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18 Apr

Finding Wonder Valley, Part II


So, this was the plan:

  1. Find a vacant piece of land in or around Joshua Tree.
  2. Buy that vacant piece of land!
  3. Build a studio and a cabin and use them for PROJECTS.
  4. Live and work happily ever after.

It was a pretty good plan, we thought. I was keeping track of vacant land for sale on Trulia and Zillow and narrowed some choices down to about a half dozen that looked promising. We printed them all out, stuck them in a file, and drove out to the desert on a Saturday morning in February.

We promptly discovered a couple of things. For starters, it’s not uncommon for a vacant land listing to refer to a piece of land that you actually can’t even get to. So, you see a listing for a piece of land that looks amazing – “beautiful view! own your own hillside!” – and then you try to find it and you discover that, oh well, it doesn’t actually have a road going to it. It’s somewhere way back over there, and even if you wanted it, you can’t have it, because you can’t get there. And if you can’t get there, you can’t use it. So. That eliminated a couple of options (after much confused four-wheel driving up and down barely graded desert roads. Which we would end up doing more than once, but at least in later instances of this we were doing so with more information and a pretty firm understanding of our own idiocy.)

We also discovered that the Morongo Basin – the area surrounding the north side of Joshua Tree National Park, that we had thought of broadly and generically as ‘Joshua Tree’ – covers a pretty big area. It includes Morongo Valley, Yucca Valley, Pioneertown, Joshua Tree (the town), and Twentynine Palms. It kind of includes Landers, but not quite Johnson Valley, although Johnson Valley is pretty cool. It includes Wonder Valley, which is in the postal zone of Twentynine Palms, but which is actually really its own place. It could take DAYS to cover all of it, even with a targeted list of places to drive by.

And we discovered that we really didn’t know the area as well as we thought we did. We know the park really well. We’ve spent a lot of time in the park. You want to know where to camp, where to climb, where to hike, where to find the coolest secret spots, where to find the Yucca Man in Joshua Tree National Park – ask us. But if you want to know – as we did – where to buy property, ah, well. Different story. Driving around the valley outside the park, we very quickly discovered that we had no idea what we were doing. We knew that we wanted to be away from the developed parts of the valley – we really were looking for rural – but that didn’t narrow it down, really. It eliminated Morongo Valley and Yucca Valley, but that was pretty much it. Most of the rest of the Morongo Basin is pretty undeveloped, once you’re off the highway.

All of which is to say that we realized pretty quickly that we should probably, actually, you know, talk to someone. So we called a realtor. Which you’d think we’d might have done earlier in the process, but no, we had our apps and our determination and we figured that’d be enough. But although those things went a really long way (all hail Trulia, Zillow, GPS and caffeine), it wasn’t far enough. So we called Sharon.

(What we did, basically, was call the number that was on what seemed to be every single sign in the area, because if you were going by the signage, you would think that she was the only person realtoring [?] in the area. She had a LOT of signs. A LOT. Like, on every corner, on a landscape that doesn’t even have corners, in far-flung, windblown, tumbleweed-strewn places where you wouldn’t even expect to see real estate signs, never mind dozens of them. At some point Kyle said “I feel like we could sit down to watch The Martian again and this time we’d spot Sharon Rose signs sticking up out of the rocks next to abandoned spacecraft.” If sheer sign-planting power was any indication of value, Sharon Rose was probably a good bet.)

Sharon did turn out to be very helpful, in that kind of gruff, no-nonsense way that underscores for you that you have no idea what the hell you’re doing. First of all, she told us, we shouldn’t be looking for vacant land. Because given county building restrictions, we could forget about building tiny cabins or wee studio spaces on vacant land. Second of all, we shouldn’t even be thinking about that area over there, or that area over there, because we just shouldn’t. And maybe scratch that one other place off the list, too, because the neighbor on the next parcel over has a tendency to come outside with her gun when people get too close to her property. And had we thought about water? Power? Had we thought this through at all?

We hadn’t, not really, not at that point. All we knew was, we wanted a piece of the desert for ourselves. We wanted it for a number of creative and mission-driven reasons as well, and we had a good sense of what we’d need to realize those, but when it came to the question of “where?”, all we knew was desert. Sky. Horizon. This place.

But this place was and is a very big and complicated place, and so things were going to be a little more challenging than we’d thought.

Next up: we found a place. Actually: places, plural. But they didn’t work out, but then they did, and then they didn’t, and holy doodlebug this shit is hard.