I was born and raised in Paramount, right in the heart of LA near Compton and Lakewood. I met my husband Abel when I went to work at Bethlehem Steel. My husband had been raised in Brawley in a desert hotter and not nearly as scenic as this.
I was 18-years-old when Abel and I got married, and I was one of the first three women to be hired at Bethlehem as a mill worker. Bethlehem Steel used to make ships and bridges and things, and it employed almost 30,000 workers.
But then Joshua Tree had for a while been piquing my family. In the early 40's when they were offering homesteaders free 5 acre parcels in exchange for building a cabin on it, my mother tried to convince my father to do it.
My father said, "Who would ever want to live in the desert?" At the time, my grandfather had already been living here for 10 years.
When my grandfather--a former LA police officer-- came here in the 30's, there was only a dirt road from Banning on--probably going for 30 miles. He was a well-known character who made his own beer during prohibition and ran the cabins now known as Willie Boy's restaurant in Morongo Valley.
So, we'd visit my grandparents on the weekends and in the summer and, while working around noisy, hot machines at Bethlehem, I kept thinking and dreaming of hiking around the hills behind their old house.
When Bethlehem Steel closed in 1981, Abel and I started looking for a place to buy in Joshua Tree. A place we could rest ourselves into. When we looked around, we found a house on the north side that had just been finished. It was a 2 bedroom with a new water tank, a septic system, electricity--all of that. But when we came here to see this little cabin on La Contenta Road, I was sold. The real estate lady was trying to convince me to buy the other one. They were both listed at the same price: $24,500.
I told her, "No, I want this one; we can get a toilet later."
The Thunderbird Lodge Retreat, located on La Contenta Road and comprised of four fully restored homesteader cabins, is the product of this history of the land and its inhabitants, of its seekers and sojourners. It is desert life turning to face itself and learning to respect its natural home for its plenty as well as its dearth.
The Thunderbird Lodge Retreat takes its inspiration from upcycling, believing that out of apparent scarcity can emerge the plentiful and the aesthetically interesting. Out of old, previously discarded things can be conceived new lives. In our cabins you'll find a dresser turned into a kitchen island, a bed frame turned into a fireplace mantle, and seemingly useless scraps of granite pieced together to create unique tiling on the floors, walls, and countertops.
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