I once again find myself blogging direct from Palm Springs. As some of you might already know, each spring the company that Patrick works for hosts a week long conference in Palm Springs, and I’ve tagged along each time because who can resist staying in Palm Springs for a week? And despite visiting Palm Springs every March for the last six years, I am still finding new things to do!
This year I traveled a short distance outside of Palm Springs to Desert Hot Springs, another resort town in the Coachella Valley that has a great number of spas, but what many don’t know is that Desert Hot Springs’ reputation for being a health resort town is all thanks to one man, Cabot Yerxa. Today Yerxa’s legacy lives on at Cabot’s Pueblo Museum.
Cabot Yerxa lived a colorful life. Before arriving in the area now known as Desert Hot Springs, he set up shop selling cigars and other goods to the gold miners of the Alaskan gold rush. Then he decided to homestead in the desert in 1913, but his endeavor was cut short by the Great War, and he became a doughdoy, followed by a brief stint at Académie Julian in Paris in 1925, before returning to continue homesteading.
But it is before World War I that Yerxa makes the discovery that changes the landscape forever. He dug a well just outside the small home he built and discovered hot mineral water, and just on the other side of his property he dug another well to discover fresh cold water. This, he believed, could be nothing short of a miracle, and he dubbed his land Miracle Hill.
After a divorce, and inspired by the Native Americans of the southwest, Yerxa begins what is best described as a folk art man cave. In 1941, using only salvaged items, dirt and concrete, Yerxa starts to build a stylized fantasy version of a pueblo, a place he plans to be a museum featuring Native American items from various tribes (many of which are still on display), as well as an artists retreat. Today, Yerxa’s passion for Native Americans and art is ever present in the museum, as it features many of his own paintings, several of which are of Native Americans. It should be mentioned that Yerxa was interested in all different kinds of tribes, for example, while he did the exterior with obvious Hopi influences, many of his paintings feature Native Americans of the Great Plains.
Some of the construction is purely decorative. As you can see in the shot of the back, portions of it are just a facade akin to a film studio backlot. And the oddly shaped window panes highlight Yerxa’s use of repurposed items, choosing to make unique windows rather than recut the glass.
In 1945 Yerxa met and married Portia Fearis Graham, who he was so enamored with he built her her own private quarters within his little pueblo, and today many of her items are on display, including this charming hat!
Yerxa passed away in 1965, Portia moved away, leaving the property abandoned. But soon the pueblo found new occupants, hippies, who turned it into a commune. It is easy to see the appeal, a sprawling compound with over 5,000 square feet and 35 rooms. The now successful resort town of Desert Hot Springs wasn’t all too thrilled over the new residents, and soon deemed the building uninhabitable and condemned it, throwing out the hippies and had the wrecking ball at the ready. This is when Cole Eyraud, one of Yerxa’s friends, steps in. He saves the structure from demolition by purchasing it, and doing restoration before donating it back to the city as a museum.
If you ever find yourself in Desert Hot Springs or Palm Springs (it’s about a half hour drive from Palm Springs), I recommend taking a visit to Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, especially if you are a fan of large scale folk art. To learn more, including cost, length of tour, hours, and to make reservations (which I recommend, my tour was full, which made photography very difficult!) please visit Cabot’s Pueblo Museum’s website.