Thursday, March 13, 2014

Photo Essay: Antelope Valley Indian Museum, Built into a Butte

Southern California is full of stories about people who found a way to live here despite obstacles of weather, water, and terrain: settlers who built homesteads in the middle of the desert and managed to eke out a bit of agriculture from arid land; ranchers who discovered oil, or silver, gold, and granite; mid-century modern masterpieces cantilevered over cliffs in the Hollywood Hills.



Howard Arden Edwards — a theatrical set painter and artist — got 160 acres of land in the Antelope Valley in 1928 thanks to the Homestead Act...



...and built a home for himself and his wife and teenage son...



...into the side of a natural rock formation, known as Piute Butte.



The Tudor-style home (listed on the National Register of Historic Places) is so integrated with the butte...



...that the rear part of the house is literally inside the rock.



As you walk upstairs into the area which now houses Edwards' personal collection of Native American artifacts...



...which he once used as his own museum while he lived in the house...



...you're literally rock-climbing.



It's a slippery, wobbly climb up there...



...but worth it to see the marvel of the house's construction...



...and examples of Edwards' interior design handiwork...



...including some of his painted ceilings. (There are more downstairs as well.)



Outside, there's a nature trail that allows you to explore the surrounding natural area...



...much of which is now operated as a state park.



The wildflowers were blooming, a little (though not as much as at nearby Saddleback Butte State Park).



An old barn and corral, built by Edwards in 1932, are still visible and standing...



...though the museum's subsequent owner, Grace Oliver, moved them from east of the museum to northwest of it.











There are unusual granite rock formations behind the current museum which are also part of Piute Butte...



...once an area of spiritual significance for the various American Indian groups which once populated it.





Some pictographs were once painted on these rocks, but they have severely faded and eroded over time.



A natural amphitheater in the rock formation was used by Edwards to stage annual outdoor pageants, creating a tourist attraction known as the "Theater of the Standing Rocks."



In this record-breaking year of drought, in a season which should be green and flowering but which is too much of a dead, dry brown too early in the year, the arid land is no longer relieved or reprieved by natural springs, which have now run dry. If it doesn't rain, there is no water. There is not enough snow to melt and run down the mountain. With development encroaching on the now barren but once plentiful Antelope Valley,  there are more people needing more water for their showers and dishes and laundry and lawns and gardens and car washes, not to mention for drinking.

There are fewer wide open spaces in Southern California, but they're still out there. The climate and the topography make it difficult to survive in most non-urbanized places, but wouldn't you love to just pick a beautiful spot in the middle of nowhere and just decide to live there?

This is still the Southern California dream, a dream that's still possible, but who knows for how long.