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Article in Palm Springs Life – Jan. 2021

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If Boulders Had Rolled

A world traveler finds like-minded designers to transform her Spanish Colonial estate in Palm Springs, and massive rocks define the spaces.

Lisa Marie Hart

Roswitha Kima Smale

Roswitha Kima Smale at the entry to her home, from which the boulder-accented garden wraps around 360-degrees.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY MILLICENT HARVEY / STYLING BY MICHAEL WALTERS

As our lives unfold in seasons, so do our homes. In 2014, Roswitha Kima Smale recruited a notable interior designer to turn her Spanish Colonial property into a warm haven layered with international antiques and one-of-a-kind treasures. Yet she needed more time to rethink the garden.

Between travel, involvement with the Palm Springs Art Museum and Desert X, and helping to preserve historic structures and save cheetahs in the wild, other priorities came first. She had reached out to landscape professionals, but their proposals for building gazebos and moving trees befuddled her. Each struck an off-key chord to the classic 1930s architecture and her preference for less contrived and exacting environments. Smale found her home encouraged a daily journey of exploration; shouldn’t the exterior do the same?

A deep affection for the African wilderness was the tie that bonded her to Gino Dreese and Troy Williams, who eventually lavished the Old Las Palmas garden with a level of attention on par with the indoor spaces. Dreese is from Amsterdam, and the pair’s excursions to foreign lands influence their landscape designs.

“When we met, they owned a fabulous place up in the High Desert called Mojave Rock Ranch,” Smale says. “They named their company after it. I visited during a High Desert tour, and it was the most fun and extraordinary place I have seen. I was blown away by the creativity, ingenuity, and whimsy.” When she saw them at a dinner party, Smale invited them to picnic in her garden.

Thus began the initial inklings and informal meetings that would change her garden and, without hyperbole, her life. Her morning stroll, now a beloved ritual with cup of coffee in hand, where she greets the wildlife and marvels at new blossoms on the plants, grew from a seed that was planted on that first, very casual visit.

“I had complete trust in Troy and Gino’s creative vision,” she says. “And it evolved as got to know each other. I didn’t have to know at the beginning what it was going to be like at the end.”
The parcel, set across almost an acre, was ready and willing. Past the gate off the street, the yard has long unfurled like a green cape, wrapping widely around the home in a park-like setting. It had been waiting, and in some cases, withering, behind the ficus hedge for six years. A small pond, the sole feature amid “a totally boring monoculture of grass,” as Williams describes it, languished in one corner.

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The new cactus garden has become Roswitha Kima Smale’s go-to place to sip her morning coffee.

The designers created a transportive setting
where African plants thrive.
RoswithaSmale

Landscape designers Gino Dreese and Troy Williams raise a toast to friendship with Smale (right) and Smale’s niece, Bronwyn Wallace (left) in a favorite corner of the garden. At dusk, Smale lights the lanterns and the boulder-encircled fire pit in the foreground. “They understood what I am passionate about and brought that to life,” she says.

Smale hadn’t known she longed to see boulders out every window, but rocks have always beguiled her. “Rocks to me have power,” she says. “They are the raw beauty nature has created, unadulterated by the human hand. I always would bring back a little rock from my travels.” And she too has traveled the world.

The job of giving each area of the estate its own purpose called for strong, sizeable elements. Only boulders hand-selected from Whitewater Rock & Supply Co. would add the texture, dimension, and ancient sense of import the designers envisioned. From day to night, for morning strolls to fundraisers hosting 100 people or more, enclaves drawn with boulders provide specific functions inside the meandering nature of the overall design.

“Our whole idea was to make it look like they’ve rolled down the mountain and just kind of settled on the property and then the house was built around it,” Williams says. Imagine 82 rolling boulders slowing to a perfect stop, forming areas for conversation and reflection.

Some weighing up to 7 tons — enough to tip a crane — dangled in mid-air while the men guided them into place, the crane operator trusting them blindly from behind the tall hedge. Boulders require experience, and the pair has worked with the crew at Whitewater for about 20 years out of their 35-year career together.

