Saddleback Butte and AV Indian Museum State Parks
Day Trippin' with Mel
August 19, 2023
Where can you find a Swiss Chalet styled building, decorated with American Indian style images, built into a rocky butte in the middle of the desert? I'll tell you where: east of Lancaster, that's where.
Driving down CA-14 in Lancaster, I've seen the signs for the Indian Museum and Saddleback Butte State Park many times, indicating an exit onto Avenue K. I've driven down K a few times, but I've never driven far enough until one recent Sunday when I was determined to check both state parks out. With Google Maps I found them easily, although they are a bit of a drive.
Saddleback Butte State Park is a 2,955-acre park that rises out of the desert floor east of Lancaster to an elevation of 3,651 feet. It overlooks an alluvial plain and the vast Mojave Desert. It was created in 1960 to protect the area's unique buttes and Joshua trees.
I found the main entrance to the park at the intersection of 170 Street East and Avenue K. The ranger's station, located between two of the buttes, was closed, but the day fee-area picnic spots were open and being used. Several covered picnic tables were available, as were water and restrooms.
Further down the gravel road I found the camping area, complete with restrooms, pads for RVs and/or tents and covered picnic tables. There is an RV dump station, but I saw no other hook-ups.
From the camping area I exited onto 170th East and drove south a short way to Avenue M, where I turned right (west, following the signs) to find the Antelope Valley Indian Museum, also designated a California State Park.
Up a short gravel road I went and you can imagine my surprise when I saw the European-style chalet, which turned out to be the Indian Museum home. The structure was built over an entire rock formation of Piute Buttes. There are also cabins behind the main house, but they are privately occupied and not to be disturbed.
Inside the chalet I met park aide/docent Kay Tate who told me "Mr. Arden Edwards was the builder and the first owner... he started building the house in 1928, finished in 1932. The second owner was Mrs. Grace Oliver, a world travel, married to a Hollywood film mogul... she bought the house from Edwards, along with all the artifacts."
Both Edwards and Oliver were collectors and, oh my, what a collection of Native American artifacts, photos and documents they amassed! The home was opened to the public in 1932, shortly after being purchased by Oliver (she discovered it while hiking in the desert) and was designated a state historic park in 1979. Oliver herself intermittently ran the museum from the '40s through the '70s.
A small gift shop is on the main floor, and the rest of the large house is filled with artifacts created by the Native American cultures of the western Great Basin, California, and the Southwest, including furniture, folk art, rugs, fiber art and tools, photos and information plaques, and lots of large boulder/stone-work and thick overhead beams (adorned with a number of antlers).
I was quite impressed with both the house itself and the sheer number of exhibits and artifacts that I don't usually see in other museums. It truly is a little gem of a museum in the middle of the desert.
If you go, as noted, Saddleback Butte Park is located at the corner of 170th Street East and Avenue K. Day use fee is $6 ($5 for seniors), camping is $20 ($18), all self registration. The ranger station was closed when I was there, which was during posted open hours so beware that there may be no one on duty when you visit.
The Antelope Valley Indian Museum is located at 15701 E. Avenue M, which is between 150th Street East and 170th Street East, just south of Avenue K. You can take K out from CA-14 in Lancaster and follow the signs.
The Museum is open on Saturdays and Sundays, 11:00 a.m. to 4 p.m. (other days by reservation only). Admission is $3 (children 12 and under are free). It is accessible but be warned, some of the surfaces outside are gravel (inside there are chairs to sit in if needed). You can take large stone steps inside to the second story, which I opted to avoid; there is a ramp outside to the upper level. It's not particularly easy going but it's worth it if you can make it for the number of unique things to see.
The AV Indian Museum will be holding its annual Native American Celebration Oct. 14-15, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. For more information call (661) 946-3055. Or check out "events at AV Indian Museum" online.
© 2023 Mel Makaw. Mel, Tehachapi writer/photographer and avid day tripper welcomes your questions, comments, and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.