Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
Darwin has 35 residents, one mountain spring, and an uncertain future.
In the 35-person town of Darwin, California, life is literally what you make it.
No stores, schools, churches, paved roads, street lights, or sewers exist in this high-desert community, profiled in a new short doc by the multimedia artist Kim Stringfellow as part of a larger project about the Mojave Desert. (CityLab has featured some of Stringfellow’s previous work.) Just outside Death Valley, the hottest place on earth, travel trailers and hand-built houses sit among creosote bushes and old mining equipment, which harkens back to the town’s silver-boom origins in the 1870s. Today, artists, retirees, expats and exiles call Darwin home, relying on a single mountain spring for water and themselves for nearly everything else. Striking modern sculptures punctuate many properties.
“One thing that’s nice about living here is that nature kind of dictates what’s going on,” resident and visual artist Judyth Greenburgh says in the film. “I would say every single person who’s here is expressing their love of the landscape somehow, with some art.”
Darwin’s population has hovered around its present number since the 1970s, according to one long-time resident featured in the film. There are no children, and few young people. Many continue to rely on dial-up Internet connections. “Time will tell if a new generation of miners, artists, or some other group will continue to occupy and breath life into this unconventional desert community outpost,” Stringfellow writes in an accompanying essay on her website. A uniquely American place with a Wild West ethos, Darwin’s future is yet to be built.