Their idea of a “fluid, creative process” might seem unusual. After cherry-picking some of the most distinctive rocks others have passed on, they mark the top and the side that shows best. They are already visualizing the elephantine stones dropping into the landscape.

RoswithaSmalepalmsprings

Under the dappled shade of a twisting Mesquite tree, a seating area sits just out of splash from the courtyard fountain.

The organic design process evolved
as their collective ideas took shape.
millicentharveyphotography

Even the pool deck and its environs received the designers’ touch, in keeping with the Spanish Colonial aesthetic.

Those choices might change when they need to quickly fit these “silent sentinels of history,” as Smale calls them, on site.

Around the boulders are desert plants native to another continent. “Our concept was California Spanish style meets luxurious African lodge,” Williams says. “In our favorite corner of the yard, it is like you’re sitting on the outskirts of Nairobi on some fabulous property that is manicured but not over the top. We all wanted a beautiful but natural setting.”

Rocks encircle a ground-level firepit and edge up to a living archway of firethorn winking with red berries. They tilt on end, balance atop one another, and lean into the next, often leaving space for plantings to rise behind them or poke their spiny limbs between.

Aesthetics aside, a byproduct of the boulders is the microclimates they produce. “The same plant might be able to live on one side of the boulder but not on the other,” Williams explains. “You need to know not only how to plant them, but also how to have them thrive in the future, with the climate changing so fast. Every summer, things that were fine the year before are just gone.” You can’t blame the gardener or lack of water if the plants are cooking from the top, he cautions.

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Encompassing the barbeque, to the modern seating cradled by the perimeter hedge, and all the lush foliage in between, every purposeful aspect of the new landscape is in harmony to the others.

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A tiled path off the driveway begins under the arbor and seems to tiptoe lightly across the lawn. Boulders nudge in on each side of this grand arch.

Birds and wildlife, to Smale’s delight, have been instinctively attracted to new habitats around the boulders. Smale has counted 13 species of birds, including a Cooper’s Hawk she spoke with many days as he perched on the edge of a fountain.

While no section has been left untouched, very little appears touched. Mature specimens dating to the home’s construction 90 years ago flourish amongst fresh plantings, the old indistinguishable from the new.

A monolithic rock fountain bubbles beside the pool; another fountain splashes water softly down four tiers in a courtyard between the house and casita. Reading, resting, sitting down to lunch, or laughing with a cherished friend all have a place here. As the forecast permits, the garden and its enclaves prove livable for every waking — and blissfully napping — hour.

When the trio completed the landscape, they packed their bags last March and headed for remote regions of the destination that had bonded and inspired them. Though travel complications due to the pandemic detained them in Africa for 11 days beyond their planned departure, the delay gave the designers more time to study rock formations while Smale studied animal communication.

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When entertaining outdoors, Smale favors dining with friends under the twinkling lights of the pergola. She may be celebrating again soon if the home receives a Class 1 historic designation.

They all savored a few extra days to reflect on the oasis they had created back in Palm Springs.

“It’s pretty to look at, sure,” Smale says. “But I feel so good on this property. Bringing in the boulders made an amazing change. Each one of them contains this very interesting energy and history. As it turns out, my husband was a geologist. He would have absolutely loved this. I like to speculate that maybe he had a hand in this, too.”

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Article in DESERT MAGAZINE, May 2017

Out of Africa

In Joshua Tree, Mojave Rock Ranch reflects its creators global travels to Kenya, India and beyond.

by Kirsten Sharkey
photos by Lance Gerber

A few years back, Gino Dreese and Troy Williams took a hot air balloon ride over Maasai Mara in southwestern Kenya. Up in the air, their guide cut the gas. A deafening stillness followed, as they looked out over water holes filled with hippos and the Mara River infamous for its wildebeest migration. “God that was the coolest  thing,” Williams recalls, “It was so quiet.”

That’s pretty much what it feels like to stand on the patio at their Joshua Tree residence, Mojave Rock Ranch…

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Locale Magazine #62 – April 2017

The Magic Behind the Science

Michael Costello unravels his love of aesthetics and what it’s like to live a life of fashion.

