The Mojave Desert in California is awesome to behold. Literally awe-inspiring.
Granite mountains stand watch above vast seas of desert scrub dotted with Joshua trees. Swathes of seasonal wildflowers create intoxicating waves of color. Stoic sand dunes and crazed playas stretch-on for miles. And when the night approaches, the yellows, indigos, and cyans of a Mojave twilight put the beach to shame.
Couple all that with low population density (with just enough civilization to keep you comfortable) and it’s easy to understand why the desert has been a haven for artists and bohemians for decades.
Of course, with its position between Los Angeles and Las Vegas (and the fact that it graciously plays host to military installations, music festivals, and tourist-driven communities like Palm Springs), the highways that criss-cross this gorgeous part of the country have become riddled with billboards and all manner of cheap visual entrapments for travelers.
As part of this year’s Desert X, artist Jennifer Bolande helps the desert reclaim some of that visual confusion in a series of installations along the Gene Autry Trail. What once were ads for solar panels, weight loss products, and Mike Huckabee are now large photographs of the surrounding desert landscape. Even better, according to the Desert X project website,
“Each photograph is unique to its position along this route and at a certain point as one approaches each billboard, perfect alignment with the horizon will occur thus reconnecting the space that the rectangle of the billboard has interrupted.”
Ironically, these images appear as high-contrast novelties when, in reality, it is the usual pushy advertising that is and always has been the outsider here.
Those typical incongruous marketing columns will no doubt return when the installation concludes, but at least for now, the desert is permitted to reclaim it’s highway-adjacent vistas and remind travelers of the character they so often treat simply as a conduit.