Wonder Valley Rave Shack!

I love the desert for many reasons, but mainly for all the squirrely little hidden outposts and enclaves you stumble upon when exploring its depths. You never know what you’ll find out there!!

Last week, I was all pissy because I blew off a friend’s invitation to go to a “German techno rave shack” in the desert in favor of going to the Cee Lo show, which sucked ass. Thankfully, the party never really ends out there at that funky little shack…so my friend invited me out again, yesterday, for a small dinner party and sleepover at said shack.

heading out to the unknownI wasn’t sure what to pack, since he kept cryptically describing it in his text messages as a “shack” or a “lean-to.” “Well… should I bring a tent?” “No, it’s a lean-to!!” he replied…like, “DUHHH! Who the hell brings a tent to a LEAN-TO???!” Well, I don’t know about you, but I haven’t spent the night in many lean-tos lately…so I had no idea what I was in for! I packed a sleeping bag, my toothbrush and my pipe, and pretty much headed out there in a state of ignorance.

The PalmsIt was a 3-hour drive from Vegas, down near Twentynine Palms, so I had plenty of time to wonder about it as I cruised along. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of a dinner party/sleepover at a techno rave lean-to with two Germans living in it. My mental image of a lean-to is like a little shed you keep your firewood in, leaning against the wall of your house. Maybe my friend was being facetious, and it was really a swanky estate?! In any event, I loooooooooove surprises and weird stuff, so the suspense was right up my alley.

I was supposed to meet my friend at this bar called The Palms, located in a place called Wonder Valley. Wonder Valley!!! How fabulous is that?! Google Maps found the address with no problems, but when I got to the desolate roadside bar, it was closed (come to find out they are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, darn it). So my friend (Fabian, from the unicorn/Elvis thing) met me on the corner by the community center instead, and led me the rest of the way from there.

O…..M….G! We rolled in right around golden hour, when the sun is low and the light is all warm and fuzzy…and by golly he was right; it was a lean-to! A sort of mega-lean-to — a sort of palatial, Mad-Max-meets-Georgia-O-Keefe-by-way-of-the-Manson-Family-lean-to. Fabulous!!!!!!!

The rave shack is inhabited by these two crazy German artists from Berlin, who come out there every January to escape the miserable German winter. We’ll call them Hans und Franz. When we rolled in, Hans was away in town stocking up on pudding cups at the 99cent store in Twentynine Palms (they are both obsessed with pudding cups. Literally obsessed), but Franz greeted us warmly and we all went up this wacky wrought-iron spiral staircase to the roof, where we sat and watched the beautiful desert sunset. Fabian had brought a shitload of fabulously ripe grapefruit with him, so as we sat there and chatted, Franz squeezed them with his bare hands, making us glasses of delicious, fresh grapefruit juice.

In addition to Franz, Fabian and myself, we were also joined by one of Fabian’s girlfriends from Portland, Ore., a waifish, blond sort of hippie-raver chick with a distinctly Mennonite aesthetic. They kept telling stories about Hans — how they had all gone out “clubbing” at some bar in Twentynine Palms a few nights before, but the bouncer refused to let Hans in due to his unorthodox footwear, which consisted of Adidas shower sandals over a pair of cable-knit MukLuks (!!). In addition, he was said to be polyamorous and addicted to South Park, which he had to watch each night as part of his bedtime routine (after eating a pudding cup). I could not wait to meet this person!

the outdoor gymWell, soon enough it got chilly on the roof, so we all climbed down and had just started to go inside when Hans rolled up with bags and bags of pudding cups. He and Franz are an amazing pair, I must say: Hans is tall, thin and bald, with wispy strawberry-blonde Amish whiskers… and, as promised, MukLuks and Adidas shower shoes on. Franz is shorter and stockier (he’s a weightlifter), with a sort of devilishly cherubic face and the most amazing vocabulary of any non-native English speaker I’ve ever met. They were both amazingly nice people, and fantastic hosts!

sauna!In addition to pudding, Hans had also brought home a bunch of groceries for the dinner party, which Franz was to prepare later on. But first, it was time for sauna!!! Out back in the compound was a rickety little cedar shack, just barely big enough for the five of us, were we all sat naked, cheek to jowl, soaking up the intense heat from the woodstove in the corner. Hans tended the fire, periodically pouring eucalyptus-tinged water onto the rocks to create steam, as he told me the history of the rave shack.

Apparently it was built back in the early ’80s by some jazz bassist, but had fallen into disrepair over the years and was home to one hundred feral cats by the time Hans bought it!! About ten tons of bleach later, the place was fresh and clean sauna!!again, and Hans set about fixing it up a little. The ramshackledy-ness is part of its charm, so he didn’t fix it up too fancy, though. Besides, he only stays there for a few months a year…so by the time he comes back out the following January, it’s already all ramshackledy again anyway.

The main structure was actually pretty solid, built of stucco (or something similar) and wood — sort of one big room, divided into a bedroom area (with a skylight for looking at desert stars), a little kitchen (complete with a propane stove and refrigerator scavenged from an old RV), and a sort of living area with a woodstove that put out a surprising amount of heat.  Every nook and cranny of that crazy house was full of bric-a-brac, knick-knacks, books and assorted odds and ends. It was a insidereally cozy space!

