Saturday, April 7, 2018

Miller's Spring

- David Breeckner, Interim Executive Director

Old Highway 80
The Imperial Valley is a place steeped in history – from its beginnings as a part of the Gulf of California to the many appearances and disappearances of Lake Cahuilla and the Salton Sea, from the indigenous Kumeyaay to the first settlers, and from the old stagecoach routes to the current I-8. Few, however, remember a unique piece of local legend: the story of Al Miller, his garage, and an infamous tourist trap – Miller's Spring.

Hiking the old highway
On Sunday, April 1, twelve hikers set out from the Imperial Valley Desert Museum for an exploratory tour which retraced the origins of Miller's garage and Miller's Spring, and their mutual history with the valley's evolving highway system. Walking along the cracked concrete surface of the old highway, US 80, hikers began their day at 8 o'clock from the site of Miller's second garage – a massive, but derelict site still visible to anyone driving westbound on the modern I-8. Their goal? To hike from Miller's second garage to his first, and from that first one, to retrace the original footpath he had installed, up a nearby hill, to the site of his namesake spring.

US-80 first came to the Imperial Valley in the late 1920s, receiving a designation in 1926 and opening in 1927. Its concrete remains are still visible today across the western Imperial Valley and eastern San Diego counties, often seen winding alongside the current road in reflection of the early stagecoach trails.  Miller came to Ocotillo from Mountain Springs.  It was in Ocotillo that he built a garage in 1933, running a brisk business towing drivers and their cars up the grade to Jacumba.

Climbing Miller's trail
Not content with a single venture, Miller created a walking path that led from the back of his original compound along US-80, up a nearby hill, and to a site he named "Miller's Spring."  For the price of a dime ($1.92 by today's rate), Miller would let visitors rest and stretch their legs before their journey up the grade to the west.  Following a path lined with white-painted stones, still visible today from the eastbound lanes of I-8, visitors would summit the small hill to discover a truly remarkable site: a bench constructed from an old car frame and its rusting, SPRING suspension.

Did we mention the day of the hike?  In true April Fool's Day fashion, the twelve hikers that set out on the IVDM's Director's Hike, led by Interim Executive Director David Breeckner, were treated to one of the region's earliest long-standing practical jokes.  For a requested donation of 10 cents, the day's hikers followed in the footsteps of Miller, retracing the lost history of the area and adding their own part to its story.

Miller's Spring: one of the region's earliest long-standing practical jokes.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Start Your Tortoises!

-Neal Lucas Hitch, Artist-in-Residence

David Breeckner, Dan Evers, Neal Hitch bring statue into museum

This week the museum officially began the final stages in completing our next piece of desert-sized art. On Wednesday, March 28, a group of fourth graders from Meadows Union Elementary School in Holtville visited the museum as part of our regular field trip program.  Little did they know that, in addition to studying rocks, they'd be working with them!  Together, these students applied the very first tessera (a small stone used in constructing a mosaic) onto our Giant tortoise sculpture that will be installed outside on the museum grounds.

The Tortoise sculpture is the culmination of a long collaboration between the Desert Museum and Rainforest Art Project, and funded through a grant by the California Arts Council. The core of the sculpture is a lightweight concrete and foam tortoise that was fabricated by craftspeople at Rainforest Art Project. Starting this past Wednesday, the concrete base will now be covered by thousands of colorful stone pieces -- all hand-applied by elementary and middle school students from across the Imperial Valley. The result of their work will be a three-by-seven foot radiant tortoise watching over the museum grounds.
After one field trip, the shell is well underway!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Concrete Beginnings

 -Marcie Landeros, Education Coordinator
The concrete base for this amazing sign was poured today! Thank you Home Depot! 

Today was a very exciting day, both for the museum and for me personally. Today we poured the concrete for the foundation of a new sign that will be placed at the off-ramp of the I-8, in Ocotillo. This sign will welcome visitors to the museum and guide them up the road to the driveway. This project has been driven by our community, and it brings me great joy to see it continue to move forward.

Gibson & Schaeffer's cement mixer, pouring a concrete base
This project has been in the works for quite some time. The grant through IV Community Foundation was given in December of 2015, and was then supported by the Imperial Valley Board Supervisor Jack Terrazas. The sign was designed by The Rainforest Art Project, over the course of a year. During the 2016 – 2017 school year, I spent Wednesday afternoons at Seeley Elementary where Rainforest staff taught me how to mosaic, and I in-turn taught the students.

Marcie with Home Depot crew, watching the concrete pour
The finished concrete base: the beginning of the final step for our new sign!
Home Depot not only donated the supplies for the pour, but also provided the museum with volunteers. Home Depot also secured a truck from Gibson and Schaeffer Construction for the pour. Museum staff, board members, and volunteers made quick work of the pour, creating a beautiful foundation for a beautiful mosaic sign. I can't wait until we are inviting Seeley students out here to watch their mosaic get installed!

"Goodbye, Hello!"

-David Breeckner, Interim Museum Director

Today the Imperial Valley Desert Museum made its first steps toward the next stage of its development and offerings.  A group of dedicated volunteers came together to transform an underutilized and underappreciated facility on the Museum’s grounds into a dynamic work space for future arts-based projects and programs.  Join us in saying “goodbye” to the old Information Center (IC) and “hello” to the new Activities & Propagation Center (APC).

