Exploring the California Desert: Outsider Art in Joshua Tree


Wheels of Fortune

The high desert has long attracted artsy types, and the funky California town of Joshua Tree is no exception. Joshua Tree prides itself on being an Artists Community, and has some notable outsider art worth exploring. There is a Joshua Tree Art Walk on the second Saturday of every month, when the galleries stay open late and live music acts perform.  save-new3

Noah Purifoy’s The Quonset Gallery at the Joshua Tree Outdoor Art Museum

Musicians have long been drawn to this place. Gram Parsons died at the Joshua Tree Inn. A friend of mine spotted Led Zeppelin’s former front man, Robert Plant, at a nearby hotel, which is not all that shocking considering he has a song called 29 Palms. Queens of the Stone Age front man and desert rock god Josh Homme is a longtime Joshua Tree resident. Bands including the Foo Fighters, Arctic Monkeys and Iggy Pop are just some of the artists who have spent time recording at the highly regarded Rancho de la Luna recording studio.


Sid, the cactus security guard outside Mazamar Pottery

A mere 12 miles away, Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace serves some of the best food in the desert and has had everyone from Paul McCartney to Vampire Weekend perform on their stage.


Noah Purifoy’s Everything and the Kitchen sink (1996) at the Outdoor Art Museum

Ironically, the iconic cover of U2’s The Joshua Tree album was not shot in the immediate area. Photographer Anton Corbijn spent a few days with the band in 1986 before shooting the group them near a photogenic yucca near Death Valley. The album’s eponymous Joshua Tree has since died but you can learn more about it in this fascinating blog post.


White/Colored by Noah Purifoy

There is Mad Max type vibe if you wander the over 7 acres of folk art sculptures at the Noah Purifoy Foundation’s Joshua Tree Outdoor Desert Art Museum.  At first glance, this museum might appear to be a a junk yard. But spend some time wandering the grounds and you’ll realize this place is an absolute desert gem.


Funky art in Joshua Tree

Noah Purifoy was an African-American visual artist who was born in Alabama and was a founding director of the Watts Towers Art Center. He started creating sculptures from the debris of the Watts Riots. Purifoy spent the last 15 years of his life creating environmental sculptures made from found materials on the property between 1989 and 2004. Some of the sculptures have powerful political messages about segregation and racism. It’s well worth spending some time exploring the property.


Sculpture garden of heads

Be sure not to miss Shari Elf’s World Famous Crochet Museum housed in a re-purposed former Fotomat booth. When you walk into the compact space packed with crocheted animals, you might not be sure if you’re in a craft museum or have accidentally stumbled onto the set of a David Lynch film.


An image I shot of the Crochet Museum 

I recently noticed images of the green tiny museum popping up on HSBC ads in the jetways of airports in Miami and Germany.


The World Famous Crochet Museum featured in an HSBC ad at Miami International Airport


The usual poodle suspects at the Crochet Museum

If you are looking for things to do in the desert and want something a bit grittier than the manicured mid-century goodness of nearby Palm Springs and Palm Desert, I’d highly recommend checking out Joshua Tree’s art scene. It might not be to everyone’s taste but it is definitely a memorable and like the HSBC ads state, unorthodox. It’s also a whole lot of fun.

Noah Purifoy Foundation Outdoor Desert Art Museum 

63030 Blair Lane,

Joshua Tree, California 92252

Mazamar Pottery in Pioneertown

53626 Mane St,

Pioneertown, California 92268

The World Famous Crochet Museum

61855 Highway 62,

Joshua Tree, California

Exploring the California Desert: Joshua Tree National Park


Golden hour at Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is one of my favorite spots in California. It’s high desert skies often feature gorgeous clouds, and the funky namesake town has an artsy vibe that attracts rock climbers, rock stars and everyone in between.


Sunrise in Joshua Tree

It’s worth waking up early to catch a sunrise in Joshua Tree National Park. They can be serene and zen, or colorful and dramatic. It’s a great place to see a supermoon.

Joshua Tree Cloud Lapse video

Joshua Tree features odd, slightly cartoonish landscapes. The oversized boulders near Skull Rock or Keyes View are  fun to climb on feel straight out of The Flintstones. Joshua Trees are not actually trees but instead yucca plants that bloom at odd angles and add a Dr. Seussian vibe. The sky is often populated by cumulus clouds that feel borrowed from The Simpsons.


