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Death Valley’s Homo Sapiens

In spite of harsh desert conditions, one artist's work springs to life

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Over the years, assorted adventurous humans—borax miners, pioneers, and just plain loners—have scraped out a life in the Death Valley region. (Case in point: the indefatigable ballerina Marta Becket, who launched Amargosa Opera House in Death Valley Junction in 1968.)

But just outside the Death Valley National Park boundaries in the tiny town of Olancha, visual artist Jael Hoffmann hasn’t just made a life; she has made the desert come to life.

In her sculpture garden near the Highway 190 entrance on the west side of Death Valley National Park, Hoffmann’s metal-art characters populate the desert floor. In her own words on her website, Hoffmann notes that the placement here has profound meaning. “The rugged environments my sculptures chose to inhabit are not coincidental, but supportive of their unadorned messages.”

Thousands of people have stopped on their way to and from the park to walk among Hoffmann’s thought-provoking creations, which are framed by panoramic views of the lofty High Sierra. There’s a towering female hitchhiker carrying a suitcase, a few toothy monsters, and a color-splashed Give and Take alien, who holds one bucket that accepts trinkets and coins and another that gives them away. The alien’s face is a mirror, compelling the observer to make only fair trades.

The sculpture garden is located just west of U.S. 395 in Olancha. Take the Walker Creek Road turnoff, then turn north on the first dirt road.

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