Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Hayes Adobe - Exploring the Mojave Desert in Southern California

Twentynine Palms, 29 Palms or Twenty-Nine Palms. Any way you look at it, this city in the Mojave Desert in Southern California is indeed "A Beautiful Desert Oasis" and the northern gateway to Joshua Tree National Park. Home to The King of Surf Rock - Dick Dale and Allie Wrubel who wrote the hit song "The Lady of 29 Palms" back in 1947, Twentynine Palms has always attracted artists, musicians and independent folks for generations. It's broad brush stokes of muted colors in coral, wheat and sage set the backdrop to its expansive, remote surroundings. It is truly an Oasis of tranquility and a study in light and form.

My dear friend Karen Shelver turned me on to Twentynine Palms years ago. Stories of her Grandfather's homesteading adventures in the desert eventually turned into a visit when Karen lived out at the Adobe. Hand built back in 1936, it was if timed stopped when I entered the Adobe and the delicious, cool temperature (thanks to the swamp coolers) welcomed me in. That and a tall cold one from Karen!

Sally Sweet and Sandy Shelver
Sally Sweet and Sandy Shelver (Karen's Mum), graciously invited me and my family to stay with them recently at the Adobe so I could photograph the structure at different times of the day. They shared with me a brief history of their parents involvement with the community, as well as their own personal experiences growing up inside this hand made gem which their parents had built back in '36. Sally and Sandy also provided a detailed account of the construction of the Adobe and imparted stories of their parents hard work and determination which culminated in the 3 bedroom structure.

Born and raised in Pasadena, Theodore M. "Ted" Hayes was an educator who became the first teacher and principle for the Twentynine Palms High School. He and his wife Mary move out to the desert and began to homestead in what eventually became The Hayes Adobe.

When Ted and Mary first move out to Twentynine Palms in 1934, they lived at the Legion Hall which, back in the day, only had electricity until 9pm at night. Only on nights where meetings or a dance were held that the light stayed on until 11pm! The only phone in town was at the 29 Palms Inn... You had to be a very resilient, determined and resourceful individual to live out in the desert, much like the residents today.

Eventually, they purchased a 5 acre plot of land from Frank Bagley sometime between 1934 and 1936. Frank had obtained a 160-acre parcel of land from the Federal Government back in 1927. From 1863 - 1977, citizens of the United States had the opportunity to claim 160-acres in the Mojave Desert from the Federal Government if they could prove that they were improving the land within 3 years.

I learned about Frank and Helen Bagley when I purchased a copy of "Sand in my Shoe: Homestead Days in Twentynine Palms" by Helen Bagley from the local Historical Society years ago. It was a wonderful personal story of how The Bagley's began homesteading in the desert and I was fascinated by their tales of strength and survival, much like the tenacity Ted and Mary Hayes showed in building a life literally from the ground up. My friend Karen had noticed the book at my home and began to tell me about her Grandfather and his homesteading adventures in Twentynine Palms.

Hand building each brick, Ted and Helen began to construct the Adobe and eventually got high school students and friends like Bob Saunders to help in the construction of the their home. Manure and straw were added to the clay to strengthen the material. Unfortunately,  when it rained, it literally used to melt any exposed Adobe mud and they would have to start building bricks all over again. The mud itself was hauled up from the dry lake in what now is occupied by the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center. They teated the Adobe with linseed oil to seal it and then painted it white with blue trip about two feet up from the ground. The main part of the house was livable within a year.

Hand hewn local timber was carved to make the doors, roof supports and lintel beams. Ted also hand forged and hammered the door handles and hinges. The very impressive fireplace heating system was something that Ted called a Heat-a-lator and worked by thermal conduction. Cold air would enter the vent near the floor, which then went up behind the heated bricks of the fireplace and warm air was release into the room through the hand built vents in the wall.

The unglazed brownish-orange terra-cotta roof tiles were also hand made by shaping the clay over the workers thigh. Sandy showed me one which had the impression of seams from the workers denim pants embedded in the clay. These tiles were imported from Mexico.

"Daddy's Testimony to Happy Hour" is a lovely organic piece of modern art adorning the courtyard wall. The wall has been added onto over the years and the whimsical patterns and materials embedded in the mud itself, are a testament to the joyful spirit and relaxation enjoyed by each successive generation. Karen had shown me a photograph of the wall when we first started talking about her Grandfather's Adobe and it was this creative wall structure that intrigued me the most. The spirt of independence and creativity thrived out in the dessert and I wanted to see it first hand!

Wallace in the desert

Hand made Adobes out in the Mojave Desert is one of the reasons I love visiting Twentynine Palms. It's as if you are allowed to go back in time and live a slower paced life, unencumbered by modern distractions. Sleeping in a structure made of earth IS grounding and gives one the sense of being closer to nature than ever before. This lovely Adobe erected during the depression is a gift Ted and his wife Mary created not only for themselves, but for future generations to enjoy. A place where you can stop awhile and let time and light wash over you.

Many thanks to my dear friend Karen Shelver for sharing her family and their history with me and to Sally and Dick Sweet, and Sandy and Jack Shelver for being such gracious hosts out in the desert.

May their pioneer spirt live on!

Julie Pavlowski Green
July 5, 2014


  1. hey, this is fabulous! let's go there!

  2. I have had the privilege to be a guest of Sandy and Jack at this house. A wonderful experience!