After settling in the Yukka Valley, north of Joshua Tree National Park, for over a year, former Angelnos Kit Williamson and John Halbach have learned some difficult lessons about the high desert.
“Every once in a while, nature reminds you that the desert is trying to kill you,” says Williamson. “I’m thinking of writing a scary movie about it.”
“It’s sometimes like ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ here,” says Halbach, referring to the fierce winds of the desert. “We haven’t seen any tarantulas, rattlesnakes or blood-sucking insects yet, but we know they are there.”
The couple, who got married in 2015 at Keys View in Joshua Tree National Park, have also learned that the desert can be a welcoming environment.
“We’ve met a lot of weird people since we went to the desert, including the owners of Station, The Beauty Bubble, Geode and Gypsum and Joshua Tree Blanket Company,” says Williamson, 36, who has written and acted. Silver Lake-based gay soap opera “Eastsiders,” featuring Halbach, 42, co-starring and co-executive production. “Our two favorite restaurants here, La Copin and Frontier Caf, are both bizarrely owned. This is definitely a big change since we first came here 10 years ago.”
Unlike the famous gay cowboy song “Cowboys often secretly like each other”, it’s no secret that Palm Springs has long been a popular destination for the LGBTQ community. But recently, residents of the high desert – Morongo Valley, Pioneertown, Yukka Valley, Joshua Tree and Twente Palms – say LGBTQ visibility is increasing, thanks to growing interest in the desert during epidemics.
“Today there is a very vibrant and visible gay community here,” says Dave McAdam, founder and co-owner of Homestead Modern Short-Term Rent, who moved from San Francisco to the High Desert in 2003.
“At the time, I was living full-time in San Francisco and had a second home in Palm Springs. Coming from those two very gay-welcoming communities, I felt some real fear about what gay men might get in the high desert – especially in some of the conservative communities here. “She is OK.
Much has changed. Go to the shops along Route 62 and you will be greeted by proud flags at the windows. (You’ll sometimes see anti-Biden “Let’s Go Brandon” flags in the city.) Celebrity dancer and choreographer Ryan Heffington, who lives in the desert, recently started hosting a popular choir dance party at Twentieth Palms Out Late Bar. . Another choreographer, Spencer Leaf, is transforming the cabin of an abandoned house into a dance studio. When gay, masked country-western singer Orville Peck performed at Pappy and Harriet’s in April, station owners Glenn Steigelman and Steve Halterman outfitted the 21-foot-tall fiberglass cowboy Big Josh outside their Joshua Tree gift shop. Fringed mask to match the trademark of the country kroner.
“It came to my high desert cowboy fantasy life,” says Halbach after seeing Peck and Tanya Tucker perform a few minutes from their home.
The couple considered the desert after struggling to work from home in their one-bedroom apartment on Silver Lake during the epidemic. “I was writing the script in bed,” says Williamson. They were also inspired when they saw their friends making a living for themselves in the Yukka Valley: Ryan Carrillo and Luke Prusinski opened the Castle House Estate Glamping Campground, and Erica Bears and Rebecca Slivka took over the Hicksville Trailer Palace.
At a time when many Los Angeles residents are buying desert properties for weekend getaways and Airbnbs, Williamson and Halbach decided to make a big change in their lives and move to the desert all year round. “We were priced from LA,” says Halbach.
Finding a home was not easy. After losing several properties due to all the cash offers, many of which were 100,000 at the asking price, the couple purchased a two-bedroom homestead cabin on five acres in February 2021 for $ 475,000.
Can two gay city slickers live on the dirt streets of a desert town just a few doors down from Alpa’s farm?
It took some adjustment.
“The previous owner worked hard to make the house livable and comfortable, and we came in and made it gay,” says Williamson, who is currently in post-production with “Unconventional”, the television project he created and stars in it, Joshua Tree and Shot in Palm Springs.
To make the house a home, or what they call their “Homo Homestead”, the couple invested $ 50,000 in the renovation of two bathrooms and upgrades to the property, including the Joshua Trees and Chola Cactus outdoor living space (there is also a coyote den behind the bone-filled property). ).
The house has all the elements of what is called a “Mid-Century Modern Meets Bohemian Cowboy”: rattan, leather, gold, metal and natural materials that blend into the scene. The new wood burning fireplace supported by the graphic concrete tiles of Villa Lagoon Tiles adds warmth, just like the pink tiles from the concrete collaborative in the kitchen.
Behind the house, there are now plenty of places for lunching, including a covered patio and outdoor dining room, three of the couple’s favorite sunset viewing hammocks, a 1950s camper trailer they ran across the country on “EastSiders”. Aqua-blue-painted cowboy tub from H2O Tank Avenue.
After many people moved to the desert, it became difficult to find a contractor. “It was a saga,” says Halbach, director of social media at Q. Digital, a media company owned by LGBTQ. ‘We met four contractors. Instead of trying to recover, we wallow in our sadness and thus, experience more failure. We became owners-contractors and managed the property ourselves.
Joshua Tree Pride events that took place on the 18th
- Collective show of works by LGBTQIA + artists, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Beatnik Lounge’s Quirted Art Gallery.
- Patio Pride Dance Party, 4pm, 3pm Mermaid Parade with SplashDown, Station
- The Desert Split Open Mike: Choir Voice, 5 to 7 p.m. Joshua Tree Lake RV and Camp Ground
- Proud party with local DJs, from 8pm to midnight, little pony
The cost of many materials, including wood, is skyrocketing during construction. “We built a mini-deck that cost more than we thought,” says Williamson. When they hired someone to install a tile accent wall on the outside of the house, the workers did not know how to grout the tiles. “I was madly googling ‘how to do tile work’ and spent the next two days completing the project,” says Williamson. “We’ve been really helpful.”
Avoiding supply chain problems, the couple shopped at several local stores, including Geode and Gypsum, Acme 5, Cactus Mart, Joshua Tree Blanket Company, Black Lock Vintage and Los Angeles-based bands. They also picked up tiles from the San Marcos Concrete Collaborative and brought them back to the desert in a U-hole, and assembled modular furniture from the burrows themselves.
The couple said they missed their friends in Los Angeles but were not alone. “Surprisingly, we met our neighbors on this dirt road more than on Silver Lake,” says Williamson. And besides, it’s a place people want to visit. Another bonus: for the first time in their adult lives, they have a dishwasher, a wash / dryer and, most importantly, a place for visitors to stay. Their parents live in Mississippi and Minnesota, and the couple has been visiting since they moved.
“Surprisingly, we met more of our neighbors on this dirt road than we did at Silver Lake.”
“We have room for our parents,” says Williamson. “It’s really special to have them share this.”
Growing up in Jackson, Miss, Williamson found it amazing to be in the full circle. He says, ‘I have never seen myself return to the countryside. “But then the bizarre people have always been pioneers, and I think that’s the beginning of a new chapter for the high desert.”