This is the place I came so many years ago as a beat reporter on local TV. When I got the assignment, it was actually the first time I had heard the name Cabot Yerxa and realized his life’s work, this incredible Hopi inspired pueblo, existed in Desert Hot Springs. I reported at the pueblo several times, mostly because the property was vacant, had been hit by vandals, and a small outside portion set on fire, then I covered the preservation story of knock it down or restore it. Another visit and story was a Halloween inspired piece on local haunts. That experience has certainly stuck with me for many moons, for reasons I could perhaps explain better over a beer up the road at the Sidewinder Cafe.
The property was eventually gifted to the city and they knew its value and worked to begin the preservation process, not only of the structure but of the vast fortune of artifacts, collectibles, and priceless memories and stories that are one man’s legacy.
Cabot Yerxa was a nomad, an artist, a risk taker…he traveled the world many times over and one night in 1913 he got off the train in the middle of the Coachella Valley desert. There were 100-thousand acres up for grabs, all you had to do is put a stake down and claim your parcel. Yerxa says he followed the North Star that night and walked until he found the spot that would eventually be home.
For the next 24 years he worked to build his pueblo, all four stories, 5,000 square feet,150 windows, 65 doors & 35 rooms. Everything he used was either reclaimed or found materials. That’s why not one window or door is the same size. Yerxa married (twice) here, raised a child, he kept a donkey (named Merry Christmas) as a pet, and pretty much everything is, just as he left it when he passed in 1965.
The kitchen is stocked with food, his cozy sleeping quarters still draped in a blanket, his wife’s set of ancient industrial sized curlers in her upstairs parlor, the narrow stair cases and the phonograph in his living room perched atop a sandy floor. Among many things, Yerxa was a human rights activist concerned with the cultural crisis for Native Americans. He adopted their values, one of which was staying connected to mother earth, hence the dirt floor.
There’s something so primitively special about this place. The smells, the quiet calm, the profound feeling you get that somehow ties you to this time when things seemed so difficult yet were so simple. You can almost visualize the day to day as if Yerxa is still there in the wide open beautiful desert, pondering the afternoon with his wife, or bathing his baby in a washbasin in this sun-drenched land of promise.
The story of Yerxa, his family, his simple fortune, and his findings is fascinating and there’s so much more to hear. And he wanted you to hear it; his dream was for his creation to be forever shared with the public. A visit to Cabot’s Pueblo Museum should be in your future so you can be 360 with the story.
As if this guy Cabot wasn’t cool enough, his home is on the National Register of Historic Places and he’s also credited with discovering the now famous natural mineral waters in Desert Hot Springs.
I love knowing his home still stands in this valley that has always been my home. It’s so unique and truthfully not many locals know it’s here.
Honorable mention goes to the little shop on the grounds. It’s curated beautifully with Native American jewels, extraordinary pottery from differing tribes, handwoven textiles, finger puppets of various adorable creatures etc. Truth is, I don’t often leave without taking a little piece of Cabot Yerxa’s dream with me.
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