Photoshoot Location: Mojave Rock Ranch, Joshua Tree, CA

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Featured in SUCCULENTS BOOK – published 2017

High Desert Ranch

by Robin Stockwell

Troy Williams and Gino Dreese who are both landscape professionals in the Palm Springs, California area, love rocks and cactus, which are plentiful in the high desert. They make good use of these elements in their gateway home in the Mojave desert. Gardening conditions can be brutal here – “exposed” as Williams calls them: hot in the summer, cold in the winter, with fierce afternoon winds March through May.

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Article in Modern Garden Tour, February 22, 2017

Gardens 1, 4 and 6

251 West Via Sol
1190 South Calle De Maria
240 West Lilliana Drive

 

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Article in Mojave Desert Trip – February 20, 1017

Home Tour 2017 – Mojave Rock Ranch

Originally a small homestead cabin built by Lena and Fred Baldwin sits on 225 pristine acres of the Mojave Desert. It’s a private, protected wildlife preserve, home to many species of mammals, birds and reptiles, including the endangered desert tortoise.

 

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Article in Sunset Magazine, December 2016

Garden We Love

by Johanna Silver, Garden Editor

When it comes to designing a garden, nature can often be the best instructor. In Joshua Tree, California, Gino Dreese and Troy Williams knew the only way to give their yard a fighting chance was to mimic the desert around them….

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Article in Tribune News Service –  March 30 2016

Yardsmart: Bottle walls, then and now

by Maureen Gilmer

56fee86a96fc2.image56fee86a26b7f.imageWherever men mined in the desert, necessity became the mother of a curious recycling project. In this arid western land of few trees, everything was hauled in by mule trains, including milled lumber. Building anything was exorbitantly expensive, yet prospective miners needed a home. Among the most common castoffs were empty saloon bottles that masons stacked with plaster into walls that allowed natural lighting within these dark rooms. To this day these curious homes still stand in ghost towns to inspire a whole new century of creative masons who are also keen on recycling.

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gilmr1Article in The Desert Sun – February 2016

Landscape Rock Work that Pops

Beautiful stones add character and color

by Maureen Gilmer

dsgilmer2You can feel this invisible, mysterious force of nature and space in Zen stone gardens rooted in the ancient placement of natural boulders. It’s not organized like predictable hewn stone into geometric shapes, but asserts itself one unique chunk at a time. Unlike the uniform color and patina of Asian stone use, there is a new way to incorporate this ubiquitous earthy material in contemporary gardens. It is the vision of two men who have spent a lifetime learning to read natural stone in order to create the spatial planted sculptures they call a landscape.

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Article in DESERT MAGAZINE – The Desert Sun – September 2015

Green Gardens

DESERT MAGAZINE

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Local horticulturists and landscape designers create verdant yards with less water.

Words by Ashley Breeding | Photographs by Lance Gerber

The term “desertscaping” often conjures images of a barren aesthetic — a bed of decomposed granite sparsely dotted with cactus — that mimics the most arid wild desert landscape. And while a return to native planting is imperative amid California’s historic drought (some 41 percent of the state currently faces what is called exceptional drought, the worst in a five-scale rating), local horticulturists and landscape designers agree that you can still achieve “lush” with less water. “People have a mistaken idea that eco-friendly landscaping has to mean a barrel of cactus, a lantana and a boulder,” says designer Dann Foley. “But we can layer various species of desert plants in such a way that they create a lot of texture and color.” Foley, along with fellow landscape designers Gino Dreese and Troy Williams, and horticulturist Maureen Gilmer, tells us how to design our ideal desert garden — from simple and sparse to dense and vibrant.

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Twenty years in the making, built entirely by hand, a former homestead shack has been transformed by Gino Dreese and Troy Williams into the Mojave Rock Ranch.

Twenty years in the making, built entirely by hand, a former homestead shack has been transformed by Gino Dreese and Troy Williams into the Mojave Rock Ranch.

