Secret Spot

IMG_9154I know there isn’t much point in having a secret spot of you don’t keep it secret – but the location is secret even if the pictures aren’t.  Over the last 14 years AZ West has transformed from functioning as something of a monastic retreat  to  a bourgeoning community.  It’s an amazing place to work, and to meet an incredible group of people who are constantly passing through – but for someone with slightly anti-social tendencies, such a public life can at times be a bit rough.


IMG_9167Hence the secret spot which will hopefully set things in balance.  Eventually I’ll get to spend time here in isolation, but like all big life improvement projects, it’s going to take a while to get there.  Elgin helped me haul everything out of the cabin this week – getting ready for a big cleaning, a new roof and bigger windows to let in more of the view.  We are keeping as much as the original siding as possible (interior and exterior) and I’m going to try to not drive myself crazy obsessing about making every single thing that goes in the space.  (I always say this – and always end up getting carried away anyway)


Restaurant Relocation

IMG_9573After Sunday brunch at the Palms Brad, Brooks, Dan, Travis, Jack, Bob and I went deep into Wonder Valley to move Bob Dornberger’s Secret Restaurant which had been accidentally installed on Mojave Land Trust Land instead of our 40 Acre HDTS parcel off of Iron Age Road.  Figuring out  parcel boundaries is  a tricky affair at best, and the original placement of the restaurant  had been off by several yards causing  visits from BLM and a lot of consternation trying to figure out exactly who’s land we were on.  (Sorting this stuff out is crazy difficult – because we are miles from any sort of physical marker or visible boundary)



Bob decided to move the restaurant onto our HDTS parcel this weekend –  He, Brooks and Brad dug up and disassembled  the structure on Saturday, and on Sunday a larger group of us came out to transport and reinstall it.  I coaxed Travis and Jack out there after brunch for what I loosely referred to as “an hour or two of  digging”  – but once we got into the project they super graciously stuck around to see it through.  Bob had made an “off road” cart to move the steel panels with and things went fairly smoothly until the very end of the day when we were starting to lose the light and realized that the bottom of the hole needs widening in order to fit the panels together.  (one of the panels torqued when we tried to slide it into place) I think I may have overheard a few sad sighs from Bob about not being able to finish what we had begun, but it made the most sense to all of us to return when we were fresh and had more daylight and less stress.  (Don’t miss the next incarnation of Secret Restaurant:  “Full Moon Ramen” on  March 15th!)


Winter Uniform

IMG_8974Back in uniform.  For the last few years I’ve been making my clothes out of panels – with a few similar panel options for each season.  But I’ve been missing the more stringent “one garment at a time – all the time” dictate – it’s just easier, and it’s also so much more challenging  to make a garment that you know you are going to have to wear a LOT.  The leather skirt is second hand and works great with wool thermals layered underneath…   really warm when the desert gets cold.  And I crocheted the sweater out of really beautiful variegated grey merino wool.   Also worth mentioning is that in summer of 2013 I finished two decades of uniforms.  So its now going into the 21st year of this project…  amazing!

Weekend at the HQ

IMG_8277All of our High Desert Test Sites volunteers are away for the holidays, so I spent this weekend sitting the HDTS HQ.

IMG_8289Emmett showed me the white pocket knife that he wants…

IMG_8328I got to  commune with the  Field Kitchen by Harald Kantz  –   my own personal object of desire.  (someday I’m going to get one!)

IMG_8321Tim brought us a cool new book that he found in Wonder Valley for our Desert Research Library called “Our Desert Neighbors”

IMG_8298If anyone is super organized and has the time to get involved in a project, we could use help organizing our library and making cards for each book listing who donated it.

IMG_8341And Kip came by to brainstorm about a film screening at the HQ!



Where has all the time gone?!  It seems like just weeks ago  we wrapped up our fall 2013 “open season” – and the temperatures have now already dropped into night time lows in the 20s which means that the encampment will be off line until next spring.  Here is a really sweet report sent in from Lily Fein who was one of our awesome visitors this fall at the A-Z Wagon Station Encampment this past fall:

My arrival at A-Z West began with meeting Alison, the camp host, who shared an alarming story of finding a tarantula in one of the sleeping pods, and another of  a charging scorpion. This made for an uneasy first nights sleep! This scare aside, my initial reaction to the encampment was the sense of walking through a living art experience, or being on another planet. It was eerie being the first wagon station guest to arrive, but as the others filtered in, the unknown landscape became less like outer space.

Over the past 3 weeks this unfamiliar land has been fertile ground for paying closer attention to the art of living. On top of living outdoors in a barren desert landscape, which alone creates cues for how to be, the thoughtful design of Andrea’s structures parallels nature’s intuitive guidelines. A conversation occurs between the sun and Andrea’s communal spaces, and I navigate this dialogue each day as my movements through the encampment are mostly based on finding shade. At 4pm, when Andrea’s design and the sun discount my desire for shade, I can be found crouching shamelessly at the end of the kitchen table. But at 2pm, land and design are in harmony as I sit in the kitchen, facing the idyllic view up the wash. The elegant frame that the kitchen’s half wall and roof create for the mountains and sky seems thoughtfully composed. 


Andrea and nature noticeably shape my newly formed habits. I drink and eat out of bowls always returned to the same shelf, and walk into the patch sun in the cold morning, as warmth creeps down the mountain a short ways away. 

I am also guided by the “hour of power”. This is when everyone staying at A-Z West, or working for Andrea, gathers at the studio to labor together. My willingness to work stems from feeling as though I am receiving the better end of the bargain.  The hour of power often consists of grounds maintenance, such as forming a berm and trench to control water flow when rain comes, or sweeping and raking the sand in the encampment. I initially imagined that moving sand around would feel pointless, yet it made for a very Zen-like gardening experience, not dissimilar to the oddly gratifying chore of carrying and dumping our poop in the compost, rinsing the buckets, and placing them back in the toilets. 


Living in the landscape make seemingly small tasks and decisions vital; like choosing the most private place to squat and pee with lots of people moving around the encampment. While new patterns and activities feel fresh now, I cannot help but wonder if when routines set in, my actions will become mindless. However, I am reminded of the unforgiving presence of the environment when living outside that calls for a heightened awareness of one’s body in the landscape. Day by day, my 4pm struggle with the kitchen and sun will be earlier and earlier, causing a shift in space and time. Living at A-Z West, nature and design continually beckon us to experience subtle changes: bringing us back to the present, again and again. 


IMG_6655It’s been an epic production period – five large new billboard paintings in six months.  As we wind down and get ready to ship everything out, I’m feeling so crazy lucky to have had such a great group in the studio.  Each person came with a totally unique skill set  – and overall there was just a great amount of breadth and competency as we faced each challenge.   Thanks so much to Patrick, CJ and Kelly who are painting fiends, and to and to Peggy, Lucy, Jane, Lani who all also contributed significant  stints.  The studio just seems to get better each year.