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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Travelling America's Outback...

This past Saturday was another day filled with adventure as my friend Ari and I traversed the high desert. For me it was just another routine trip to some of my favorite haunts. For Ari on the other hand it was a memorable experience of new and exciting places he had never been too. The conversation between my good friend and I was a mix of history and lore that I wish I would have tape recorded. But in either case we both had a blast traveling over 300 miles in the back country of the Mojave Desert.

Originally this trip was supposed to be a quick jaunt to the Goldwell Open Air Museum located about 120 miles north of Las Vegas, just outside of Beatty Nevada. We were going to meet and talk to artist Yulia Pinkusevich who was exhibiting her latest body of work. But as things happen in my life sometimes I like to take the long road and explore. I gave Ari a few suggestions as how to get to Goldwell and in the end we settled with the long way right smack through the Amargosa, Death Valley and its amazing environs.

China Ranch Date Farm
The Amargosa Valley of Nevada and California is one of the most beautiful places I have ever explored. In addition the history and geology of the area is extremely important for understanding the establishment of trade routes between New Mexico and Southern California. The area with its abundant water sources and rich geological features made it an oasis for the Native Americans that have lived in area for almost 10,000 years and of course explorers that established the Old Spanish Trail in the 19th Century. Reaching the area is not difficult and the roads are decent enough for any car. We headed South on the I-15 to the 160 or Blue Diamond Road through the Spring Mountain Pass, before reaching Pahrump we made an immediate left onto the Old Spanish Trail Highway or Tecopa Road.

Information Kiosk at the
China Ranch Date Farm
Crossing the border into California a few miles past Cathedral Canyon and heading Southwest through a few "hair-raising" hairpin turns you finally reach Tecopa. But before going through Tecopa itself I made a left turn at the sign marking the road to the China Ranch Date Farm. After driving for about a mile the paved road ends and a small sign that says "TIPIS" points us to the right. The ranch is located in a hidden canyon along a well grated dirt road; so forget about getting your car washed before you take this trip. The date farm is a must see for anyone travelling the area and in my honest opinion it is worth making it a destination and spending the day or weekend there. The history of the area is rich with archeology and legend. The ranch itself was established by a Chinese man named Ah Foo, hence the ranches name. The ranch has several attractions but it is best known for its famous date palms that are grown throughout the area. Several varieties of tantalizing dates can be purchased at the ranch. The gift shop and bakery serve up everything from date shakes, date bread and date cookies all of which can be sampled. In addition the ranch has a nursery that you can purchase agave's, cacti, succulents and even your own date palm. A few years back I adopted a beautiful agave from the ranch which I appropriately named China. There are also abundant trails to take all around the area and even a Bed and Breakfast that you can stay at, replete with Tepees that you can rent. I was pleasantly surprised this time around to see a new feature that I had not seen a month before at the ranch. The Death Valley Chamber of Commerce established an information Kiosk with great information about the areas attractions, history, maps, trails, flora and fauna.

A Modest Museum at the
China Ranch Date Farm
In addition the ranch established in 2009 a new museum. The  "Modest Museum" as it is aptly called is tiny but well worth visiting. It is full of photographs and artifacts from the area. Though the museum probably is no larger than 80 sq ft it is well curated with good interpretative signage.

After spending far too little time at the ranch we headed back through the canyon and out to Tecopa. Though we did not stop in Tecopa it is worth mentioning that the area is very well known for its famous hot springs. The area is rich with geological features and minerals that make the hot springs quite famous for their healing properties. There are also marsh lands due to the flow of the Amargosa river that runs through the area.
Exhibit at the Modest Museum

As we headed out of Tecopa we drove through some amazing landscapes. The rock formations and subsequent colors demonstrate to the visitor the enormous geological forces that created and still affect that area. The Amargosa River that runs through the region begins just north of the town of Beatty in Nevada and flows South through the Amargosa Valley, China Ranch, Tecopa and ends at Badwater Basin in Death Valley, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. Though the river is not the kind that we would normally think of, it is a river that for the most part runs underground and in some locations pops up creating lush oasis and marshes. It is in these areas that trees and lush vegetation can be found.

Shoshone, California
Just North of Tecopa we reach the hamlet of Shoshone a popular rest stop for people heading in or out of Death Valley. The little town is rich with history that dates back well over 150 years. Shoshone like its sister community Tecopa were important rest areas for miners who worked in the countless mines throughout the area especially the major borax works of Death Valley. It was also an important watering hole for the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad that connected many of the small mining communities throughout the region.

Mastodon exhibition at the
Shoshone Museum
Every time I have driven into Shoshone the town has been full of activity with tourists taking in the sights, eating at its famous restaurant the "Crowbar" or fueling up. It is also a great place to see motorcycles and is quite popular with hog loving bikers. The town also has quite a museum which is full of great little exhibits. The Shoshone Museum is housed in the towns original general store and gas station. The building was built in 1906 and subsequently moved a few times before being permanently located in Shoshone in 1920. The museum also houses a "Mammoth" wing which exhibits an amazing collection of paleontological artifacts from several digs that took place in the area in the 1980's. If you want to see real mastodon bones this is the place to see them. The museum also has a well stocked store with lots of books and literature. Anyone who knows me well knows I love my books; goodness knows I could not walk out of this museum without picking up a few books for the road.

