They’ve bought homes, opened up boutiques, and even started a flea market. From Yucca Valley to Twentynine Palms, the communities that line Highway 62 through the Mojave Desert have attracted newcomers from Echo Park, Silver Lake and other Eastside neighborhoods.
“We started calling [Joshua Tree] ‘Silver Lake East’ because we’ve been seeing more and more people from our old neighborhood out here,” said Joshua Tree resident and former Silver Laker, Glen Steigelman.
Steigelman and partner Steve Halterman own The Station, a 1949 service station has been transformed into a kitschy souvenir shop near the Joshua Tree National Park Visitors Center. Towering over the shop, aptly named The Station, is a 20-foot bearded fiberglass cowboy beckoning visitors toward the small bohemian oasis.
A few miles down the road in Yucca Valley, artist and former Echo Park boutique owner Kime Buzzelli now operates The End, a clothing shop that has gained popularity for its funky mix of new and vintage clothing, chachkies, and walls of colorful instagrammable murals.
Buzzelli, who closed the doors to her Echo Park vintage clothing store, Show Pony, in 2009, left for Yucca Valley in 2011 after growing tired of seeing her long-time neighbors be displaced by unaffordable rent increases and replaced by an influx of newcomers who weren’t willing to integrate into Echo Park’s long-established Latinx community, she said.
“I love the tourists I meet,” said Buzzelli. “And everybody that comes in is new and from all over the world, so there’s not as much pressure as there is in L.A. to constantly remake the store or heavily curate it, it can be layered, eclectic and wacky.”
Despite the steady flow of newbies to Joshua Tree and the surrounding Yucca Valley, Buzzelli still describes the area as the “wild west” with a “local yokel” vibe. “It was lonely out here but you start collaborating with other people and it makes your life more interesting,” said Buzzelli who hosts artists pop-ups and other events at The End.
Fiora Bose, who splits her time between Silver Lake and Joshua Tree, has recently started hosting “Silver Lake Flea in Joshua Tree” pop-ups at The Station.
“The people moving here are bringing an OG Eastside vibe,” said Bose. “Most are artists coming to focus on their work because the visuals are amazing - the desert and the Salton Sea - it all inspires so many different types of cool artwork.”
The small town of about 7,400 residents now boasts a monthly art walk with 8 participating galleries. More than 70 artists are listed on the Joshua Tree Visitors Guide website, but the artist refuge in the desert isn’t always so welcoming to newcomers, Bose said.
"People forget that the desert is alive and it really has a way of weeding out the weak. There is extreme heat and extreme cold and people often find that it isn’t what they were hoping for,” Bose said. “And the people here aren’t always so welcoming - it’s kind of like ‘do your time and maybe we’ll talk’, so nobody really discusses that they’re from the Eastside, it’s unspoken.”
Like Bose, Halterman and Steigelman retain their connection to L.A. The couple’s plan to retire in Joshua Tree was expedited after they found their dream home in 2008 and made the move to the desert in 2011. But they still hold on to their apartment in L.A. as a place for Halterman to crash when he occasionally commutes back to L.A. for work.
“It would be hard to 100 percent separate from L.A. We’re going to keep our apartment out there for as long as we can,” Steigelman said. “I miss the food and being able to see any movie that’s out, but we’re meeting more and more great people and our circle of friends out here just keeps getting bigger.”