Article in Palm Springs Life – May 2015

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Mojave Rock Ranch Plays Host to Natural Cactus Garden Setting

Duo spend 20 years transforming Depression era homestead shack

By Maria Zang

In the California high desert north of Palm Springs, there is a rebirth, a reinvention of old to new that’s taking place.
The homestead shacks from the early 1930s that once dotted the desert landscape are having their second coming, but in a whole new light.
High above a hill, not far from Joshua Tree National Park, approximately 42 miles north of Palm Springs, lies a former homestead shack that’s allowed for the manifestation of organic architecture to bloom and prosper in its place. Christened by it’s creators, Gino Dreese and Troy Williams, as the Mojave Rock Ranch, the place looks as though it naturally sprouted up from the ground.

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Maria Zang Video – published Dec 9, 2015

Homestead Reinvented Mojave Rock Ranch

Maria Zang

Published on Dec 9, 2015

A High Desert Wonder, An Old Homestead Shack Reinvented into an Amazing Art and Garden Wonder.

desertmag1 1 Article in The Desert Sun – May 4 2015

Tahquitz River Estates: a “picture-perfect” neighborhood

By Mona de Crinis

Double the Fun at Villa Vecchio

Partners in life and design reinvented their charismatic two-story Mediterranean-style house with a dramatic makeover.

“It’s arguably the cutest, most charming house in Palm Springs, based on the people who stop in front almost every day,” Troy Williams says proudly. And why shouldn’t he gush. He and Gino Dreese, his partner in business and life, lovingly restored one of only a few two-story homes in Tahquitz River Estates. But there’s much more to the tale.

Marjorie Main reportedly built the two-story Spanish style house. (Photo: Millicent Harvey)

Marjorie Main reportedly built the two-story Spanish style house. (Photo: Millicent Harvey)

Nine years ago, this Spanish-style house at 276 E. Palo Verde Avenue, built in 1931 by Marjorie Main (or Ma Kettle, as she was better known), sat in wretched disrepair. Windows were clouded and etched by water damage, elaborate tile work woefully disheveled and dingy and the rustic pavers that snaked through the Mediterranean-inspired space looked cracked and unkempt. Outside, the generous front and back yards fleshing out the double-lot property were drowning in a sea of dead plants and an untamed crush of tamarisk trees swarmed over the rough driveway that led to a long-forgotten casita.

When Williams and Dreese happened upon the property after dining in Palm Springs, they didn’t see a dilapidated house and gardening nightmare; they saw a delightful Mediterranean villa that needed some spit and polish, a lot of sweat, and a considerable amount of cash. They believed that beyond the tarnish gleamed a brilliant architectural gem. “We saw the house and immediately fell in love,” Williams recalls. “Immediately,” his partner confirms.

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Blog by Pampas 2 Palms April 20, 2015

Gardens Tour – the sequel!

Rather than overwhelm you with five gardens last time, I told you about four and saved the best till last! I’ll give it a starring role in a blog of its very own this week! Actually I had seen this garden last year as part of the Modernism garden tour, so as soon as I saw it was on this tour, I knew we were in for a treat! The garden wraps around a 1931  Mediterranean Revival House named ‘Villa Vechia’ and was created by owners Troy and Gino who are landscape designers and run Mojave Rock Ranch. Forgive me for putting in a few extra pictures from last year but there again, I guess you won’t remember!

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Desert Horticultural Society Visit at Mojave Rock Ranch

Desert Horticultural Society Visit at Mojave Rock Ranch

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Desert Horticultural Society of the Coachella Valley
10th Annual Desert Garden Tour

Sunday, April 12, 2015 12:00 until 4:00 p.m.

deserthorticulturalsociety.org

DHSCV Plant group 2015 (pdf)

DHSCV Plant group 2015 (pdf)

Tahquitz River Estates Seductive, Soft & Singular Style – Take time to explore this exciting garden with a surprise or interesting plant everywhere you look, from down at the ground with intimate plantings of succulents, to above your head with flowering trees to eye-level potted planters. Red-eared slider turtles rule a sunny pond and koi grace one by the pool, fruit trees abound – pomegranate, blood orange, citron to name a few. The rock used in the garden comes from Joshua Tree. The owners, landscape designers Troy and Gino, Mojave Rock Ranch, are true gardeners and have lovingly created this exciting garden at their renovated 1931 Mediterranean Revival home they’ve named “Villa Vecchia”.

