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Columnist Sarah Jane Woodall: Big fun in Wonder Valley

<p>Sarah Jane in Wonder Valley</p>

Sarah Jane in Wonder Valley

Vegas is a lone outpost of civilization surrounded by desert. At first glance, the Mojave is empty wasteland … but if you explore, you’ll find it’s actually full of amazing hidden gems.

A couple weeks ago, a friend told me about a “German techno rave shack” in the desert near Twentynine Palms, Calif., where a couple of techno-obsessed German artists spend their winters. “Hans” and “Franz” were celebrating their last day in the desert before flying back to Berlin, and my friend invited me to come meet them for a dinner party. I loaded up my truck at once.

I found myself in a fantastically desolate place called Wonder Valley, in the windswept no-man’s land between I-40 and I-10. The Germans’ ramshackle desert compound bakes in the sun, cobbled together from plywood and corrugated tin, with a sort of Mad Max-meets-Priscilla Queen of the Desert aesthetic. And sure enough, I could hear the faint strains of techno music emanating from within.

I was greeted by Franz, a cherubic bodybuilder-type who ushered me up a rickety, wrought-iron staircase to the roof, where we watched the beautiful desert sunset as our host squeezed ginormous grapefruit into glasses with his bare hands, feeding us fresh juice. Before long, all the stress and turmoil of Vegas had melted away.

After the sun went down, we headed back down in time to greet Hans, returning from a supply run to stock up on pudding cups (they love pudding cups). Unlike stocky Franz, Hans was beanpole-thin, tall and bald, and wore rubber Adidas shower shoes over cable-knit mukluks — a style that had gotten him barred from the nightclub in Twentynine Palms.

Along with pudding cups, Hans had one other obsession: sauna! In the rear of the compound was a tiny cedar shack with a wood-burning stove, into which we all squeezed for a little steam before dinner. Of course we were all naked, because if there’s one thing Germans love, it’s the desert … but if there’s another, it’s nudity. Hans poured eucalyptus-tinged water on the hot woodstove, and we enjoyed a healthy schvitz. Then we showered — it was fantastic to bathe in the open air under a million stars and the cold stream from a water tank.

After that, Franz set about whipping up a fantastic gourmet meal — pudding cups aside, those Germans ate really well. With just two gas burners and a little propane refrigerator salvaged from an old RV, he whipped up a masterful meal of curry, sautéed spinach and spiced meatballs. And he did this all completely naked — we were all so warm from the sauna that no one put many clothes on for the rest of the evening. Why bother?

After dinner, we sat around smoking and drinking wine, bullshitting into the wee hours, as Dutch techno played faintly yet insistently in the background. Hans’s mukluk kept time to the beat as he expounded on life, love and liberty, each thought punctuated by a long, world-weary, “Jaaaaaaaaa …” Neither he nor Franz really wanted to go back to Berlin, but Franz had cinematography work waiting, and Hans had a Swedish girlfriend prodding him toward commitment.

But they had this one last night, and we all shared it. It wasn’t a rave; it was something even better: a sort of mellow desert happening, tinged with curry, marijuana smoke, existentialism and pudding cups. You can have your Electric Daisy Carnival, I’ll take Wonder Valley any day!

In the morning, Franz made blueberry pancakes and we all packed our bags to return to the real world. I was sad to leave Wonder Valley, but in the words of another famous Teuton:

I’ll be back!

Sarah Jane Woodall keeps teh beat on her blog at wonderhussy.com.