Visiting the Antelope Valley Indian Museum
Have you ever had a destination that you wanted to visit but it just was too inconvenient to get to? The Antelope Valley Indian Museum was one such place for me. Ever since I saw it on an episode of Road Trip with Huell Howser I knew I wanted to see it in person. The only problem? It’s in the middle of nowhere. Even when I found myself in the Mojave Desert it was still a good distance away. Recently, the stars aligned and I finally found myself paying a visit to the historic site.
The Antelope Valley Indian Museum is a California state historic park and though it’s technically in Lancaster there’s really nothing around it. The day I visited I had been cherry picking in nearby Leona Valley and it still took me at least 45 minutes to get to the museum. And yet, when I arrived there were several cars in the lot and plenty of visitors inside. That’s always a good sign when visiting a state park.
You may be wondering how a museum devoted to Native Americans cropped up in the middle of nowhere. Well, in 1928 Howard Arden Edwards started a homestead on Piute Butte in the Antelope Valley. He had been a theatrical set painter and built a colorful, Swiss chateau inspired home that served both as living quarters and a museum of Native American artifacts. Edwards was a collector of such artifacts and had a vast collection from tribes all over the west.
In 1939 Grace Wilcox Oliver, an anthropologist, purchased the home and converted the entire space into a Native American museum which she ran for the next 30 years. The museum was eventually purchased by the state and became a state park in the 1980’s. Today it remains one of the most unique locations in the state park system and is renowned for the innovative design of the building and the rare artifacts located within.
Much of the museum remains as it was when Ms. Oliver owned it and it’s one of the most unique structures I’ve ever seen. For instance, every surface is colorfully painted and features several Native American motifs painted by Mr. Edwards.
Also, the home was not just built on Piute Butte – it was also built around it.
When building the structure Edwards incorporated the natural rock formations directly into it and a steep, uneven stairwell through them leads to the second floor. Speaking of the second floor…it contains Edwards original exhibits which means they’re not exactly accurate. In his era a good story was more important than basic facts and much of what he wrote was a complete fabrication. The exhibits remain as is because they are historic artifacts in themselves and instead of destroying them the museum has included supplemental material providing the correct information.
The entire museum is a wonder and I was in complete awe as I looked around. Not only does it contain a vast collection of Native American artifacts (many that are not seen anywhere else) but it’s a fantastical structure that was built by hand. Like Rubel Castle, Watts Tower and Forestiere Underground Gardens it’s a true testament to the amazing capabilities of those who built it.
The Piute Butte the structure sits on is a unique natural landmark that suddenly rises from the desert floor. There are hiking trails around the museum that I would have loved to explore but as it was quite hot when I visited I decided to skip them.
The Antelope Valley Indian Museum was long on my list of places to visit and I’m so happy I finally made it. It’s a one-of-a-kind structure that has been wonderfully preserved and it contains a vast collection of Native American artifacts that’s unsurpassed. Although it may be hard to reach it’s well worth the effort and is a shining star in the state park system.