Joshua Tree’s weird and wonderful desertscape

Joshua Tree’s beauty is not the traditional majestic glory of Yosemite, nor is it the white capped mountainy goodness of Mr. Rainier National Park. It’s an odd place where the the Mojave and Sonoran desert ecosystems intersect, and the result is weird and wonderful, and strangely beautiful. It’s not for everyone. People either love the landscape or hate it. I’m smitten with it.


Desert light

Desert light is extremely flattering. Joshua Tree has pastel sunrises and vibrant sunsets and depending on the light can be very colorful or muted. The surreal landscape has been a longtime favorite shooting locations for album covers, music videos, fashion look books, and instagram influencers.


Desert mornings can be brisk

It’s not unusual to see a band grabbing a drink at the Joshua Tree Saloon, or to spot a Vogue fashion photographer planning a shoot at the 29 Palms Inn. The great thing about desert weirdness is that everyone seems to belong in Joshua Tree. It’s the only National Park I’ve visited where I’ve spotted a model on the side of the road wearing a red gown and thought, “that works here.”


Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia)

Joshua Tree is a user-friendly National Park and a lot of it’s cool things to see are easily accessible, such as Skull Rock.

Colorful Sunrise in Joshua Tree National Park

There are campgrounds in the National Park, but no lodge. Fortunately there are a slew of motels, hotels, and AirBnbs in the surrounding area. If you are planning a trip, be aware they book up during peak times, especially the weeks around Coachella.


Crescent moon and Joshua Trees at first light

It’s also possible to do a day trip to Joshua Tree if you’re staying in the low desert communities nearby including Palm Springs and Palm Desert.


Pastel clouds and Joshua trees

Deserts can be extremely windy and cold at times, so be sure to wear layers if you’re planning a visit.


Obligatory selfie in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Mailing Address:

74485 National Park Drive 
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277-3597


(760) 367-5500

Exploring the California Desert: The Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactarium


Interior of the World’s 1st Cactarium

Palm Springs is famous for it’s meticulously kept lawns and mid-century architecture. It’s also the home of the Moorten Botanical Gardens and Cactarium, which houses over 3,000 cacti, succulents, and other plants native to the desert.


Cactarium Exterior

The $5.00 price of admission is well worth it to check out some of the unique and well maintained cacti. If you’re looking for things to do in Palm Springs and are over the overly manicured golf courses, The Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactarium is a nice change of pace. It’s also centrally located.


Rare varieties of cacti not for sale

There is also an event space and nursery on the one-acre property. There are guided tours as well, and if you want to take one it is is recommended that you book ahead.


Cool looking cactus

The Moorten Botanical Garden was founded in 1939 by desert lover (and former Keystone Cop) Chester “Cactus Slim” Moorten and his wife, Patricia.


Curvy cacti

The Moortens collected specimens themselves from Guatemala and Mexico. Today the couples son, Clark Moorten is in charge. He grew up in Palm Springs and shares his parents’ love of living desert flora.


Prickly Pear

The Cactarium houses some of the funkiest shaped cacti I’ve ever seen.


Desert still life

Visitors can bring home a bit of Palm Springs by purchasing a cactus at the on-site nursery.


Sunshine at the Moorten Botanical Garden

If you are visiting Palm Springs and want a hit of nature that feels a bit wild and don’t have time for a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park, the Moorten Botanical Gardens and Cactarium is a great option.


Pretty desert species

The gardens are open year-round, although the hours change according to season.


Gorgeous greenery

You need not be a plant lover to appreciate this place. It’s compact and just plain cool.

Moorten Botanical Garden is open year round.

1701 S Palm Canyon Dr — Palm Springs, CA — 92264

note: street parking only!

Phone: (760) 327-6555

Hours are reduced during the summer heat.

Fall, Winter, and Spring

10AM — 4PM daily, except Wednesdays

First day of Summer to First day of Fall (6/21 — 9/21)

9AM — 1PM daily, except Wednesdays

As you walk through the gates you will see our nursery to your left. Please pay at the counter and be sure to get your map!

$5.00 — Adults and Seniors

$2.00 — Children 15 and Under

Free! — Children Under 5

Exploring the American Southwest: A Stay at the Amangiri in Canyon Point, Utah


The stunning entrance to the Amangiri

The sublimely designed Amangiri Resort in Canyon Point Utah is one of the most stunning resorts I’ve ever visited, and it’s here in the American Southwest. The resort’s minimalist design effortlessly showcases the amazing landscape of southern Utah. You feel the five star service that Aman Resorts are known for the second you pull up to the resort and are welcomed by the staff, and make your way into the reception area.


