Kathrin and Brian Smirke, who own three beautifully renovated properties in Joshua Tree that they rent out through Airbnb, first got involved in Joshua Tree six years ago when property was very inexpensive -- especially for two Los Angelenos who were already flipping houses in LA's Highland Park and were seeing how people were getting priced out of the city.
"Joshua Tree is so close to LA; it's only a two-hour drive which makes it really attractive to people," said Kathrin. "A lot of people who were priced out of LA decided to buy something in the desert. A lot of artists who couldn't afford LA anymore moved to Joshua Tree full time, and that really led to a really creative arts community."
Rose Cefalu is another Angeleno who has found artistic refuge in Joshua Tree. As a photographer herself, her two "Desert Rose" properties -- a main house and an attached but separate garage conversion -- are filled with her own "alternative process photography" (gum prints and cyanotypes that are also for sale), and are both decorated in a design aesthetic she calls “MoBoWoo” (modern bohemian wood).
"There is a thriving art community here of artisans, craftspeople, and builders doing such great work," she said. "Joshua Tree has been a haven for musicians and artists. I think it’s the last Wild West, or was the last Wild West; there are still places where you can hike and drive and see no one for a very long time. I think that, along with the beauty of the landscape and eternal skies, is a draw for free thinkers and artists."
As artists have moved in, new restaurants, design stores, and vintage shops have opened. There has also been an influx of Airbnb rentals that seem disproportionately design-minded, considering this is a town of just 7,000.
When the Smirkes first renovated their Dome in the Desert six years ago, there weren't many Airbnb properties in Joshua Tree. They've since seen the town swell with tourism to the point that now, on busy weekends in peak season, it can be impossible to find a seat at popular places like the Joshua Tree Saloon.
Still, Joshua Tree hasn't quite yet been pushed into Sedona or Santa Fe territory: once-quirky towns that have been so overrun with tourism that they no longer maintain the identity that once made them unique. And people who live in Joshua Tree are trying to make sure that it doesn't.
"There is a very active group of people, artists primarily, that have come here from the city to establish their own community that really are invested in trying to keep it interesting and unique," said Brian. "If they can stay the course, it's possible. There is a dedicated group of people getting involved in its expansion who want to see it maintain that interesting desert charm."
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