and a new pump because the original one appeared to be on it’s last legs, and everything has been buttoned up and water is flowing throughout the land once again… The entire saga has been a bit of a financial setback – but all the same, it is sure nice to be able to flush the toilet and take a morning shower.
It feels like progress out here always comes with a price… for every three steps forward there are at least two backward. So now starts the process of putting everything back together again. We are always in need of extra hands at times like this – if anyone in the area has some tight woodworking skills and can come help get everything back on line this month give us a shout!
I first started the renovation of AZ West in the year 2000 – twelve years ago. Hard to believe…. especially since so many “temporary” decisions, like the Ikea lights, have gone overlooked for over a decade now. Finally, humiliated by the passage of so much time with no real action, I commissioned TK with the fabrication of some long-percolating plans for lighting prototypes. The living room lights above are a simplified reference to wagon wheel lamps. Below are ceiling lights designed for the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom wall sconces…
I made my first lights for AZ East (in Brooklyn NY) back in the 1990s by using long showcase bulbs wired to dimmers, dialed down until the long filament became a visible wire. Ever since I’ve been sold on exposed bulbs. Now add to that, a quest for the ultimate mood lighting… The AZ West lights were designed with the theory that many small light sources would create a better, more brightly diffused light then a single main source. (think about how great the light is from patio or christmas tree lights) – a theory that seems to hold true. Each ceiling lamp has eight 25 watt bulbs, and is wired to a dimmer switch for perfect control over the brightness.
And no, we don’t still have our christmas tree up in late January (in the background behind Moon Cloud) – I’ve just been documenting the lighting project for the full time that it has taken to come to fruition!
Last Thursday Patrick, our intrepid HDTS intern Ari, and Andrea erected and installed our beautiful new HDTS signs. The HQ is tucked around the corner off of 29 Palms Hwy – and we don’t have a lot of visibility to those taking the straight and narrow through Morogono Basin. Plus lots of people don’t even know who we are. A guy came in a few weeks ago asking if High Desert Test Sites is where we give tests to the homeschoolers! Anyway, Randy Brill at the Sky Harbor Swap Meet came through for us once again with this suite of signs, hand made with a router. And Patrick and Ari dug some REALLY deep holes right next to the sidewalk by the entrance of the HDTS HQ.
Like the sign says, the HQ sort of has it all. You can check out our HDTS archive (both in book form and on a DVD), old HDTS publications and posters (including some really amazing hand made silkscreens by Jenny Nichols), the most current driving map to existing sites, and lots of other really cool stuff made by HDTS artists and Joshua Tree locals that we are selling to help offset the costs of running the space.