DHSCV Plant group 2015 (pdf)

 

KESQ TV Channel 3 – Apr 08, 2015

Toss the turf, homeowners switch to desert landscape for drought

Joe Galli, KESQ News Channel 3 & CBS Local 2 Reporter

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – In this time of drought, people are looking for ways to cut back in their gardens water use.

The Desert Horticultural Society of the Coachella Valley is preparing for their 10th annual Desert Garden Tour this weekend.

“With the drought going on right now our main purpose is to educate to public that you can have water efficient drought tolerant landscape with out it looking boring,” said Lisha Astorga, Events Coordinator for the Desert Horticulture Society.

With water restrictions coming down the pipe, landscapers say many people want more water efficient yards.

“People are taking out their lawns, that’s the main thing they are doing, and they are really going for drought tolerant gardens, and they’re into it, which is great. We don’t seem to fight a battle, they do seem to be on board,” said Gino Dreese the owner of Mojave Rock Ranch Landscaping

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hrti1 Modern Garden Tour – February 2015

horticulture2Garden 3:
353 West Steven Roadhorticulture

This charming home was built in 1949 in the neighborhood of Old Las Palmas and has the wonderful feeling of an early Palm Springs Ranch House. The homeowners hired Gino Dreese and Troy Williams of the Mojave Rock Ranch to transform the back outdoor space.

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Article in The Press Enterprise – March 2015

Upscale Rustic

Travel treasures and recycled discards combine to create a chic desert retreat

By Stephanie Schulte

It takes a special eye and talent to take rusty, dusty items most homeowners would throw away and create a chic look in a home or garden that doesn’t end up resembling a junkyard.

Two landscape design consultants, Troy Williams and Gino Dreese, have perfected the art of thew upscale rustic style, creating an eclectic paradise on their property in Joshua Tree.

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Featured in UNDER THE SPELL OF SUCCULENTS BOOK – published 2014

Under the Spell of Succulents

Desert Gardens

by Jeff Moore

Desert Gardens can have the look of a true natural habitat, albeit one that is spartan and dry. The aesthetic may appeal more to an amateur naturalist or desert traveler that a homeowner looking for a colorful and softer yard.

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Article in Wollans, Geman Cactus Magazine – March 2014

Wollans

Fränkische Kakteenfreunde Nürnberg

by Werner Gietl

Maureen Gilmer stellt auf 5 Seiten mit 8 Fotos die Mojave Rock Ranch vor, die sich selbst als ‘photo, film and event location’ versteht. Wer sich selbst ein Bild davon machen will (bevor er hinfäht) kann dies im Internet unter www.mojaverockranch.net tun.

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Article in Cactus and Succulent Journal, July-August 2013

Reinventing the Cactus Garden – An incredible hermitage near Joshua Tree National Park

Maureen Gilmer

A hundred years ago, those searching the Southwest for turquoise and gold were the early discoverers of curious cactus and desert plants. These living things were gathered, with minerals and pioneer relics, at Route 66 tourist traps where a rather odd aesthetic emerged. Sadly it faded away with the vanishing rock shops and overnight stops, but in California’s high desert north of Palm Springs, it is rising again in a whole new light.

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Říjen, 3rd 2013

untitled52-798x350Mojave Rock Ranch obnovila pouštní zahradu

Udělejte si vizuální procházku v tomto neobvyklém prostředí abyste viděli, co inovativní zahradní návrháři dosáhli v obrovském vyprahlém místě obklopeném ze tří stran strmými útesy. Ve velmi neúrodné pouštní krajině Mojave Desert se nachází zahrada kolem podivného domu vytvořena týmem zahradních architektů, Gino Drees a Troy Williams.sides by steep cliffs.

