Jackrabbit Homesteading in the Mojave


The Desert Institute presents a virtual presentation on Friday, July 10 at 4 pm on "Jackrabbit Homesteading in the Mojave" with Julia Sizek.

Anyone who has driven through Wonder Valley, in the Morongo Basin, has seen the what geographer Alex Clark called in 1971 the minimum small tract cabin, a twelve by sixteen foot building footprint that barely met the minimum requirements of the Small Tract Act at the time when it was permitted and built under the then-lax rules of San Bernardino County. Today, these cabins are—for lack of a better term—ruin porn—combining the affective pulls of a yesteryear and today’s love of tiny homes with the dilapidation of pastel colors, clean lines, and hantavirus.

In this presentation, Julia will tell you stories of what people thought about what are variously called shacks, vacation cabins, and perhaps most erroneously jackrabbit homesteads, the last of which was a valiant stretch on the part of real estate marketers. This is a story of the manufacturing of a dream that was always-already falling apart at the corners where the house never quite stayed together. That is, the Small Tract Act of 1938--the Congressional action that gave away five acres parcels for new vacation homes--was never quite the dream we think it is now. Even back then, so-called jackrabbit homesteaders and its promoters were trying to use the law to enact their dreams about homesteading that rang equally false then as they do now. This is a story of speculative dreams and their abandonment, and the legacies that they left behind.

Julia Sizek is a PhD candidate in anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research concerns contemporary land use and conflicts over land management in the Eastern Mojave Desert in southeastern California. As part of her research, Julia has worked with a number of local desert organizations, including the Native American Land Conservancy, Coachella Valley History Museum, Mojave Desert Land Trust, and Twentynine Palms Historical Society.