Cal Humanities

"The understanding of a culture comes from hearing the language, tasting the food, seeing personal interactions, experiencing the traditions, and so much more in context."

— Elizabeth Laval & Candice Pendergrass, Sikh Youth Public History Project

"The understanding of a culture comes from hearing the language, tasting the food, seeing personal interactions, experiencing the traditions, and so much more when it is in context."

— Elizabeth Laval & Candice Pendergrass, Sikh Youth Public History Project

A large group of people stand and sit in lawn chairs facing the Giant Rock.

Exploring California Landscapes

California is a unique state filled with diverse cultures and plenty of landscapes to explore. Comprised of long coastlines, majestic mountains, deep valleys, and vast desserts, the great outdoors is never-ending across the state. Attached to our state’s marveling beauty are thousands of stories that connect to the land and its history. In this blog post, we feature three grantee projects that highlight people and land’s stories and the ways they connect.

“Exploring the Great Outdoors with Amargosa Conservancy’s ‘Old Spanish Trail in the Eastern Mojave’ supported by a Humanities for All Quick Grant.

“The Old Spanish Trail in the Mojave,” organized by the Amargosa Conservancy in Shoshone, California, uncovers the history of the Old Spanish Trail as it enters California through the Mojave Desert. The organizers of this project are hard at work creating a short documentary film that explores the notable sights and the travelers who once traversed the Old Spanish Trail to examine the trail’s impact on the development of California and how historical landscapes change over time.

As project director Bill Neill explains, “Historic trails aren’t just a beaten dusty pathway from one location to another. They tell stories, and the Old Spanish Trail tells stories of California.” As this project will examine, the Old Spanish Trail connected the trails used by Native Americans for thousands of years. Trade trapping routes were created by Spanish explorers like Padre Francisco Hermenegildo Garcés (1776) and Anglo-American fur trappers and mountain men such as Jedediah Smith, Pegleg Smith Kit Carson, and John Frémont. Also explored is that of Mexican traders like Antonio Armijo. He helped establish the trail in 1829 as a viable commercial route to Los Angeles, eight years after Mexico gained its independence from Spain.

Below are photos of the trail taken by Bill Neill, the project director of “The Old Spanish Trail in the Mojave.”

“Our Giant Rock: A Touchstone in the Mojave” supported by a Humanities for All Project Grant.

Giant Rock is a seven-story tall free-standing granite boulder located in the Mojave Desert. The exceptional boulder is roughly 120 million years old and bounced down a mountainside during a prehistoric earthquake.

The Hi-Desert Nature Museum, located in Yucca Valley just south of the exceptional boulder, is set to open “Our Giant Rock: A Touchstone in the Mojave” on July 21, 2021. The digital kiosk exhibit explores the history of the surrounding community by demonstrating how the geological form can become an intermediary for stories, characters, and events.

Giant Rock is most notoriously known for the ‘giant’ personalities who lived near and even under it, starting with the first white homesteader to establish himself in the rugged desert area, then the eccentric man from Kansas who claimed squatter’s rights to Giant Rock. He created an airport and hand-built a 400 sq. foot apartment underneath it. Also featured is a successful test pilot turned Space Channeler who utilized Giant Rock to maintain communication with space beings and organized the world-famous Interplanetary Spacecraft Conventions.

This informative and fun exhibit will allow visitors to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the human condition of the area.

– Written by the Hi-Desert Nature Museum Project Team: Stefanie Ritter, Project Director & Vanessa Cantú, Content Creator and Exhibit Designer

FRUITS OF LABOR supported by a California Documentary Project Grant.

Deeply rooted in the agricultural communities of California’s central coast, the new documentary film FRUITS OF LABOR by director Emily Cohen Ibañez is a coming-of-age story. Ashley, a Mexican American teenager, dreams of graduating high school and being the first in her family to go to college. Instead, increased ICE raids threaten to separate her family and force her to become the breadwinner. She works long days in the strawberry fields and the night shift at a food processing factory.

A lyrical meditation on adolescence, nature, and ancestral forces, the film asks, what does it mean to come into one’s power as a working young woman of color in the wealthiest nation in the world? FRUITS OF LABOR premiered at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival and was recently awarded the Special Jury Prize for Excellence in American Profiles at 20th SF DocFest. FRUITS OF LABOR will broadcast nationally on the PBS series POV in October 2021. To learn more about the film and Ashley, visit,

A person wearing a grey hooded sweatshirt and red face mask stand in a strawberry field.
Ashley stands in a strawberry field.

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