Mojave Desert Homesteader Cabins

Mojave Desert Homesteader Cabins

About 150 miles east of the hype and glitter of Hollywood lies the barren and spacious wasteland of the Mojave desert. It is an enormous desert dotted with the abandoned remains of missile test facilities, mines, and mothballed airliners. J.G. Ballard could find plenty of inspiration here. After a huge earthquake in 1992, geologists have been investigating a magnetic anomaly called the Emerson Lake Body for clues to the cause of the quake. In one corner of the desert lies the weird and wonderful Joshua Tree National Park containing some of the most beautiful desert scenery in the country. It inspired rock music giants U2. Surf music legend Dick Dale lives here. In another overlooked corner lies Homestead Valley.

During the 1800s the USA was in the midst of a land expansion boom. The federal government was giving away homesteads to citizens who promised to move and develop land in the wild west frontier. By the early 1900s, all of the arable land in the western half of the USA was occupied. But the momentum of the homestead movement was so strong that it bounced off of the west coast and back to the interior. Homestead Valley in the Mojave Desert was one of the last places in the "lower 48" where the federal government granted free homesteads to anyone who was willing to improve the land. At a minimum the homesteader was obligated to build a home and plant crops. As you can see many homesteaders built tiny cabins and it is really hard to imagine any crop growing in this desert. The Mojave homestead movement received another boom after World War II when many returning veterans jumped at the opportunity.

Now it seems like the idealism and hope of building a farm has given way to the realities that there will never be enough water in this desert for crops. Most of the homesteads now lie abandoned. Although it looks like the work of vandals, these buildings are really being torn apart by the searing heat and relentless wind that rips through this desert. Some have even shifted off of their foundations. There are still some homesteads occupied in this area. These residents seem to have nothing in common with each other. You can find a dilapidated "desert rat" shack surrounded by debris just down the road from a neat and prim home of a former veteran complete with a flagpole bearing the stars and stripes. Some residents live in a humble unassuming homes while others live in a 20th century survivalist compounds wrapped with barbed wire and patrolled by angry mean looking guard dogs.

I didn't photograph those occupied homes. These vacant shacks were much more interesting. These were down payments on an evaporating dream. Stakes in the ground claiming an uncertain future.
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images copyright bart c. thielges