Olancha artist Jael Hoffmann doesn’t just live in the desert, she makes the desert come to life. Thousands of drivers have slammed on the brakes and pulled off US 395 with their first glimpse at Hoffmann’s thought-provoking art, which populates the western roadside near the Death Valley turnoff. Her whimsical metal-art characters live year-round on the arid desert floor, framed by the sawtoothed Sierra Nevada and lofty 12,132-foot Olancha Peak.
Some of her creatures appear to be friendly while others smile devilish grins. There’s a towering female hitchhiker carrying a suitcase (she’s so tall, you can see her from a half mile away), 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 fair trades only. A sign warns: “If you choose to give without taking, the mirror will make you face yourself and the eyes will follow you forever. Just like in real life.”
Hoffmann, who welds her creations out of discarded metal scraps, writes on her website, “The rugged environment my sculptures chose to inhabit are not coincidental, but supportive of their unadorned messages.”
On your next US 395 road-trip, go see these fantastic sculptures on the west side of US Highway 395, 1.5 miles south of Olancha. Take the Walker Creek Road turnoff, then turn north on the first dirt road. To learn more about the artist, read this fascinating Q&A from the website Riot Material.