Helping Create a High Desert Art Retreat in Joshua Tree

My friends and I first traveled to Sky Camp for my birthday in July last year and left enchanted with Kimberly and the space she had created. We discussed the existing art exhibits onsite and somewhat jokingly suggested that we’d like to each make a mural at Sky Camp, too. Nine months later, the same group of us returned to do exactly that, which is only the start of ideas that we’ve begun to spin about future art and women’s outdoor retreats in Joshua Tree.

My two best friends and I sat in a shipping container in the middle of the desert outside of Joshua Tree, talking to Kimberly – our desert muse. We spoke about nature, about the power of women, of art and the power the desert has to bring us together, all while gazing at a freshly painted wall of psychedelic prickly pears. It was our last day of a four-day retreat on Kimberly’s property, and we were doing all we could to postpone our departure.

Her Hipcamp oasis is filled with the work of various artists with whom she’s made a connection through hosting and being active in the desert community that is Joshua Tree and the Mojave.

We first learned about this enchanted space while looking for a place to escape for three days to celebrate my birthday, one year prior. I had just discovered Hipcamp via a good friend at work who always knows about the coolest Internet resources before I do. I was impressed with the options available – but immediately and viscerally drawn to Sky Camp more than anything else.

We booked a three-day stay and met Kimberly at the start of our weekend adventure. She was lovely, dawned in overalls, carrying a huge furry pup with her, and gave us a quick tour of the property.

“Here’s the big shade structure. You’ll need it in this heat. Use the hammocks underneath and the outdoor shower to cool down whenever you need. The views are incredible from everywhere; feel free to hike anywhere around the hillside, just don’t touch the water tower or we’ll all be in trouble.”

She explained the intricacies of the existing art pieces and we mentioned that the three of us visiting are all artists as well. We talked loosely about creating an installation of our own and having a few days of retreat up in the high desert, away from it all. I honestly thought it was hyperbole, because I didn’t see myself worthy at the time of such an honor.

Our birthday weekend trip was full of outdoor adventure; hula-hooping, hiking, exploring, cooking, astrophotography and camping all around Sky Camp and Joshua Tree National Park. We braved the heat and were brought together by the trials of almost running out of gas while trying to take the scenic route, running out of cold beverages more quickly than we could keep up with, and the like. We left feeling bonded and inspired, with a desire to return.

Kimberly and I kept in touch first via Instagram and the Hipcamp platform, and eventually through email as well. I sent one of my best friends her way while she was on a solo trip through Southern California, and Jessie and Kimberly totally hit it off in the same manner, discussing art, nature, and ladies who love the outdoors. I told Kimberly about the 6-month road trip I was planning… a vanlife-esque exhibition in my converted CR-V. I wanted to plan a retreat at Sky Camp again, regardless of whether it involved creating an art installation or not. As we spoke about the inspiration behind the trip and mission going forward, to promote awareness of public lands and learn about nature, especially the ecosystems of the desert, our plan unfolded. Kimberly used to work for the Mojave Desert Land Trust and is just as passionate as I am about protecting public lands and learning about the tough life forms in the desert. She has done so through many works of advocacy and art, and just one phone conversation was enough to light a fire in both of us about the possibilities.

After some further time and collaboration, we set a date, discussed desert botanical art options, and gathered all the materials needed for our 4-day retreat. It was the same core group of artists and best friends that returned with me to Sky Camp in April: Claire, Eric and Jessie. I had been on the road for three weeks already by the time we met up at Sky Camp; so it was a very welcome reunion to see their faces again in one of my favorite places. Two bonus members joined our crew; Cory and Adrian, whom I met backpacking in New Mexico during the first week of my trip! They are fellow young van-lifers, which is harder to find on the road than you might expect. Kimberly came to greet us with a huge smile and even bigger hugs, while we discussed color palettes, inspiration points, and how our pieces would work with the existing paintings throughout the property.

Jessie painted a series of Brittlebush portraits – from buds to mid-bloom to full bloom. She used surrounding plants on the property to guide her Michelangelo style roof painting, standing on a ladder for several days to paint the ceiling with the phases of her flowers.

Claire created a banner of eccentric fruits, coloring the kitchen area with dancing watermelon, peaches, cherries, strawberries, citrus and her favorite – avocados. The final piece matches her personality perfectly, happy and bright and just ‘in-your-face’ enough.

Eric painted the four corner poles supporting the shade structure in his favorite style of topographic reminiscent line work and colors. Each pole had a different color scheme and pattern, that all blended well with each other and the pieces by Claire and Jessie.

I was given a large wall space inside of the shipping container that separated the ‘hang out’ half from the storage half, complete with a shelf and surrounding benches and chairs. I drew inspiration from a cactus illustration I had seen, as well as the Insta-famous hashtag #plantsonpink. I used many layers of a custom-made pink with green spray paints and finished with hand painted black and white lines that gave the wall just the right amount of contrast. The magic feminine desert-y energies seem to radiate from that painting the minute that you walk into the space.

Between our hours of painting, the crew and I splashed around in our ‘infinity pool’ with a sweeping valley view, danced our little butts off to our favorite tunes, visited the local coffee shop, diner, and thrift stores, shared some great meals together in the kitchen, and hiked the neighboring mountain at dusk and meditated as we watched the earth rotate away from the sun ever so slowly and colorfully.

It’s hard todescribe the energy that Sky Camp brings to a weekend, a group of close friends, a work of art, or even something so simple as a bonfire or a shower. I continue to return to the word “magical”, and I’m not sure if this magic comes from the desert earth, the hostess extraordinaire, the art left by visitors past, the company of best friends and kindred spirits, or the will of the Universe. I suppose they are all involved in their own mysterious and perfect way, and anticipate that we’ll be brought together for a bigger and badder Sky Camp “Joshua Tree-t Yoself” weekend sometime in the near future.

“She’s an adventure looking for a place to happen.”
Clare Maney is an artist, outdoorswoman, and public lands advocate, on a 6-month journey in her CR-V. Follow along on Instagram.

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