Driving Into The Desert, Part 1: Hicksville, USA
The most splendid adventures rarely go according to plan.
My sister Hillary and I schemed an epic trip into the Southern California desert, visiting a bizarre isolated art piece, staying at a cool and quirky accommodation, and photographing as much as possible. We’ve done stuff like this before. We went to Ljubljana just to see Metelkova Mesto, we went to Watts to see the towers. This trip promised to be the best yet– this time, we were finally making a pilgrimage to a weird piece of Jesus folk art in the desert called Salvation Mountain.
But our adventure also included a wild ride through freakish weather, poorly planned road routes, and creepy trailer parks. They say the journey is as important as the destination; I think this rollercoaster weekend was proof of that.
Hillary was the one who discovered Hicksville, USA. Billing itself as a “trailer palace” in the heart of Joshua Tree National Park, it looked exactly like something we would love—kitschy, silly, and colorful, with an archery range and themed lodging.
We’d been talking about an adventure to Salvation Mountain for years, and figured it would have to be an overnight excursion—it’s quite a drive from LA, and we wanted to take our time along the way. So Hicksville fit the bill perfectly; we would stop there overnight, and head on to Salvation Mountain early the next day.
Giddy and naïve, we blasted out of LA under the December sunshine, car-dancing to Kanye West and Turkish pop. I don’t drive—I can, legally, but Hillary wouldn’t let me even if I wanted to—so I played navigatrix and DJ. It was a long way, but we were full of enthusiasm, even as LA faded away into barren desert hillside and endless highway.
The drive took longer than we anticipated. We turned off the main highway towards Joshua Tree as the golden hour hit, and found ourselves slowly making sharp turns on dirt roads. (It occurred to us that if the car got stuck, we were very screwed.) We pulled into Hicksville’s lot at last, relieved to finally start the kitschy, silly part of this adventure.
Here’s the thing.
Hicksville is in the middle of the desert, and though Southern California means sunshine all year, mid-December in the desert is very windy and very cold. It’s also not a very popular time to visit, especially on a weekday. We were the only guests there.
The guy running the place showed us to our trailer and gave us a brief tour, then pointed out where he’d be staying—in a cabin way offsite—and left us on our own as the sky turned pinkish and the wind started slowly howling.
Suddenly, standing in the empty campus of Hicksville, we realized how creepy this whole thing was. There was a jukebox playing oldies that we couldn’t seem to change or shut off, and the eerie sound of the music floated over the apocalyptic keening of the wind. Everything that seemed kitschy or fun in theory quickly turned ominous in the emptiness of the desert evening—it occurred to us that we had inadvertently stumbled into the perfect set for a horror movie.
We kicked around for a bit, attempting to photograph in the fading light and taking advantage of a photo booth (which, briefly, shut off all the lights in the building—yeah, we shrieked) before giving in and tucking ourselves into our trailer.
Dubbed “The Fifi,” our trailer was decorated with purple and gold pillows, crystal perfume bottles and chandeliers, and light-up wig head mannequins. (“The chicks dig it,” according to the dude running the place.) We’d brought a picnic spread and noshed inside, playing cards and listening to Serial and attempting to ignore the continuing moaning of the jukebox outside and the rumbling wind. We fell asleep fitfully, trying not to talk about the fact that we were probably going to be murdered in the night.
We weren’t. The desert morning was sunny and crisp, but we were anxious to get the hell out of Hicksville. We spent a little time taking a few more pictures and then jumped in the car, peeling out of that strange dusty wonderland, onward to the real adventure.