The Amangiri’s amazing pool (photo courtesy of Amangiri)

Architects Rick Joy, Marwan Al-Sayed, and Wendell Burnette embraced the natural features of the property into the resort’s design. The pool is built around a natural rock formation. The landscape is dramatic from every angle, and one could easily never Amangiri’s grounds and have a great time.

Time Lapse at the Amangiri with rabbit

Located within an area known as the Grand Circle, the Amangiri resort is located close to Zion National Park, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Monument Valley. The hotel has a fleet of BMW vehicles that guests can borrow (and test drive) to explore the nearby attractions that are off site. They hotel fleet remained spotless despite the dusty environment of the surrounding desert.


Lovely light in a corridor at the Amangiri

The Amangiri does not come cheap. In early February, our Desert View Suite cost $1,400 per night, including food.  We had to book a Desert View Suite since we brought our two dogs on this trip. Yes! The Amangiri is pet-friendly, although additional fees apply.


The Amangiri’s architecture makes the most of the magical desert light

While our room was spacious, I don’t think it technically qualified as a “suite” since it did not have a door which physically divided the sleeping space from the living space in the room. I’m not complaining, but I don’t understand why such a luxurious and small 34 room resort wouldn’t have this feature in every level of accommodation, especially since the Amangiri is stretched out over more than 600 acres of space.


Concrete and blue sky at the Amangiri

The resort also has a few homes available as accommodations. These are favored by celebrities who want to ensure privacy. I recognized the surroundings when my social media feeds showed me that Kylie Jenner announced her daughter’s birth while I was staring at the same starkly beautiful backdrop where she cradled her baby bump.


Water feature in the Amangiri

The hotel has a beautiful 25,000 square foot spa that has all the usual and some specialty treatments. The facilities are just as impressive as the rest of the property and my deep tissue massage (complete with a sage smudge) was definitely higher quality than one would expect from a hotel in the desert.


The front patio of our Desert Suite

As I exited the spa I came across a s’mores station set up on an outdoor fire pit, where a staff member helped us keep away the evening chill by toasting marshmallows and various kinds of chocolate on graham crackers. It was a next-level s’mores experience!


Neutral hues and modern simplicity in our Desert Suite


Afternoon light on a water feature at the Amangiri

The food is included in the room rate and when the weather allowed, we preferred to eat outside in sunshine by the pool, where our dogs could join us. The menu featured local cuisine including bison burgers and Navajo fry bread tacos as well as the usual salads and pizzas. The standout was the excellent margaritas which tasted especially delicious in the desert air.


Daybeds by the Amangiri’s pool

Breakfast standouts were the Huevos Rancheros and Tamale Benedict. Since breakfast and lunch tended to be hearty, we ate light at dinner. The fire roasted Tortilla Soup and Three Sisters Consommé were delicious.


The Amangiri looks magical after dusk

While the food was included in the room rate, an additional charge applies for room service.


Table with a view in the Amangiri’s dining room


A gorgeous outdoor patio space at the Amangiri


Bison burger & fries


The mushroom pizza was delicious


Navajo fry bread tacos served by the pool

photo-feb-02-12-30-42-pm photo-feb-03-12-16-43-pm

Don’t miss the margaritas at the Amangiri

Tequila drinks taste better in the desert.


Tamale Benedict for breakfast

Tamale Benedict served on a masa cake with smoked pork, poached hen egg, roasted corn relish, and chipotle hollandaise. Yum!


Pastel desert skies with beautiful views

There is so much natural beauty that you can get your fill just by hiking the trails on the Amangiri grounds. But I’d highly recommend taking the Slot Canyon tour with a Navajo Guide. Our three hour tour of Antelope, Rattlesnake, and Side Canyon was one of the best three hour tours I’ve ever taken. You can read my previous post about it here.


Minimalist yet gorgeous winter trees and February skies

We also borrowed one of the hotel’s BMWs to venture to nearby Horseshoe Bend, located just over the state border in Arizona. It was a nice place to watch the sun rise and didn’t require a tour.


Utah desertscape


My morning view of Horseshoe Bend

While the clouds weren’t particularly interesting the morning we drove to Horseshoe Bend to see the sunrise, the view was spectacular and it was an easy area to explore with the dogs. It’s a user-friendly and intimate canyon experience.


