Solar Culture Gallery – Jackrabbit Homesteads

by Mark Hahn

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Opening Saturday 27 September 2014

6-9 PM

My work in this show:

Solar Culture Gallery is located at 31 East Toole Avenue, Tucson, AZ

East of Twenty Nine Palms California, north of Joshua Tree National Monument and at the far end of Wonder Valley, the desert opens up and California State Highway 62 seems to stretch out and lead you into forever. There is a place along this road where the rugged landscape is dotted with curious tiny dwellings. These are the Jackrabbit Homesteads. There are hundreds of them. No signs tell you who built them or for what. It’s easy to imagine they are the remnants of some sprawling Utopia that has been long lost to the winds. Maybe I’m just always looking for a personal Utopia, but that’s what I see. A place to escape to.

Part of me looks at these little homesteads and dream of moving in. Part of me would like to leave everything behind. You can stand on the threshold of any one of these structures and imagine a beautiful alternative life. A simple life free of all the trouble and struggle that seems to go with every day.

In the 1940’s, thanks to the passage of the Small Tract Act of 1938, people could stake a claim to small parcels of land in this region and take ownership if they built a dwelling on the property. These homes were mostly scooped up by urban dwellers in nearby Los Angeles who were looking for free vacation property. Many of the homes were built by hand by these claim stakers. You could buy minimal homestead kits. These pet projects were basically the stuff of dreams.

People like the idea of using their own two hands to build their way to freedom. I imagine the homesteaders had the same sense of purpose as the men who spend their nights building boats or airplanes in their garages. Blow up the garage to get them out. There are many routes to freedom. At this point in my life, I would like nothing more for than to slow down and settle into somewhere peaceful – maybe it’s just a place in my mind.

Unfortunately, most of the land in Wonder Valley is barren and the ground dry. Water had to be transported in. Utilities were not available in many areas. Dreams die. After the romantic thrill of ownership faded, so did the enthusiasm. People slowly abandoned these places. Life went on, but theses little dwellings stand as monuments to simple dreams.

Left in tatters, the last standing Jackrabbit Homesteads still provide a place for me to place my own transitory dreams. A place for a new beginning. A place to find peace. To get there, you have to start from the road that you are already on. In this case, it’s Highway 62.

For further thoughts on the concept of home and minimal living, see my article This Must Be the Place. For further information on the Jackrabbit Homesteads, check out this website.

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