Paco at the entrance to
Death Valley National Park
After leaving Shoshone we headed on the 127 North and made a right onto the 178 into Death Valley National Park. Oh before I forget make sure you have plenty of fuel in your car there are no services between Shoshone and Furnace Creek. This was the first time I headed into the park from the South. I usually enter the park from Beatty which is the most dramatic way into the park in terms of elevation change. In either case the beauty of the area is breathtaking and the rock formations definitely catch the eye. I will admit I found myself drifting off the road as I took in the beauty; not something I would recommend.

Ari enjoying the lowest elevation
in North America...
After reaching Badwater Basin the lowest elevation in North America and gazing at the little creatures that live in the brackish water at the site we headed towards Furnace Creek for lunch. The park was unusually cooler than expected at about 90 degrees and the sky was big and cloudless. As always Death Valley is a magical place; a place close to my heart and a place that never gets boring. It is a land of contrasts and extremes and it is a great place to get away from it all.

As we continued our trek towards Goldwell we bid farewell to the park but not before stopping at the Furnace Creek Visitors Center and Museum to get my National Park Passport stamped. From the visitors center we headed north to the 374 toward the Nevada entrance to Death Valley. State route 374 is the way I usually enter the park due to the extremely dramatic change in elevation and of course the view of the dry lake bed which is most stunning. After reaching the peak of the summit towards the parks exit I put the car in neutral and coasted all the way down to the Rhyolite Ghost Town turnoff.

Once we made the turn we headed to the Red Barn Art Center that houses the Goldwell Museums artist-in-residence program. As soon as we parked the car and stretched our legs we entered the barn and I was immediately welcomed by well known Las Vegas photographer and museum board member David Lancaster. After catching up with David for a few moments we met Yulia. Yulia Pikusevich was born in the Ukrainian city of Kharkov east of the capital of Kiev. She studied and received her BFA from Rutgers University in New Jersey and graduated with high honors. She completed major artistic endeavors in places like Buenos Aires, Argentina, Taos, New Mexico and New York City.

Into Singularity I become one
with the Nuclear Sun
When you first meet Yulia you are instantly drawn to her energy and enthusiasm. She pulls you in with a great smile and a passion for art. You can tell she has an immensely creative mind and her work is a prime example of what lurks behind her eyes. The minute I saw her charcoal drawings hanging on the walls of the barn I immediately new what I was looking at. Her drawings were perfect renditions of the famous images that were taken during above ground nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site. One of the images was featured in Michael Lights book 100 Suns. I knew the images all too well especially since I served as a trustee of the Atomic Testing Museum at a time when we featured an exhibition on how to photograph an atomic bomb. I asked Yulia why she chose such a subject matter? She explained to me that she got the idea from a man who worked at the Ensenada Cafe in Beatty who explained to her that this was the location of America's atomic testing program.

Paco, Yulia & Ari at the
Goldwell Open Air Museum
What is most intriguing is the fact that Yulia was 4 years old when the Chernobyl nuclear disaster happened. The worst nuclear accident in history that decimated her nation and displaced tens of thousands of people. She grew up just a few hundred miles east of Chernobyl. Amazingly enough she would come to Nevada and be inspired by the same energy that caused such destruction in her country. My conversation with Yulia was amazing because we came to find out that we are both closeted physics fanatics. We talked about everything from atomic particles and dark matter, to black holes and event horizons.

Looking back on the weekend I will say it was definitely worth every minute. Not just did we experience the Great American Outback full of History, Geology, Archaeology, Paleontology and adventure, but spent an enlightening time with an artist that we all should keep an eye on. I am certain this will not be the last time we hear of Yulia.

"The Great Temple of Fallen Civilization" Time Lapse from Yulia Pinkusevich on Vimeo.

For more information about the area please visit these sites...

The China Ranch Date Farm - http://www.chinaranch.com/
Tecopa Hot Springs - http://www.tecopahotsprings.org/ - http://www.tecopaca.com/HotSprings/
Amargosa Conservancy - http://www.amargosaconservancy.org/
Death Valley Chamber of Commerce - http://deathvalleychamber.com/
Death Valley National Park - http://www.nps.gov/deva/index.htm
Goldwell Open Air Museum - http://www.goldwellmuseum.org/
Amargosa Opera House - http://www.amargosa-opera-house.com/
Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge - http://www.fws.gov/refuges/profiles/index.cfm?id=84554

"Man's heart away from nature becomes hard." Standing Bear

Brian Paco Alvarez enculturating Las Vegas into the millennium...

posted by Brian Paco Alvarez, Curator and Chronicler of Culture at


Anonymous Alyson Raeder said...

Wow. Great information, and inspires me to take a visit! Thanks, Paco...

8:54 AM


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