Mollie Doctrow, artist & printmaker

Journal

Mojave National Preserve: Artist-in-Residence

Friday, March 27, 2020  •  Journal

An art residency awarded by Mojave National Preserve Artists Foundation (mojaveair.org) offered me the opportunity to spend one month working in the Mojave National Preserve. April 2019 I spent two weeks in the Preserve, completing the first half of the residency.

Here are highlights of the experience and the project. An exhibition of woodcuts from the residency is scheduled for May 2020. Due to Covid-19 other arrangements may be made.

Through the Flowers: Plant Communities of Mojave National Preserve

After 25 years away from California, I returned to my home state May 2018. California is both familiar and new. Childhood recollections of Palmdale, CA as an expanse of brown dryness and scratchy bramble left me yearning for cool mountains and tropical locales. After 10 years in the Blue Ridge Mountains, circumstances led me to a sliver of central Florida where I lived for 14 years. Living on the Lake Wales Ridge (Highlands County, FL), a semi-desert habitat with several species related to the deserts of the southwest, I have “nearly literally” been drawing my way back home.

Prickly Pear and Palmettos, Lake Wales Ridge, FL

Returning to CA I wanted to know the plants, feel the dryness of the southwest, ramble on rocks and in mountains. I needed to make peace with the desert.

An Art Residency at Mojave National Preserve offered the opportunity for a “deep dive” into the desert.

Evening Primrose, Kelbaker Road, Bristol Mountains

The Project

It is through the flowers that I get to know a place. Prior to visiting the Mojave, I checked out plant guides, blues – purples, reds – oranges, yellows, whites. Some plants were familiar from related species, many were new. As I “wandered” through the pages, excitement built for seeing the plants in their habitats. Showy dramatic plants, interesting structures, “nose-to-the-ground” plants, indicator species, endemic and endangered species. When do they bloom? What are the different habitats? Where are they located? These were the starting points for an immersion into the Mojave Desert.


An April residency offered two weeks in the Preserve during peak wildflower season. Average rainfall at MNP is 8.5″ at higher elevations and 3.5″ at lower elevations. With above average rainfall 2019, April looked promising for wildflower viewing. I was not disapointed. 

Hedgehog Cactus, woodcut

April 2

After settling in at the park ranger dormitory I head out in search of wildflowers. Driving south on Kelbaker Road to Kelso Dunes my botanizing adventure begins. Spots of color catch my eye along the road, Evening Primrose, Wild Rhubarb, Beavertail Cactus, Desert Dandelion, Wallace’s Wooly Daisy, Desert Trumpet, Chia.

From Kelbaker Road I turn right to Kelso Dunes Road, driving three miles to the Kelso Dunes Trail. An expanse of sandy colored dunes rises up from the shrubby creosote scrubland and beckons me to explore. Growing among the native grasses, Evening Primrose are the stars here. 

Evening Primrose, woodcut

April 3

The scent of sage fills the cool morning air. Wispy clouds brush across the cerlean blue sky as I head out to Kelso – Cima Road. White flowers of the Mojave Yucca burst into view, rising up from the creosote brush scrub, spaced out across the landscape, outstretched dagger-like leaves, like desert goddesses protecting their patch of desert.

Mojave Yucca

Continuing on to Mojave Road and turning right on Black Canyon Road, I set out for the Mid-Hills area and Hole-in-the-Wall. A large stand of blooming Joshua Trees will be a good sketching location for another day.

On the way to Mid-Hills the paved road turns into a dirt road, a hard-packed rutted washboard road. Bouncing along, the car vibrating, dodging potholes I keep an eye out for wildflowers. There are no other cars and no cell service. Terror runs through me as the beauty of the landscape overwhelms, the rugged carved mountains, rounded rock formations, gnarly pinyon trees. Greedy eyes want to get out and sketch, everything. Pushing back the fear I pull over to explore. Mojave mound cactus growing out of rocks, Yucca Baccata, Desert Paintbrush.

Black Canyon Road, Providence Mountains

April 4