The list of reasons people flee other areas and venture into the desert are many but my conversations with the host of a modern minimalist ‘RE:treat’ in Joshua Tree CA reminded me that there is a whole other reason many migrate to the desert; one of attraction rather than departure.
Vanessa spoke amicably about the ‘magical dr. Suessian landscape’ and abundance of space for unbridled creative energy offered by its at times inhospitable blank slate. These things drew Vanessa, an artist and designer, to the area; similar enough to evoke nostalgic memories of her West Texas roots yet approachably affordable with space to create.
I don’t usually look to connect with our airBNB hosts beyond the simple business transaction required to gain lodging in a location we are visiting but something about [the airBNB photos of] this space moved me enough to dig deeper. In our conversations, Vanessa provided fascinating insight into the conception and creation of this beautiful space, beginning with a childhood anecdote.
“The seed for RE:treat began when I was much younger and living in West Texas. Our family didn’t travel and I had very little access to anything outside the very small conservative oil town where I was raised. I started writing to and researching boutique hotels around the world requesting brochures — yes actual brochures by mail since this was before the internet. I specifically remember being intrigued and amazed by the Ice hotel in Sweden as this sort of custom-made experience fascinated me. It was then that I knew that someday I wanted to create a boutique hotel of my own.”
With the advent of space sharing platforms like airBNB and recent acquisition of an outdated desert homestead, she was able to realize this childhood dream of owning a boutique hotel, or at at least having the ability to curate a boutique experience for those staying at RE:treat. It took six weeks for Vanessa’s vision to emerge from the dust of the existing [and outdated] paneling, laminate and disco ball laden space and the result truly needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated.
If I if I had to choose two words that describe RE:treat it would be intention and curation.
We showed up on a hot afternoon in April already feeling the effects of traveling with an eleven month old baby, including an over ambitious schedule full of hiking around Joshua Tree national park. From a far, RE:treat is unassuming. An appropriately scaled partnership of two dwellings in a rather stark desert environment. However, a closer look reveals beautifully articulated details that begin to foreshadow the ‘host others as you’d prefer to be hosted’ approach Vanessa brings to this rental experience.
As we stepped into the space, the last three days of commotion melted away and the following few hours led to small discovery after small smirk laden discovery; a manifestation of the ‘treats’ and ‘delight’ that Vanessa had spoken about when describing the design and creation process. Once Aubrin went down for a nap I dove deeper into the spaces offerings and flipped through a smattering of worthwhile books that ranged from local artist Noah Purifoy to survival guides and numerous musings of hope and love, with a slightly heavier focus, albeit comedic at times, on the lack there of.
A morning at RE:treat is strikingly curated; decisions are removed and the simple suggestions were conducted and devoured with pleasure. An appropriate selection of vinyl offers the perfect audible backdrop to the hands-on creation process of fresh ground pour over coffee and d.i.y. waffles. Sit outside and relax in the sun or belly up at the counter beneath the spaces feature eight foot wide aperture that offers an unobstructed landscape view of the mountains in Joshua Tree National Park.
In the interest of preserving the surprise and delight of future visitors I do not want to unveil every little detail and instead will just share a few videos and photos of our time at RE:treat below.
One of our first outings was to visit the Noah Purifoy Outdoor museum that is within walking distance from RE:treat. Considered ‘one of California’s great art historical wonders’ the installations and assemblages are dispersed over 10 acres and created entirely of items others have discarded; considered ‘junk’ by most. The self guided experience meanders through a landscape interspersed with Joshua trees, cacti and shrubs growing and reclaiming amidst the art installations in their various stages of decay and weathering.
Our compressed timeline limited our ability to experience all of Vanessa’s suggestions but it wasn’t hard to pay a visit to our hosts very own conceptual public art installation a stones throw from the door of RE:treat.
Moving from her past experience in the gallery setting to a vast quiet desert-scape, ‘This Is Not About You’ is a bold neon installation in a carefully chosen location as to encourage happenstance encounters by unsuspecting passerby’s. “Anytime something is out of the ordinary it causes us to stop and pay attention. This neon work is the most unlikely thing that you would expect to see when you are driving on the road. And it’s exactly this kind of contrast that really elevates the point of the work.” Vanessa explained.
In an attempt to approach this art installation in a way to preserve and respect it’s yet-to-happen public unveiling I will skirt the details in both description and photography.
This piece of art is an experience. It has the ability to both abrasively flash unsuspecting passers-by while becoming a popular micro destination for those seeking out desert installations and what I suspect will be an ever popular Instagram photo op.
It’s deeply personal conception does not dissuade connection and reaction from the every day passer by. Vanessa had said that ‘in a world where everything is so transient and forgettable the things that stand out to me are those which I can’t seem to forget” and I agree. One of the most debilitating feelings is indifference; ‘This Is Not About You’ breaks its contextual monotony and makes a statement that is sure to elicit a reaction from those who find themselves illuminated by its message.
I had the fortune of spending a few hours, during the day and night trying to photograph the installation. My first reaction was something along the lines of ‘holy shit this is bright.’ The light throw illuminated the adjacent desert flora and cast shadows across the nearby road. As people drove by I found myself intentionally finding discrete places to stand as brightening tail lights confirmed my assumption that people were intrigued. I was almost embarrassed, as if I would need to apologize for having this bright light on during night hours.
But as I spent more time around the installation a harmonious rhythm of sorts emerged that was surprisingly comforting. For long gaps of time the steady hum and clicking flicker of the installations neon bulbs mixed with the faint sounds of barking dogs, homestead doors closing and a myriad of critter noises in and out of the desert wind. And then a vehicle would come hurtling up the road, its noise and headlights dominating the micro environment where I stood until it’s tail lights disappeared over the hill, and everything was still again.
This is what I hope people experience, for while the chance high speed encounter will make one look and think twice, the contemplation of an elongated experience will be far more intriguing.
I’m a firm believer that our mental and physical resources are finite. While it is customary and encouraged to rest a physically exhausted body, those seeking to recharge the mind and soul have much less support. RE:treat finds a way to provide rest and stimulate at the same time and perfectly complimented our daily trips into Joshua Tree National Park where the cell signal fades and our adventures began.
I wanted to conclude this blog post, and our entire trip with a description of our time exploring the park but I now find myself at a loss for words as perhaps is the case with all profound and moving experiences.
I think I am still unpacking what the California high desert means to me and why our time there was so enjoyable. Perhaps it is the almost guarantee of cloudless skys and endless stars. Perhaps the parks size combined with the lack of any particularly iconic view points encourages actual (and dispersed) exploration of the numerous ridges and valleys. Perhaps it is because interaction with the stacked boulder landscapes is encouraged, allowing us all to tap into our inner exploratory youth. Perhaps it is the vast open space of seemingly harsh inhospitable environment that realigns our perspectives; void of a cell signal and the omnipresent responsibilities that build with age.
Or perhaps it is for an entirely different reason; maybe the world is just a little more inspiring, a little more positive, and a little more wonderous when viewing it through the eyes of an 11 month old child whom you’re sharing the experience with.
Certainly it could be all of the above. With love, from Joshua Tree.
You’ve just read second half report of our memorable trip to Joshua Tree National Park, the first half can be seen here: High Mojave Minimalism