Graffiti Row: Outsider Rock Formations in the Imperial Desert

In Partnership with Mexicali Rose Media/Arts Center
Mexicali Rose is a grass roots communitarian organization dedicated to providing free access to artistic media for the community youth of Mexicali, Baja California.

By Marco Vera

Graffiti Row is an approximately two mile stretch of covert, man-made rock formations depicting anything from names, plants, animals and memorials -- among other figures -- in shapes and lettering. Ostensibly, there is no explanation as to the history of how the site materialized. These outsider art creations seem to have sprung roots out in the desert stemming from the desire of desert dwellers to leave their mark for each other; a space for every arid adventurer to discover and contribute to this rare and original landscape. It is truly an organic, collective piece of outsider art and enthusiasm that is unique in Imperial County and as well as Southern California.

RJO | Photo courtesy of Mexicali Rose

Rocky Point | Photo courtesy of Mexicali Rose

Located towards the eastern end of the Imperial Valley, Graffitti Row can be found near its border with Arizona, by the desert towns of Bard & Winterhaven. Once having arrived in Winterhaven off Interstate 8, one must follow Picacho Road to the north, crossing the All American Canal and veering off into the rugged terrain of Barney Oldfield Road. Viewing it can be attributed to the select few who possess an off-road or 4x4 vehicle, as the rough roads necessitate a tough vehicle. With the right instinct and sense of adventure, one can find Graffiti Row (also referred to as "Graffiti Field") off Barney Oldfield Road and marvel at this one of a kind man-made pathway of inventiveness and all-around desert quirkiness.

Graffit Row Map | Photo courtesy of Mexicali Rose

Graffiti Row aerial view | Photo courtesy of Mexicali Rose

The ingenious and resourceful rock formations bear a distinct American Southwest nomadic influence. The bodies of text formations are a reflection of a true desert sense of belonging, with shout outs and appropriations by such outsider desert artists as "Donut Dunker and Toots" and "Red Dog Desert Rats" leaving their mark as particularly as a wall-based graffiti writer would. There is also quite a bit of a Snowbird influence, some works alluding to those retired winter travelers venturing out into the desert in text formations such as "Senile Angels;" this reference can also be found in much of the paraphernalia left behind in these undisclosed landmarks. There are also some Latino and Native roots amid the rocks, as evidenced by the structuring of crosses and animal figures which acquire a vibrant life on the desert trail.

Nitro | Photo courtesy of Mexicali Rose

Graffiti Row from Marco Vera on Vimeo.

Animals | Photo courtesy of Mexicali Rose

Shotgun shells dot the landscape as well, as many desert inhabitants practice hunting and target shooting in order to better perfect their aim. Graffiti Row is filled with memorials to people who have visited or people who have passed, memorials to places of origin and, interestingly enough, deceased and largely unknown musicians. There's an air of positivity in the Row as well. A text formation reads, "Don't Worry, Be Happy" to Row visitors who deservingly discover it. Satire plays a huge role; as is traditionally a staple of outsider art, capitalism does not factor into these creations. A caricature of Donald Trump consisting of rocks seems to take a stab at a sort of ironic advertising.

Trump | Photo courtesy of Mexicali Rose

The Boys | Photo courtesy of Mexicali Rose

Graffiti Row is a unique and marvelous phenomenon because there is no apparent history to it. Locals cannot clearly conceive of its beginnings, yet are compelled to participate. There is no exclusivity once the rugged terrain is conquered, anybody can participate in this strange, surreal and desolate DIY cultural desert. Requiring no formal arts training and faced with the possibilities of the desert as canvas, anything seems possible.

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Top Image: Photo courtesy of Mexicali Rose.

About the Author

Marco Vera is the founder and director of Mexicali Rose Media/Arts Center, a grass roots communitarian organization dedicated to providing free access to artistic media for the community youth of Mexicali, Baja California. He is a...
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