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People go to the desert in search of many things. Solitude. Serenity. Or, on the flip side, massive raves and Insta-primed pool parties. This year, art lovers and desert nomads have one more excuse to venture out to the great unknown with the biennial of Desert X: a three-month-long contemporary art festival that uses the Coachella Valley’s dramatic landscape as its canvas. Here’s what you need to know before making the trek east.

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desert x hand taking photo
Photo by Lance Gerber, courtesy of the artist, Nancy Baker Cahill and Desert X

Wait, What is Desert X, exactly?

If you happened to miss the social media buzz surrounding the festival’s first run in 2017, we got you. This year’s event, which started on February 9 and runs through April 21, spans approximately 50 miles from the Salton Sea to greater Palm Springs—so there’s a lot of ground to cover here (literally). Installations, performance art pieces and sculptures are scattered throughout the desert, making this one of the most unique living art exhibits in the world. Oh, and it’s totally free and open to the public.

Above: Nancy Baker Cahill, 'Revolutions'

desert x sunset
Photo by Lance Gerber, courtesy of the artist, Cecilia Bengolea, and Desert X

What You Need to Know

Whether you’re driving or springing for a flight into Palm Springs, you can pick up a Desert X guide with information about each of the installations and artists at one of the festival’s partner hotels or download the free Desert X app. Before you head out, be sure to note the specific hours and details for viewing each of the installations and performance pieces. Some installation locations don’t have an exact address (this is the desert, after all), so you’ll have to use the provided latitude and longitude coordinates in the guide. Once you get close, look for the black-and-white signs marked with an X and follow them to the installation. To get started, check out this map that pinpoints all the sites. 

Above: Cecilia Bengolea, 'Mosquito Net'

desert x sign
Photo by Lance Gerber, courtesy of the artist, Cara Romero, and Desert X

What You’ll See

As anyone who attended the inaugural event knows, this is a great chance to see a variety of international artists and one-of-a-kind installations in a totally natural setting. It’s unlike any other festival or art exhibit you’ve been to—and it’s designed that way for a reason. This year’s Desert X features 19 pieces and explores topics ranging from climate change and indigenous people to the very role art plays in its natural environment. While it’s possible to view everything over the course of a day, we suggest spreading it out over a weekend to really spend time with each piece. Some of this year’s highlights include Paris-based dancer and video artist Cecilia Bengolea’s Mosquito Net on the shore of the Salton Sea, Pia Camil’s Lover’s Rainbow,Cara Romero’s Jackrabbit, Cottontail & Spirits of the Desert and John Gerrard’s thought-provoking Western Flag. (Really, though, you’d be hard-pressed to find a piece that doesn’t take your breath away.)

If you have a car, you can visit any of the installations on your own. If you’d prefer to join a guided tour, this year’s Desert X offers bus tours for $75 per person on Saturdays and Sundays, departing to and from the Ace Hotel & Swim Club Palm Springs

Above: Cara Romero, 'Jackrabbit, Cottontail & Spirits of the Desert'

desert x pool
Courtesy of L’Horizon Resort & Spa

Where to Stay

There’s no shortage of hotels to choose from, but the Ace Hotel (an unofficial hub of the festival) is a great place to post up to get the most out of your Desert X experience. (It’s even offering 15 percent off your stay between now and April 21 when you use the code Desert X.) Other worthy options include the Moroccan-inspired Sands Hotel & Spa in Indian Wells, the uber-romantic villas of Korakia Pensione in Palm Springs and the retro-glam hot spot L’Horizon Resort & Spa. You can find a full list of participating Desert X hotels here.

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