Desert Dreamers: Cabot Yerxa 2

Cabot’s Old Pueblo Museum in Desert Hot Springs

Yesterday I wrote about Cabot Yerxa the writer. Today I turn to his Pueblo Museum on Desert View Avenue in Desert Hot Springs, a city a few miles north of Interstate 10 and Palm Springs. Other than the various spa hotels, the Pueblo Museum is the only real tourist attraction in that community. According to the pamphlet handed out at the museum:

Cabot’s vision is alive and realized in his 35-room, 5,000 square foot Pueblo built entirely of found and repurposed materials. Everyone who wants to see first-hand what can be accomplished with the three R’s—reuse, reduce, and recycle—will be in awe as they walk through the museum and home of Cabot.

In addition to the Pueblo itself, there are a number of outbuildings on the grounds, including a trading post, tool house, and meditation garden, to name just a few. The visitor can take a one-hour docent-led tour of the main Pueblo building, and easily spend another hour looking around the complex.

Cabot built the Pueblo later in his life, starting in the 1940s and continuing for most of his remaining years. Where most architects put together a plan to which they more or less adhere, Cabot did it the other way around. The size of the rooms had more to do with the building materials he had on hand at the time. Many of the windows, doorways, and stairs are unusually narrow or small. He justified his practice by referring to the Venturi Effect, which is usually applied to fluids, but which can also be applied to the movement of cool air in a desert building. In fact, the tour I had last Friday on a hot morning was remarkably cool in this non-air-conditioned structure.

Image of Eagle on Pueblo Wall with Narrow Window

There was no Home Depot or Lowe’s around for Cabot to buy standard windows and doors. Everything was based on found materials, as for instance in the window illustrated below. Usually, comfort on hot days in the desert is achieved by expensive air-conditioning: It is remarkable that Cabot’s Pueblo is actually quite livable. Even in West Los Angeles, where I live in an old uninsulated apartment house, the three windows facing the setting sun can heat the place up to 90º Fahrenheit (35º Celsius) until the middle of the night. Imagine what that would do in the Coachella Valley in August!

Check Out the Crude Bars and Barbed Wire on the Above Window

Although he traveled around the world more than most desert rats, Cabot Yerxa did know the desert from deep personal observation. That’s one of the reasons I am enjoying his book, On the Desert Since 1913.

 

Cabot Yerxa: A Life in the Desert

Cabot Yerxa as a Young Man

In that great migration westward that characterized the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, there were many men of genius such as Mark Twain, who wrote Roughing It; Frank Hamilton Cushing, the ethnologist who studied the Zuñi Indians of New Mexico; John Muir, the great Scottish-born naturalist; and Cabot Abram Yerxa (1883-1965) who, in discovering the eponymous springs of Desert Hot Springs (DHS), embarked on a fascinating life full of creativity at every turn.

Today he is mostly remembered by a school in DHS named after him, but most especially for the pueblo he built of mostly found materials in imitation of Hopi pueblo architecture.

The Cabot Museum in Desert Hot Springs That Served as Yerxa’s Home

Last Sunday, my brother Dan and I attended a Mexican Day of the Dead festival (more about which in a following post) at the Cabot Museum. There were unfortunately too many attendees for us to take the guided tour of the inside, so that will have to wait for another visit.

When Yerxa first settled in DHS, he had to walk thirteen miles to the nearest known well. Using a dowsing stick, he discovered a well on his own property and commenced to dig. What he found were the first hot springs. That was fine for bathing, perhaps, but not for drinking. Taking up his dowsing stick again, he located another possible candidate and, this time, found cold water not too many feet away from the hot springs. DHS is right on the San Andreas fault, so there is a large underground aquifer in the area that is being replenished by runoff from the surrounding mountains.

The Pueblo Contains Many Examples of Pueblo Indian Art

During the 1950s, Yerxa wrote a series of newspaper columns for The Desert Sun during the 1950s describing his life on the desert. The Cabot Museum Foundation published these columns along with other biographical information in a volume entitled On the Desert Since 1913. In the weeks to come, I intend to reprint some of these columns for this blog.

 

Stuck on Cactus

As I Sat and Rested, I Loved This View

This morning, I returned from a restful and enjoyable weekend with my brother and sister-in-law in the Coachella Valley. It seems that it takes half again as long to return to Los Angeles as it does to leave it. That’s because I usually leave early in the morning, a full hour before rush hour begins. It means staring into the rising sun as I approach Corona, but that lasts less than an hour. As Dan was working on building a home on Friday, I re-visited the Moorten Botanical Garden and hung out there for a couple of hours: It seems I never get bored looking at cacti. Then I went to Sherman’s Deli & Bakery for lunch, and spent the afternoon at a large Barnes & Noble close to where Dan lives. I picked up copies of Henry Green’s Back and Ross Macdonald’s The Way Some People Die. By then, Dan was back, and I drove the mile or so to my final destination.

Saturday was a special day, about which I will probably write a number of postings. In Desert Hot Springs, there is a museum named after and started by Cabot Yerxa, the man who discovered the hot springs at Desert Hot Springs. There was a Mexican Dia de los Muertos celebration, a few weeks before the November 2 date that is the Feast of All Souls in the Catholic Liturgy. Dan and I wandered around the premises, but did not take the tour because of the number of people present. I promised myself to return to Cabot’s Museum and lose myself in the wonderful zaniness of one of those original minds that seemed to blossom in the deserts of the Southwest.

Sunday, Dan, his wife Lori, and I went to see Damien Chazelle’s First Man (2018) starring Ryan Gosling about the space launches that culminated in the U.S. astronauts first walking on the surface of the Moon. The film was so intense that I was not conscious of two and a half hours passing, which I normally would be. I highly recommend this film.