“I’m sorry.” I can’t tell you how often that is the response when I tell people where I live. They don’t understand that it isn’t the wasteland they’ve imagined.
I live in the Victor Valley of San Bernardino County, in the eastern half of the western Mojave Desert of Southern California. Sometimes called the High Desert to distinguish it from the Low or Sonoran Desert It’s a cluster of small to medium size communities: Victorville, Hesperia, Adelanto, and Apple Valley.
Yes, it is a desert. Yes, it gets hot in the summer (it’s 105o F as I write this today.) In the winter, it can get cold; sometimes there is even snow.
The landscape is vast and covered with low chaparral and Joshua Trees. You know you’re in the Mojave when you see the tall shaggy yuccas. Mountains on the southern horizon can be snow capped from November to March. In the spring, when there is adequate rain we have a fantastic display of color as the desert comes into bloom.
And yes, there are things to do here, in spite of the refrain, “There’s nothing to do here.”
This weekend, I headed west into the Antelope Valley. This is a segment of the western Mojave is in Los Angeles County. These Los Angeles “bedroom communities”, dominated by Lancaster and Palmdale, are still known for agriculture and the aerospace industry.
I needed to take a look at some things as I polish the final draft of The Princess of Sweetwater.
My first stop was in Lancaster at the Western Hotel Museum, operated and maintained by the Lancaster Museum of Art and History. It also is the office for the local genealogy association. Open on the second and fourth Fridays/Saturdays of the month. Admission is free. Built in 1874 the two story structure is the oldest still standing building in Lancaster. As I wandered the hall and climbed the narrow stairs, guided by the docent, Amanda, I could picture my characters spending the night here before crossing the desert.
My second stop was in Palmdale. I headed to the William J. McAdam Park. The park is small and well shaded, but my purpose here wasn’t to have a picnic. On the park grounds is the Old Palmdale Schoolhouse. Built in 1886 (or 1888 depending on source) as the school for the children of Palmenthal (Palmdale’s original name), a German Lutheran community. When the school closed in 1908 it was moved to Lancaster and was a private home, then in 1960 it was relocated to the park. The one-room schoolhouse is in disrepair and cannot be entered, but you can walk around it and peek into the windows from a distance. The architecture is simple with decorations typical of the late nineteenth century. The peeling white and green paint, a reminder of when it acted as someone’s home. From the glimpses I got through the windows, it appeared the two-thirds of the building was the calls room. The back third seemed to be a storage room filled with old desks, but my sources tell me it could have also acted as an apartment of a teacher.
My final stop returned me Lancaster and the Antelope Valley Indian Museum State Historic Park. I hadn’t visited this museum since I was sixteen. At that time the museum was privately owned by Grace Oliver. What I remembered was there were boulders in the main room and it chockfull from floor to ceiling with artifacts. It is now part of the California State Parks system and is open on weekends. Admission is $3.00. The Tudor-revival structure that is built into the rocks was constructed by H. A. Howard in 1928 as his home and incorporated his collection of Native American artifacts in a museum. The museum is very casual with thousand-year-old artifacts sitting out on tables and mantles. The walls painted by Howard are beautiful murals and colorful pseudo-kachinas.
The State Park Rangers and the docents are very knowledgeable about the history of the area and the artifacts collected from all over the American Southwest. The docent on duty this weekend was Darrell. He shared the history, showed pictures of the building under construction and answered questions with enthusiasm.
Warning: because to the unique construction of the building you are walking on the rocks of the natural butte. This makes the stairs very uneven, and the museum loft floor, The California Hall, difficult to navigate. With my short little legs, I had difficulty with some of the steps.
There is a short, thirty-minute nature trail also on the grounds. It is best done in the cooler parts of the day in the summer as there is little shade. The sandy terrain is unsuitable for most wheelchairs, but they do have an all-terrain non-motorized wheelchair that you can borrow.
The State Parks schedule weekend and evening activities for families. On the day I was there was a visiting artist from New Mexico with jewelry she had made from ghost beads (juniper seeds), beads and turquoise.
An upcoming event that looks well worth the trip is their annual American Indian Celebration, October 15 and 16. Admission will be $8.00. There will be artists, musicians, dancers, storytellers, food and kid’s activities. I plan on going; maybe I’ll see you there.
At this point in the day, it’s now getting hot. The weather app on my phone said it was 103o F and the afternoon winds were driving dust devils across the desert floor.
Even though I grew up on the beach, I like living in the desert. There is so much history and natural beauty; you don’t need to apologize. I’m sorry you don’t live here.