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Article in Garden Design, July 2013

Mojave Rock Ranch Reinvents the Desert Garden

Maureen Gilmer

Take a visual stroll through this unusual landscape to see what innovative designers achieve when faced with a huge arid site surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs.

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Article in Mid Century Modern Remodel – February 8, 2013

IMG_6343-1#psmw palm springs modernism week 2013 garden tour!

Rebecca Gonzalez

Yes, I had to do it. Take a landscaping tour in the desert. We kind of deserved this, but I really wanted to see what the modernists were doing with their lawns.

The answer is, of course, using lots of rocks, succulents and sand. But we still loved it.

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Garden #1 Young/Wong Residence

Garden #1 was a rocky succulanty sort of thing. The landscape and interior designers are Gino Dreese and Troy Williams of Mojave Rock Ranch. They focus on gardens that don’t use much natural resources. Like water. Obviously

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February 18, 2013

Modern Garden Tour

Palm Spring Modernism Week promotes the public awareness of the desert’s mid-century modern design and architecture. Four residences landscaped by Mojave Rock Ranch – Gino Dreese and Troy Williams- are featured in this guide.

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Article in The Desert Sun, November 24, 2012

This is Mojave Rock Ranch – Lush landscape at high-desert retreat defies reason

Maureen Gilmer

Atop a windswept rocky ridge on the north end of Joshua Tree grows a most enchanted cactus garden that may be one of the most magnificent of all desert landscapes.

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Article in My Desert, October 12, 2012

Style flows at Tahquitz River Estates

Amelia Hadley

Tahquitz River Estates is an eclectic, non-gated Palm Springs neighborhood that’s bursting with history and impressive architecture.

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Article in specs+spaces 05/04/12

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DSC_0199-300x190Mojave Rock Ranch: Frontier Luxury

Sara McLean

On a recent self-driven architectural tour of Palm Springs during Desert Spanish Weekend, I kept running into this other family throughout the day. Towards the end of the tour we introduced ourselves and this is how my friendship with Troy Williams and Gino Dreese began. Showing me a postcard of their property in Joshua Tree called Mojave Rock Ranch, I was instantly intrigued. Further research led me to a tour of the property and a day spent with two creative geniuses. Enjoy the tour!

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Article in The Desert Sun, March 17, 2012

Palm Springs garden a Mediterranean escape

Maureen Gilmer

Every inch is packed with plants from desert species and succulents as well as aromatic herbs, exotic citrus, masses of lavender and a wide range of blooming perennials. […] their neighborhood, not far from the Biltmore, is spared the excessive winds further north.

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Article in The LA Times, October 08, 2000

Lying Low In The Desert

Private and often artful, a new crop of unusual lodgings has cropped up around Joshua Tree
Christopher Reynolds

JOSHUA TREE, Calif. — You never know what’s going to turn up in the desert.

I’m not just talking about the cactuses and jumbled boulders of Joshua Tree National Park, though they seduce rock climbers by the thousands and were part of what motivated me to make the 150-mile drive here from L.A. The weirdness of the desert was an attraction too, from the local radio ads for a mail-order “herbal breast enhancement” formula to the horse hitched to a post at the Joshua Tree gas station.

But this trip was driven mostly by curiosity about another novelty: the growing crop of offbeat lodgings in the park-adjacent communities of Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms. This group includes the Mojave Rock Ranch Cabins, a series of four kitschy, two-bedroom ranchito homes on an isolated mesa; the Villa dei Fiori, a flower-festooned and fastidiously kept house with its own adjacent cave; and Rosebud Ruby Star, an artsy B&B with two rooms, a separate bungalow and resident horse and mule.

The Mojave Rock cabins, which lie about eight miles from the park’s west entrance across a dry lake bed, are the most striking of the bunch. The owners, landscape designers Troy Williams and Gino Dreese, decamped from Los Angeles in 1996 and began with a single rental house, known as the Ranch. Since then they have begun buying, overhauling and renting out neighboring residences in their quiet corner of the desert.

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