We parked the car near The Range, and went north on foot. The path was impassable for the Chrysler, and required us to climb down into and then up from a dry gully. We walked through some trees, and found a clearing fenced in with wrought iron railings, rusted bed springs, and found car parts. Next to the gate was a sign that read “Work In Progress.” I slipped a dollar bill into the donation box and went inside.
The scene was silent and empty. In the heat of day, everyone was inside. Behind a wall crafted from glass bottles and cement, you could see some scattered trailers; living quarters for the resident artists.
The yard looked as if a bunch of adults had gotten fucked up and built themselves a playground. It was a sculpture garden, so full of things that the only bare ground were the paths between the installations.
A huge sign read “Nothing Ever Happens.” To the left of that sign stood a memorial piece… a coffin, decorated with pieces of mirror and old circuit boards. A photo, a skull, a brain, and a guitar were mounted inside. To the side, a sign read “Charles Russell, 1965 – 2011.” On the ground in front of the piece was a plaque made from old computer parts, that read, “Charles Russell lived loved and made art cars.” The message was spelled out in keyboard keys.
Also in the sculpture garden was a huge elephant made from discarded car tires. There were several art cars on the property, and a little dog made from an empty mini-keg with a dog’s skull for the head. A small house, built crooked so that it appeared to have listed and sunk into the desert. A sculpture of a man slumped in a plastic chair, with a pick driven into the rocky ground in front of him. An arrangement of pieces of broken mirror surrounding a pedestal displaying a ceramic mask. A wall of old televisions with messages painted in red and white on their screens.
“You need more stuff.”
“Standards of Beauty.”
“Inaccurate Representation of Reality.”
“Overt Political Distraction.”
This was East Jesus. It was a playground, and Phil and I wandered around in silence. I had never seen anything like it. I went around the sculpture garden at least three times, and I saw new details every time.
The heat pressed us under its mighty thumb and we headed out. Phil held his camera in front of the air conditioning vent to cool it down. It was having problems again… it was well over a hundred degrees out, but the humidity was so much lower here, it felt much more bearable. Maybe it was just such a relief to be away from the stench of the Salton Sea that I didn’t mind the heat as much.
“Thanks for sticking it out to find East Jesus,” I said to Phil.
“Of course,” he replied.
We headed back to Niland and then turned south. At Brawley, we picked up highway 78 and headed east. On the way we stopped at the Imperial Sand Dunes. There were some dunes trapped with vegetation, and a vast active dune field. We pulled in and saw a bulldozer sitting idle, probably to clear the highway of migrating sand. The Imperial Dunes are vast; the largest dune ecosystem in the nation, and is home to several varieties of scarab. A breeze blew through the pullout, and I looked around at the endless peaks of golden sand from my seat in the shade. Phil scurried around with his tripod, taking photos. I pinched some of the sand, drifted on the base of the bench where I was sitting. It felt soft. I took off my sandals and scrubbed my feet in the sand.
Further on, the highway turned north. We were traveling through seemingly endless desert, and storms threatened to the east, dropping a grey veil of rain on the nearby hills. To the west, endless shorn hayfields stretched into the distance, with the same large stacks of bales.
We were diverted by a long row of orange cones into a highway security checkpoint, full of border patrol vehicles. We stopped at the booth, and the uniform inside asked us where we were heading. Phil stammered.
“Lake Havasu City,” I said.
He asked where we were from.
“Bellingham, Washington,” I said.
“Alright,” the uniform said, “on your way.”
After we were well clear of the checkpoint, Phil turned to me and asked, “The obviously foreign driver doesn’t seem to know where he’s headed or where he’s from, and they just let us through?”
“Well, yeah,” I responded, “we’re white. They’re not looking for us.”