United Catalysts and Mystery Ranch

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by Abel Caballero Jr.

The Mystery Ranch is a high desert artist studio, retreat and experimental research station located on 60 acres of mining claims near Searchlight, Nevada. Since 2003, the conceptual art team United Catalysts, along with a team of creative friends and family, have been utilizing this remote location to experience nature, test and develop ideas, and create collaborative projects.

It has always been the role of the Mystery Ranch to stimulate and inspire the creative work of everyone who visits it. Over the years, the experience of the ranch has influenced the lives and projects of a variety of artists, scientists and other creative people, including Rachel Hillberg, Sam Davis, Angela Brommel, Brooks Manbeck, Cara Garcia and the Maytag Messerschmidtt Motorcycle Club.

Currently the Mystery Ranch is collaborating with the Joshua Tree Genome Project, organizing a citizen science project to study the effects of climate change, with the Mojave Desert Land Trust, studying propagation of a rare desert sage, and with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art, connecting students and creatives with the desert beyond the city lights.  It also continues to be a by-invitation artist residency and retreat space.


A Brief History of Mystery Ranch

In the days before land was divided by ownership, the Mystery Ranch was the territory of the Ancestral Puebloan people, who mined turquoise in the area around Crescent Peak, trading the stones along extensive trade routes across North America. Later, the area became home to the Southern Piute, Chemehuevi and Mojave tribes, who remain an important presence in Southern Nevada. The native people hunted bighorn sheep and mule deer along the El Dorado Mountains, and used the rocky granite outcroppings for ceremonies and rock art. Native villages were centered near the Colorado River, to the East of these mountains, until the building of Davis Dam destroyed the native fields and dwellings on the valley floor to create Lake Mohave in 1951. Spirit Mountain, a place sacred to many local tribes, is located just south of Searchlight, and can be seen while climbing the ranch’s Coyote Mountains.

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 The Mystery Ranch property was created in the 1900 Southern Nevada gold rush. Miners lived on the three mining claims in shanty tent camps and chased veins of ore containing gold, silver and copper. During the boom, Searchlight became the largest and most modern town in Southern Nevada, boasting railroad service, 60 bars and brothels, and even one of the first electric street light systems in the country. Millions of dollars of ore were pulled out of Searchlight area mines, and today a vertical mineshaft and remnants of the mining camp can still be seen on the southwest side of the Mystery Ranch. 

In the early 1960’s, Leroy and Mary Reynolds purchased the defunct mining claims and built the Reynolds Ranch. Mary and Leroy met during World War II at the Marine Corps Air Station in Mojave, CA, and fell in love with the rambling desert, with its unique plants and animals, and brilliant sunsets. Corporal Leroy went to school on the G.I. bill to become a general contractor, while Sergeant Mary went to secretary school and learned scheduling and bookkeeping. The two soon had a profitable business building and remodeling houses, and used those skills to design and build their getaway ranch. 

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The Reynolds camped in tents in the original miner’s camp while building the Mystery Ranch cabin, completed in September 1966. They also dug a well, laid 1/3 of a mile of water lines, and built four miles of road to accommodate electrical lines. Like the infamous Winchester House, projects at the ranch continued up until Leroy’s death in 1989, leaving an addition on the West side of the house incomplete. 

The addition involved a major excavation of the hill at the back of the cabin, and was to include a greenhouse, garage and extensive shop, as well as additional living areas. But it was not to be. After Leroy’s death, one of the biggest mysteries to all was what would happen to his dream ranch.

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For over a decade, the ranch was used by various family members and minimally kept in good repair. Then in the early 2000s, Leroy and Mary’s granddaughter, Kim Garrison, and artist Steve Radosevich revived the ranch while studying at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and began a major restoration. They christened it the Mystery Ranch, named after the many secrets the ranch has revealed over the years; sublime mysteries like rare plants and animals, buried treasure, secret panels, glow worms, and the infamous “Mystery Hole.” The ranch is now cared for by Kim and her husband Leland, and Steve and his wife Martha, along with many friends and visitors who each add something special to this patch of desert with their hands and their hearts.

United Catalysts is the collaborative art practice of Kim Garrison Means and Steve Radosevich. Through conceptual art, interactive performance, object making and storytelling, their work explores the connections between environment, community, ritual and self.

This is the first in a series of essays about the history and artists of Mystery Ranch.

Photos courtesy Kim Garrison Means.