A huge wooden patchwork sort of wall enclosed the house and grounds. Within the compound walls was a warren of weird little corrals, nooks, patios and seating areas, all sprinkled liberally with weird desert knick-knacks and fabulousness. There was an outdoor gym set up for Franz, who takes his workouts very seriously, and a firepit area out back near a grave/shrine dedicated to the artist Jason Rhoades, who used to keep some of his art stuff out there before his untimely death from a cocaine overdose.

back viewOther than all that, there was nothing else around for miles — just the occasional neighbor’s trailer, and a few rusted-out old oil drums and whatnot. It was perfect solitude — the most fabulous desert retreat I’ve ever seen!

Anyhoo, after we couldn’t stand the sauna the showeranymore it was time to shower off in the outdoor (cold) shower. There is a very specific methodology to how one showers off after a sauna at the rave shack — in order to spare your body the shock of the cold water, you first rinse your feet. Then your hands. Then your calves. Then your forearms. Then your thighs, then your upper arms. Then your chest, then your back. Then your “pooossee” and then, finally, your face. They made me repeat all this before allowing me in the shower, and it really worked! Showering in freezing cold water under the desert stars never felt so good!

After sauna, we all went inside and drank wine and bullshitted while Franz prepared a sumptuous feast. That was really good company, I must say — those people were all fantastic! I haven’t had such a good time in at least a week! After we all pigged out on Franz’s delicious meal, Hans was ready for sauna again — apparently he’s sauna-mad, but I was down for it, so we all traipsed back out to the shed and and went through the whole process again. Good times!

the wodstoveAfter that, it was so warm and toasty inside that we all sat around half-naked, drinking and smoking and bullshitting late into the night, as the sound of Dutch techno played faintly yet insistently in the background (Hans had his iPod hooked up, thanks to solar power). Speaking of power, that place is totally off the grid — no running water, either, but a guy with a water truck comes by to fill their tanks now and then.

When it was time for bed, my hosts graciously dragged in an air mattress for me, and I snuggled up very comfortably with my sleeping bag and pipe in the bedroom area. Hans and Franz were so gracious that they gave up their beds for us guests, and they themselves retreated to the guest cottage out back — an even more charming little shack cunningly fitted with two my bedpallet beds and a tiny, dusty old stove. Every corner of that place was amazing, I tell you!!

In the morning, Franz was back at it making blueberry pancakes, while Fabian sliced up papaya and Hans drove over to invite the neighbor woman over for breakfast. The neighbor lady is a total badass Roseann Barr-type, super friendly, and as we sat around eating breakfast and bullshitting in the morning sunshine, she offered to help the boys out with their barely formulated travel plans. Sadly, the season was nearly over, and they were leaving back to Germany soon — Franz was off to L.A. for a couple days first, for half-price night at some bathhouse he likes, and Hans was following him in a few weeks. He had received a surprise call from his cabaret-singer girlfriend, who had been touring Scandinavia and had decided at the last minute to fly to L.A. instead of Berlin, and meet him in the desert.

the fabulous bathroomSince they don’t keep a car out there, they were going to take the Greyhound into L.A., and Roseann offered to drive them to the bus depot in Palm Springs (it was Roseann’s car Hans had used to get the pudding the night before…they’re friendly neighbors). So, everyone got all packed up and said their goodbyes, and Hans invited me to come back next year and stay longer — which I totally will!!!!! I already have it all planned out — I’ll hit the big swap meet in Quartzsite, AZ, then swing up to Wonder Valley and stay at the Rave Shack for a week or three, soaking up the sun and listening to techno while I work out in Franz’s outdoor gym. Hopefully by then, I’ll have saved up enough to have my Scamp travel trailer, and I can set up camp right outside the compound walls and make myself at home. How fantastic would that be?!

**NOTE: I did go back the following year, and it was EVEN BETTER!!! Hans wasn’t there, but Franz (whose real name is Christian) came back with his friend Käpt’n Rummelsnuff — the two of them have an electro-pogo act in Berlin, and they are the COOLEST PEOPLE EVER! They filmed a music video there, and put my sis and I in it as background dancers. Check it out!

the Kelso dunesAnyhoo, back to my story about my first visit. I left the Shack around 11am and headed back toward Vegas. It was such a beautiful sunny spring day, and the desert lay all spread out before me, that I just couldn’t go straight home — I had to stop off at the Kelso dunes, and hike to the top. This is a punishing hike and an excellent workout — the dunes are some 600 feet high, and it’s a real bitch to get to the top! I did it once back in 2009 with my sister, at which time it took us about an hour. This time, I hauled ass and did it in 34 minutes — but it was soooo windy at the top that I didn’t stay long. Just long enough to completely destroy my camera by trying to take video 🙁 Sand got into the lens, and it’s completely ruined now. Booooo! Time for a new point-and-shoot, I guess!

view from the top of the dunes (an old pic, but you get the idea)In any event, the Kelso dunes are known as “booming dunes” because the sand is composed of some kind of silica that makes a rumbling booming sound as it falls down the slope of the dune face — supposedly like the sound of a low-flying aircraft. There are only 10 sets of dunes in the entire world like this! When I hiked them back in ’09 with my sis, I did hear it sort of faintly…but this time, it was too fuckin’ windy, and you couldn’t hear a damn thing. So I just slid down the dune face and got the hell out of there.

But what a fantastic day! And what a fabulous adventure!!!

For more photos of the rave shack, see https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.436654346415438.1073741825.166339516780257&type=1&l=f4d7fac54e

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