Since the closure of the original Imperial Valley College Museum in El Centro, the IC served as a storehouse and repository of its collections and records.  It held this role for many years, until the construction of the new IVDM  building in Ocotillo in 2008.  From then until 2012, its storerooms were emptied and the artifacts carefully transported to their new forever home at the Imperial Valley Desert Museum.  Since that move, the IC has been listless and often relegated to the background of any conversation.  Many, including some of our own membership and Board, have since forgotten the history and importance of its earliest role!

Now, the IVDM Society, Inc looks to revitalize that same facility, giving it new purpose as an outdoor education and activities space.  Moving forward, we hope to see the APC succeed as a place for dedicated cultural art and science programs.  On a busy day at the Museum, it can be difficult to find the space to run our signature coiled clay program, or to design new mosaic signage and artwork.  It is even more difficult to garden, propagating local plants.  The new APC gives the Museum room to grow in all these activities, and more.

In place of a single building on its property, the IVDM now looks to grow into a multi-building, multi-purpose campus.

Today, a team of six volunteered their morning and afternoon to begin the first stage of its transformation.  Working to the musical stylings of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s and the promise of grilled hotdogs, volunteers swept, sorted, and binned the accumulated trash of the last two decades (and beyond).  Looking forward, the IVDM hopes to continue its work on the APC: repairing its sloped roof, repainting the exterior walls, developing its open courtyard, and to complete its design and installation of a planting space for the propagation of the town of Ocotillo’s namesake.

Our “Community BBQ & Clean-up” series has only just begun!  If you would like to get involved, we welcome you to reach out to Museum staff by email, phone, or by just stopping in. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Super Bowls

-by Anne C. Morgan, Head Archivist/Curator

In honor of Super Bowl Sunday we asked our Facebook followers which of these two ceramic bowls they liked better and promised to give you some details on the winner.  Our local ceramic bowl received the most 'likes' but let's face it: unlike in a Super Bowl game, we're all winners here. So here's a couple of fun facts about these two super bowls.

Ceramic bowl on display in IVDM permanent exhibit
This bowl is on display permanently in the museum's ceramics exhibit.  Found locally along what would have been part of the Lake Cahuilla shoreline, it has small clay 'buttons' along the bowl's neck- possibly for decoration.  It's large mouth probably means it was mainly used to store items- from food like seeds or nuts to fibers that would make nets, clothes, or shoes.

This black ceramic is an example of Chimu pottery, from Peru.  According to Dr. David Breeckner, who has done some research on this vessel, the Chimer Kingdom lasted from about 900-1532 C.E. (Common Era).  It was probably made using a mold: "Molds were made from fired clay that had been formed over an existing object by pressing clay around {[the sample pot] . . .cutting the clay into two, and then removing the two halves."  If you came out to the museum in September/October, you saw this pot in a temporary "Ceramics of the Americas" exhibit.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Marriage in a Museum

~ Marcie Landeros Education Coordinator

Faye and Kennedy Winkler
Neal Hitch performs family joining ceremony
On March 7th of 2017, I got the distinct honor of working on a wedding that was held at the museum. This wedding between Faye and Kennedy Winkler was one of the most beautiful weddings I had ever attended. They were married on the museum grounds, in front of a tall green ocotillo that seemed to stretch it's arms to the heavens, as a cool breeze blew across our desert. I was truly inspired, and could not imagine a more beautiful place to have a wedding. I thought to myself, "Should I ever find myself planning a wedding, I would want it to be here, so it could be as beautiful as her's." I was surprised to find, about a month later, my boyfriend kneeling in front of me, a ring in his hand.

Marcie and Cornelio Landeros
I soon found myself planning my own wedding, and I knew exactly where I wanted it to be. We held it in November, the ceremony in the visable storage section of our exhibit, and the reception outside under that beautiful desert sky. The wedding was everything I could have imagined. Our director held the ceremony that not only joined my life with my new husbands, but also my daughter's. Joining in marriage at the Imperial Valley Desert Museum was truly one of the most beautiful things I have ever done.

Friday, November 3, 2017

An Archaeologist's Perspective: Origins

I didn't start out as an archaeologist.
  Although my background and interests had always been in the past,
 I had grown up a book nerd. 
I had never even considered the possibility of studying history first-hand in the field!

My undergraduate study was done at a small liberal arts college in upstate Vermont.  I was one student in a small department, studying Classics.  I was learning the history and culture of the great Mediterranean civilizations: the Greeks and the Romans.  It was during this program that I spent a term abroad in Athens, Greece.  This period was my first time in Greece, and the first time I would ever see the sites and artifacts of my study first-hand.  I was living in a city thousands of years old, surrounded by a culture that was a beautifully chaotic mix of old and new, taking classes that were taught in and around the ancient buildings themselves. 

I was hooked.  I knew that, whatever my future job, it had to bring me back to this feeling of experiencing and living history.

During this time, I took a one-week tour on the island of Crete, home to the ancient Minoans.  Walking the corridors of the famed Palace of Knossos, I was left speechless at its sophistication and size.  That awe turned to intrigue as I learned just how little was actually known about the culture and its people.

When my term in Greece finished, I returned to my college in Vermont.  I continued my studies in the later Classical civilizations of Greece and Rome.  But I could not forget the mystery and lure of the Bronze Age Minoans.