Paradise by the Dashboard Light
PHOTOGRAPHY Daniella Rech
There are some places on Earth that speak to a less ordinary kind of romance. Places that kick up dust from the darker corners of the imagination. Places that hover on the fringes, where extremes are left to swell, unmoderated by ‘civilised’ society. Poetic in a way that rings a little off key – haunting notes of myth and magic and some kind of eerie spectral quality that leaves you unsure of your co-ordinates in space-time. This is the Californian desert. Out there in the immensity of that stark landscape – where the air is so still, so silent – no dream is too surreal to be real.
You begin to feel it as soon as the highway turns dusty and sparse on the road out of L.A. Suddenly they appear: the towering wind turbines spinning frantically like proud sentinels of the soaring, arid hills. For miles it’s just them, four wheels and a road. The farther you go, the smaller you feel.
Louis Vuitton Cruise 16, Bob Hope Estate, Palm Springs
Drive on, deeper into the harsh dry heat of the Mojave and hopefully you’ll arrive at Joshua Tree at the tail end of the day when the sky rains gold – a thousand burning embers brushing the dust – and everything changes. From the top of the undulant jumbo rock formations, the vista casts an unnervingly wide net – the scale is humbling, muting, and there is nothing to do but sit and be. Thoughts are too loud. Even the snap of a camera seems an obnoxious violation of the spirit of this place. If you’re still enough, you can feel it all beneath you, the ancient boulders – formed more than 100 million years ago – channelling a charge from the Earth’s core, slowing the pace of your breath, dulling the volume of your head.
Back on the burnt, endless highway towards Landers, an even stranger phenomenon beckons – apparently the doing neither of man nor nature. In between nowhere and nothing sits the Integratron: a big white dome said to be located on sacred Native American ground and built in 1959 by a guy named George Van Tassel according, he said, to the exact instructions of extraterrestrials (from Venus, specifically). Book in advance and for a small fee you can lie on a mat in the cranium of the structure and receive a healing ‘sound bath’. Gongs and crystal quartz bowls siphon celestial vibes through the humble human form, promising to deliver you to a higher frequency, if not another dimension entirely. It will likely make good on that promise for at least an hour afterwards and set the tone for the next encounter of the third kind: the ghost of the desert’s own ‘Riviera’.
PHOTOGRAPHY Anna Harrison
After a brief heyday in the 1950s and early 60s as a resort town and celebrity hotspot, the Salton Sea grew too saline and inhospitable for holidaymakers and fell quietly into obsolescence. Now, a wretched sulphurous stench thickens the air and for miles the fleshless bones and dried-up scales of perished sea life coat the infertile desert sands with a crust of decay. From afar it appears innocuous, even beautiful, like coarse white sand. But up close it’s unmistakably the broken and pulverised evidence of life, ended. The place is an eerie half-world, desolate, abandoned. Left bereft. Possessed of a strange and singular beauty. The place that almost was. Created and destroyed by the heavy hand of man. Beside the ruins at Bombay Beach, looking out over the glacial sea as the light descends to dusk, there appears a spectrum of colour you’ve only seen on screen, as if every life that ever ended gave its soul to that scene. Death is everywhere. Here you stand on the edge of existence and feel, as never before, your own very real mortality.
Don’t stay too long; what’s good for the soul isn’t always good for the mind. Take what you need and head straight back to Palm Springs, that Lynchian desert oasis made of kitsch Hollywood nostalgia. Check into the iconic Parker hotel where everything is a perfectly staged Slim Aarons frame: immaculately manicured rising hedges and snaking pathways, palms webbed with hammocks, a fire-pit encircled by a wall of ferns, unlit meeting nooks that feel strangely illicit and, of course, croquet. Here, from the insular world of glamour and gloss, weirder and wilder terrains fade back into those darker corners of the imagination, tucked away for another day. Order a cocktail by the pool, stare up at an eternally cloudless sky and let it all be a dream. A perfectly surreal Hollywood dream.