Here I am in action photographing Horseshoe Bend


Zeppelin & Ribeye enjoyed their walks on the Amangiri property

My labs really enjoyed their stay at the Amangiri. We kept them on leash since they were extremely tempted to chase after the wild hares in the area.


Amangiri Signage

My trip was booked through Thom Bissett of TheFussyFlyer.com


1 Kayenta Road, Canyon Point Utah. 84741-0285, USA

Tel: +1 435 675 3999
Fax: +1 435 675 8999
Email: amangiri@aman.com

Playing in the Slot Canyons of the American Southwest: Private Luxury Tour of Arizona’s Antelope Canyon


Looking up in Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon is the most famous (and most photographed) slot canyon in the American Southwest. And there is good reason why. It’s virtually impossible to take a bad picture in this amazingly beautiful area. February is a great time to visit the amazing slot canyons located along the Utah-Arizona border. The mild winter meant the weather was pleasant. As an added bonus, while Antelope Canyon is always popular, it’s significantly less busy during winter months.


Dillon, our guide, gave us a visual demonstration of how the canyons were formed

Antelope Canyon is actually two different canyons. Upper Antelope Canyon is the most popular and colorful with curvy walls that reach 120 feet high. Lower Antelope Canyon is narrower and less user-friendly (and I did not visit it on this tour).


Climbing out of Rattlesnake Canyon on a ladder

The three slot canyons I toured were Upper Antelope, Side Canyon, and Rattlesnake Canyon. Different outfitters have access to different slot canyons, so who you book with will determine which slot canyons you get to visit.


The heart of Upper Antelope Canyon

The canyon’s uniquely smooth and colorful sandstone was formed over millions of years exposed flash floods, water erosion, and wind. The resulting walls are smooth and curvy, with variations in texture and color.


Dust and shaft of light in Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon is located within the Navajo Nation land about 10 miles southeast of Page, Arizona. Upper Antelope, Side Canyon, and Rattlesnake Canyon are also located along the same Antelope Canyon wash and they are hidden gems of the area.


color and curves in a slot canyon

Of the three slot canyons I visited, Rattlesnake Canyon might have been my favorite, simply because it involved ladders and very few other people. It was not as accessible for travelers who aren’t as mobile.


Sandstone walls of the slot canyons

Our private three slot canyon tour was arranged by the staff of the Amangiri, where we were staying for this trip. Our guide was Dillon, and he was excellent. He also knew the best photo spots.


Blue coat and red canyon walls

Many photographers like to visit Antelope Canyon during June, July, and August when the light beams are at their strongest. This is also the season for peak heat in the area, with average daily high temperatures of over 90 degrees. If it’s cloudy, you won’t see the light beams.


Upper Antelope Canyon is amazing

All visitors to the area (especially photographers)  should be aware that the area is very dusty. And tour leaders will often stir up dust to make the light beams more photogenic.


The parking lot outside Antelope Canyon

Different tour providers use different types of vehicles to bring visitors into Antelope Canyon. Most used converted pick up trucks. I was glad that our tour was in a comfortable dust-free Suburban.


Lines of rock and and blue puffer coat

Our private luxury Three Canyon tour for two people was  arranged by the Amangiri. It took about 3 1/2 hours door to door and cost $725 + 10% service charge. Not cheap, but it was totally worth it if you want to see the slot canyons in comfort and minimize crowds.


Not a bad angle in this slot canyon

If you’re looking for things to do in the American Southwest, I highly recommend taking a tour of the slot canyons. As much as I liked exploring Upper Antelope Canyon, it was hard to beat having Side Canyon and Rattlesnake Canyon almost all to ourselves.


Selfie with ladder in Rattlesnake Canyon

Pro tip: wear hiking boots when exploring the slot canyons of the southwest. You might be able to get away with everyday shoes in Upper Antelope Canyon, the terrain can be challenging and you’ll be better off in appropriate footwear.


Our ride to Antelope Canyon

While the Amangiri is located just over the border in Utah, they arranged our Three Slot Canyon tour. It was highly memorable experience and well worth the price.


1 Kayenta Rd, Canyon Point, UT 84741, USA

The closest airport is Page, Arizona.

A Picture Per Day

Facebook YouTubeTwitterSubscribe via RSSSubscribe via RSSSubscribe via RSSSubscribe via RSSSubscribe via RSSSubscribe via RSSSubscribe via RSS