The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

Report From The Desert Research Station


569 CLUI Desert Research Station, out past Barstow. CLUI photo

WORK PROGRESSES AT THE CLUI’s Desert Research Station, located near the city of Barstow in the heart of the High Desert. Recently, improvements to the perimeter were completed, including security signage, and a designated visitor parking area. An additional perimeter fence was constructed around the entire property, to keep the desert tortoises off the DRS land, as the tortoise is a sensitive, threatened species, and could be harmed by vehicles and other activities on the grounds of the DRS. Following the specifications of the Bureau of Land Management, which requested that the fence be installed, the fence is composed of 1⁄4 inch wire mesh, and extends 18 inches below ground, and 30 inches above ground. Any tortoises already on site have been given notice.

Inside the new DRS support unit building, a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, office, utility room, and reading room support activities of DRS researchers working on site and in the area.

571 The periodical reading room. CLUI photo

The periodical reading room is developing, with the assistance of the Prelinger Archives of San Francisco, and CLUI associate Mark Curtin of Texas. There is now a nearly complete set of the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, (later known as the American Geographical Society) 1947 to 1982, and the last few years of Aviation Week and Space Technology, Ground Engineering, and Oil and Gas Journal. A growing video library is available to resident researchers. Videos include The Story of the Colorado Aqueduct, Fractured Patterns: The Story of the BLM, and Secret City: A History of the Navy at China Lake.

Field sessions this season included a class from the Otis College of Design. After a briefing at the DRS, the class visited sites in the region on a tour conducted by Matthew Coolidge of the CLUI. Site visits were made to the solar power plants, the PG&E “Erin Brokovich” compressor station at Hinkley, the Calico Early Man archeological site, the solar-power-plant-turned-into-gamma-ray-observatory, and Peggy Sue’s diner.


572 Moritz Fehr, Heidi Blais, Ron Clark, and Chris Csikszentmihalyi, among the many who have put in time at the DRS this last season. CLUI photosResearch projects at the DRS this season included a low altitude aerial reconnaissance vehicle, created and operated by Chris Csikszentmihalyi of the Computing Culture Group at MITs Media Lab. Small-scale testing was conducted at the DRS, while a full size model was tested and flown at nearby Harper Dry Lake, joining other historic aircraft R&D projects conducted there such as Northrop’s flying wing, and Howard Hughes’ D-2, a precurser to his YF-11 high altitude surveillance plane which he crash landed into Beverly Hills.

New trees, native to the region, were planted at the DRS to provide shade and to provide habitat for wildlife. Trees include cottonwoods (Populus fremontii), desert willows (Chilopsis linearis), and Blue Palo Verde (Cercidium floridium). An irrigation system was installed, with the assistance of Deena Capparelli, co-director of the Moisture Project, to water the new trees, and to begin experiments with irrigation elsewhere on the grounds.

573 The new Pond Exhibit Unit in testing phase. CLUI photo

The preparation for the transition of the original DRS building into a regional Landscape Information Center continues, with some of the improvements to the grounds being related to this venue change activity. Eventually, the DRS will be housed out of the new office unit on site, and will share the grounds and the display space with the Information Center. The new Pond Exhibit Unit was leveled and secured, and a small boat was brought out to provide access to the display space when the pond is finally filled. The walking trail is being laid out and points of interest are being constructed along the trail route. A special “landscape perception modification tunnel” is being designed to provide a suitable transition from the interior of the information center to the exterior interpretive grounds.

574 The office (and FM radio installation) in the new support unit building. CLUI photo by Steve Rowell

A small FM transmitter has been installed that broadcasts to receivers located at different points around the grounds of the DRS, enabling researchers that are in residence to have aural continuity while they move around the property, should they need it. The default transmission, played when researchers are absent or engaged in other tasks, is a recording of the inaugural speech of the lecture series of the Long Now Foundation, an organization based in the Bay Area that promotes long-term thinking in research endeavors, and human planning in general, goals that are shared by the CLUI. The speech was given in 2003 by Long Now board member Brian Eno, and it can be heard audibly at low levels at selected points on the grounds of the DRS. An ambient sound, available to anyone who stops to listen.

Researchers will continue to visit and work at the DRS, while CLUI-led improvements to the site will continue through the next year.