High Desert Handbook

The insider’s guide to one of California’s hottest zip codes. (Seriously, it hits triple digits by 9 a.m. here.)

desert handbook
Emily Underwood

Howdy, partner! Welcome to your new home (or second home, or Airbnb investment) in the High Desert. Whether you’re here for a bender or a lifetime, you’ll surely find the “Hi Dez,” as it’s called, or “Joshua Tree,” as it’s not called, to be everything you could ever Instagram.

Now that you’ve flipped your first property and they know you at the Home Depot, you might think you’ve got your sand legs. But navigating this tricky terrain and blending in among the carpetbaggers, utopia seekers, serape-draped opportunists, energy drink millionaires, drunk bachelorettes, microdosing idealists, and Jason Momoa can be disorienting at first, especially if you’ve taken mushrooms and can’t find your friends.

As with many super laid-back communities, fitting in here is virtually impossible, but there are a few things you can do to smooth your transition from city person to High Desert dweller—or at least make fewer enemies while parking your Land Rover at the Groce Out.

With a little luck, and a lot of mezcal, you’ll become a vital part of Mojave society in no time.

This article appears in Issue 22 of Alta Journal.

Meet Your New Neighbors

Cultivating a desert look will help you blend in. First off, anyone who can should grow a beard. Additionally, pick up as many vintage tees and Wrangler cutoffs as can be found at the Spring Valley Swap Meet. Most important, load up on the turquoise and cowboy wear. You can never have too much.

desert handbook man
Emily Underwood
  1. $5,500 Stetson Diamante hat
  2. Randolph aviator sunglasses
  3. Tight, trimmed beard
  4. Buck Mason camp shirt
  5. Waxed safari jacket
  6. Hash-infused pre-rolls
  7. Rolex Submariner (swapped among several other selections every few days)
  8. Buddha beads for spiritual balance and turquoise rings
  9. Tiny Pony duck nachos stain
  10. White Double RL jeans, ironed
  11. Vintage Red Wing boots
  12. Bighorn sheep belt buckle
  13. Keys to some of his Airbnbs and his Land Rover Defender
  14. Cholla-handled Buck knife for opening Amazon packages
  15. Leica camera in a Billingham camera bag to take some pics of his girlfriend on some rocks
    desert handbook woman
    Emily Underwood
    1. Rag & Bone floppy hat with a brim diameter of at least 22 inches
    2. Garrett Leight sunglasses
    3. 24K gold pot leaf pendant necklace
    4. A mélange of astrological and aquatic-life tattoos
    5. Pressed juice bottle (on day 2 of Beginner cleanse)
    6. Copy of Women Who Run with the Wolves for her book club
    7. 200 mg edible, Oracle cards, glitter
    8. Handmade deerskin pouch
    9. Christy Dawn maxi dress
    10. Dior Birkenstocks

      You’re Going to Need to Get Around

      Sure, your reclaimed Acacia golf cart might be fine for putting around Pioneertown, but it probably doesn’t have a windshield, and it certainly won’t get you to Palm Springs. You’ll want something that can go from dirt road to highway in blazing heat, monsoon rains, and up to one inch of annual snowfall but still looks sharp pulling up to the sound bath. Here, to inspire you, are a couple of cars commonly seen around the High Desert.

      2016 subaru crosstrek hybrid with 80,000 miles
      Emily Underwood

      2016 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid with 80,000 miles

      • Mojave Desert Land Trust bumper sticker
      • SiriusXM the Bridge (or toggling between the Bridge and ’70s on 7)
      • Jug of Harris Scorpion Killer
      • Dream catcher
      • Khruangbin concert T-shirt as seat cover
      • Dog hair
      • Sand
      • Bottle of wine from the Under $20 table at Desierto Alto
      • Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap in peppermint
      • Leftover Jicama Wraps from low-desert Trader Joe’s run
      • Joshua Tree Coffee cold brew in reusable cup
      • $5 Pizza box
      • Ryobi Cordless Multi-Tool for removing “go back to la” stickers from the mailbox
      • Melting vintage vinyl from the Landers High Desert Record Fair
      • Border collie with bandanna
      • Two disgruntled Chihuahuas
      • Spliffs

        land rover defender in balmoral green
        Emily Underwood

        Land Rover Defender in Balmoral green

        • City of West Hollywood parking pass
        • Russell Brand’s Under the Skin podcast
        • Homemade pea-milk matcha
        • Vegan coconut energy balls
        • Discontinued bone broth from the Grocery Outlet
        • Deus ex Machina trucker hat
        • Mario Badescu rose facial spray
        • Car humidifier
        • Full complement of off-road recovery tools—unused
        • MedMen bag
        • Psilocybin mushrooms
        • Collagen peptides
        • Aesop hand sanitizer
        • French bulldog that has 10K Instagram followers
        • Selfie stick
          Emily Underwood

          Overheard in Yucca Valley

          These are the sorts of things you’ll hear out and about. Use any of them to sound like a local at your next full-moon cuddle puddle.

          “What kind of scorpion killer do you use?”

          “I’ve never had their vegan taco. Is it cauliflower or mushroom?”

          “No, the bakery is closed on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. The coffee place is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The brunch place is open from September to December. That place? That place is never open.”

          “Dirt or paved? Sewer or septic? Gas or propane? Pellet or wood? Swamp or split?”

          “Rimrock? Where is that in relation to Home Depot?”

          “One crawled up my dress. Right up my dress. I was sitting outside, in front of the firepit, and I felt this prick…”

          “We just closed on a few out in Landers that we’re gonna Airbnb until we flip.”

          “When it gets really hot, they run into your house. And when it gets really cold, they run into your house.”

          “Three hours for a Lyft? That can’t be right.”•

          Stacey Grenrock-Woods is a regular contributor to Esquire and a former correspondent for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
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