Desert X 2019


A few weeks ago, my friend Megan texted me a link to an article about this year's Desert X exhibit, a biennial art exhibit that debuted and last took place in 2017, during our last year at Coachella. I remember meaning to check it out on the way to Indio that year, but the excitement of our #LastChella drove us straight to the polo fields to soak up as much of the festival as possible.

This year, Desert X runs from February 9 to April 21st and showcases 19 artists in a variety of mediums, all using the desert as their canvas. The pieces cover a range of environmental, political and social issues from immigration to climate change, and span across the Coachella Valley, from Palm Springs down to the Salton Sea, with a few pieces in Tijuana and Ensenada this year as well. 

Not wanting to miss it again, Megan and I hit the road, sand storms and Big Horn Sheep crises be damned...

Before You Go

Desert X put out a great free app that acts as a companion for the exhibit, curating the pieces and allowing you to easily pull up directions to each one. I strongly recommending downloading that here before you leave.

The exhibit is expansive and covers a lot of territory. To get up close and personal to the pieces, you'll have to occasionally brave the elements. Be sure to bring layers for warmth, a bandana and sunglasses for sandstorms, and plenty of snacks and beverages for the car! If you're trying to do the exhibit in a day from San Diego, you may be in the car for 8-12 hours.

How To Get There

Before you head out to Desert X from San Diego, you should decide how you want to approach it. Though the pieces are numbered, starting with Sterling Ruby's "Specter" (2) just outside the entrance to Palm Springs, the order in which you see the pieces really only maybe "matters" in a couple of works, like Cinthia Marcelle's "Wormhole" (8a-8f).

(Note: The first piece in the exhibit, Jenny Holzer's "Before I Became Afraid" (1), was shut down because of an outbreak of pneumonia amongst Big Horn Sheep. The Desert X crew didn't want to drive a bunch of traffic to the space where this piece was stationed and further agitate the sheep so it's closed until they find a place to move it. The app will say it's stationed at the Ace Hotel Hub, but it's just so they can tell you that it's closed.)

From San Diego, you can come at the exhibit from one of two ways: from the north starting with Palm Springs, or from the south, starting at the northern tip of the Salton Sea.

When to Go

One thing to keep in mind is that some of the pieces are only open on weekends and some of the Hubs and pieces close before 4pm on weekdays. Also, the desert is a harsh place and two weeks into the exhibit, some of the pieces were already getting destroyed by flooding and winds and sun. The sooner you check it out, the better chance you have of seeing it as the artist probably intended.

If you're trying to make sure you see everything, leave San Diego early (6am-ish) on a weekend day and be prepared for crowds. And if crowds aren't your thing, definitely try to make it before Coachella.

The Experience

One of the best aspects of Desert X is that it feels like an adult scavenger hunt. Not all the pieces are easy or obvious to see from the road. Not all of the directions in the app or on the Google Map are 100% accurate. You're going to be getting out of your car and exploring a bunch. Which is what makes Desert X so great.

Megan and I started on the Palm Springs end and almost passed the exit for the "Specter" twice before we finally pulled off onto a dirt road and hiked through a sandstorm to snap our pics. We tried to drive around road blockages fruitlessly to find an alternative route to Nancy Baker Cahill's "Revolutions" (5a) before learning that it was flooded out. This day was nothing if not an adventure!

The Hubs

While we only made it to one of the three Hubs, Room 119 at The Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, I strongly recommend stopping at one (or all) of them if you can. You'll get a really nice, free program that goes into more detail about the pieces, and getting to Room 119 was a cool adventure in and of itself.

The volunteer curators stationed at these Hubs will also have the most valuable up-to-date information about the pieces, whether or not they're open, and they'll have free state park passes for free parking in the Salton Sea and passes for some of the pieces that require tickets. Also, swag.


While Megan and I didn't end up getting to every piece on our trip, I do have some early favorites. I really loved the "Ghost Palm" (4) and the "Dive-in" (13).  It was also fun getting to stop at all the US-based "Wormholes" (8a-8e), because conceptually that piece seemed pretty neat to me. I hope to check out the final "Wormhole" (8f) in Tijuana soon.

But all in all, the major highlight for me was just the experience in and of itself: trekking around the desert looking for these pieces felt like treasure hunting. I definitely want to take another trip out to see what I missed before the end of this year's show!