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In desert dwellers' footsteps

An Antelope Valley trail and museum offer insights into the life of the native people who once occupied this harsh landscape.

June 01, 2003|John McKinney | Special to The Times

Hiking mixes with history at the Antelope Valley Indian Museum, an intriguing window to the indigenous people of the Mojave Desert and other parts of the Southwest. A museum tour combined with a mile-long interpretive walk explains how the Indians adapted to life in such a harsh environment.

The museum owes its existence to artist Howard Arden Edwards, who found inspiration in the Antelope Valley in the 1920s. He built a house atop the bedrock of 3,175-foot Piute Butte. The house looks like a Swiss chalet on the outside and incorporates natural rock formations on the inside. The interior also features the artist's large, brightly painted American Indian murals and motifs.

An anthropology student, Grace Oliver, bought the property in 1938, combined her Indian artifacts with the Edwards family collection and operated a museum intermittently for the next 40 years.

The state bought the museum in 1979. It's open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, though you'll want to visit soon -- the museum closes for the summer season in mid-June and doesn't reopen until mid-September.

To get there, follow the Antelope Valley Freeway (14) to Lancaster, exit on Avenue K and drive 17 miles east to 150th Street East. Turn south (right) onto 150th and drive two miles, turn east (left) onto Avenue M and drive seven-tenths of a mile to the museum turnoff on the north side of the road.

Another option is to follow the Antelope Valley Freeway to Palmdale, then take Pearblossom Highway (138) east. Turn north (left) on 165th Street East, which becomes 170th Street East, and then west (left) on Avenue M.

After touring the museum, step outside to the nature trail. Fourteen interpretive stops are keyed to a brochure, available in the museum. The trail is half a mile long, and you'll hike another half-mile or so off-trail.

You will see the San Gabriel Mountains to the south and the handsome buttes rising on the eastern part of the valley. To the immediate south are the Lovejoy Buttes, 3,342 feet tall. To the northeast is Saddleback Butte, a 3,651-foot granite mountain.

You'll pass the old Edwards barn and corral and will meander among the creosote, cholla and Joshua trees. If you're lucky, you'll see a desert tortoise, an antelope ground squirrel or a roadrunner.

For more hiking, visit Saddleback Butte State Park, off Avenue J. The park's nature trail is a good introduction to Joshua trees and other desert flora.

More ambitious hikers will enjoy the four-mile hike (with 1,000-foot elevation gain) from the park's campground to the top of Saddleback Butte. The reward for the climb is a terrific panorama of Lancaster and Palmdale, the Tehachapi Mountains, the San Gabriel Mountains and Edwards Air Force Base.

John McKinney offers more tips at

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