An Interview with Alex Castellanos

by Abraham Ramirez

While some Californians tossed into the millennial category (individuals born from 1981 to 1996) tend to live with their parents, share housing with multiple roommates, or leave the state, Alex Castellanos has created his own off-beaten path and decided to cultivate his own spot, as he calls it, for the future.

You might not expect someone who pours $850 shots of cognac on the weekends at lavish hotels to be a person who interacts much with nature. One might even assume that this person’s definition of wild isn’t the peak of El Capitan or the wolves of Yellowstone, but rather the mobs of men and women looking to have a good time on a Saturday night. Alex Castellanos, a Southern California native, is not your average bartender. Pouring drinks is his trade, but Castellanos finds excitement when developing and planning the future of his land near Joshua Tree National Park. His motivation to attain the land came in part from his attraction to challenge and also his wanderlust for adventure, which he gained over the years visiting natural areas like Zion National Park and Big Sur. Over time, Castellanos has developed a relationship with nature and now he’s even espoused to it.

Alex Castellanos near his home in Joshua Tree, California

Abraham Ramirez: Did you look into Joshua Tree National Park before buying the land nearby?

Alex Castellanos: Not really in the beginning. I knew the park was there so I knew it would be a good starting point. But, I just thought of things as far as living situation, so I thought of the population nearby the park. My focus was on the amenities that I am going to need, so the police department, the hospital, and grocery stores or other things like that. The city, if you can call it that, is a census- designated place, so it is small and that’s what I wanted. 

Then, when I first went out to scope the place out, I saw so many rabbits running around in one spot just cutting left and right. There were hawks circling the area looking for food, and I thought about how I can be in my yard there one day and this ferocious bird lands in a tree next to me. I saw actual wild coyotes too. When was the last time you saw an actual coyote that hunts game? They’re not like those L.A coyotes. It’s different and I’m looking to experience more of that.

AR: Joshua Tree is infamous for its rock climbing and bouldering. Does that interest you at all?

AC: It does actually. I’ve been trying to cut my weight down and work out more so it’ll be easier for me to climb. When summertime hits, I want to get out there and give it a shot to challenge myself. I’ve never done it. But I don’t see it being something else that I can’t pick up and learn.

AR: What other locations did you look into before deciding on Joshua Tree?

AC: Initially, when I first started looking, I was going more toward areas that would be green. You know, areas that had more of a water source so I could grow more fruits and more vegetables. But those areas aren’t around here is the thing. That’s just the reality here. Southern California is [mostly] a desert, and I mean, it’s only green here because we have that massive aqueduct that comes through the mountains to L.A. But if it wasn’t for that, there wouldn’t be anything out here man — it’s desert.

AR: That’s true. L.A’s water pretty much comes from NorCal or the Colorado River.

AC: Everything comes from . . . not right here. That’s just what it is, like this whole area is a mirage man. You know, it’s not real. So I figured if they could do that here, like why can’t I do that in Joshua Tree? That’s more financially feasible for me then to do something in those other areas.

 To get to any of those other spots, the closest thing I can think of would be the Kings Canyon area and that’s still like three or four hours away from here, and then there’s a lot more chance of snow. That snow might even prevent me from getting to any land I would have bought anyway. It just makes it more complicated for me. There’s also more predators too. [In Joshua Tree,] I don’t have to worry about bears, cougars and things like that you know. So that’s again, thinking long term, it was just something that I started to consider after looking into it more and more, where I would think to myself: I could be sixty and get jacked by a mountain lion in my own backyard. I’m like, ah, do I really need that kind of an environment?

AR: That brings me to the next question? How would you bring water to your plot of land?

AC: In regards to the water,  the research that I have focused on has been on rainwater harvesting. Obviously, it doesn’t rain very often because it’s in the desert, right. It doesn’t even rain here and we’re in Orange County. But when it does rain, it rains enough that the soil gets wet, cars get wet, I get wet, everything gets soaked. If I were able to catch that water, how much water could I capture? Basically, I can create a little funnel where I could catch one gallon. If that funnel became bigger and bigger then maybe I could catch 10,000 gallons, or 15,000 gallons or 20,000.

I’m just going to be like my own city essentially because if you go locally here to Anaheim Hills, or any hillside community, they have massive water containers. It’s not like I’m doing anything innovative. I’ll be doing the same thing. I’ll have my reservoir of water for a couple of acres of land in Joshua tree.

AR: You’ve mentioned having animals there one day. What did you have in mind?

AC: So obviously because of the temperatures, I have to accommodate anything that I keep there with me whether it’s plants or animals. Some animals that I could easily take care of are goats and chickens to start with. There’s even mountain goats in the surrounding areas, so I thought: “why don’t I just get my own?” I just have to do my research regarding what species of chicken or goat is hardier for a desert environment.

AR: What kind of plants are you cultivating or are you thinking of cultivating there?

AC: In the short term, I already have stuff planted out there that doesn’t need too much water like prickly pear cactus, agave, and San Pedro cactus. I’m even trying out pomegranate trees out there since they’re resistant to desert temperatures.

On the other hand, if you have a greenhouse, you can grow [anything] man. It doesn’t matter. It’s guaranteed you could grow anything. But, in an environment like that where it’s going to be desert, you just make a small microclimate for the plants to grow. It’s hard. Don’t get me wrong, but I like to challenge myself. I encourage that kind of stuff.

AR: It sounds like attaining this plot of land is more than security. It’s a way to become a better version of yourself.

AC: Right, you know sometimes people don’t like to really reflect or judge themselves to see where they are in life, and say: you know what? You’re not really doing that good right now.

I try and reflect on myself as much as possible so that I can improve wherever I’m failing. 

AR: How do you  plan to collaborate with the land and be mindful of your carbon footprint?

AC: Joshua Tree doesn’t have a lot of green obviously since it’s desert, but there’s a lot of dried brush and cacti. I don’t mind clearing too much of the brush out on my land. Also, where my location is there is gradual slope so I’m going to use that to my advantage when funneling water during the rainy season. I’ll guide the runoff in certain directions that will benefit the plants that I’ll be growing there. I don’t want to bulldoze much or add a lot of cement that will take away the beauty that’s already there. I want to retain as much as possible.

AR: What are the measurable goals you have right now since everything is pretty bare bones so far.

AC: It’s a really long process to get permits to build a house, fencing, and all that. For right now, my thing is just being able to drive out there to develop ideas of what the environment is like when it rains, snows, or in the peak heat of summer. I don’t want to jump ahead and start building projects in certain spots and then I regret it down the line. I’m just trying to learn and understand the land now so I can develop a blueprint for the future. I’m not rushing into anything. I just need to get some perspective and write notes to make planning that much easier. That’s all there is to it.

AR: Why don’t you think other people are doing the same thing? I mean you’re still young, but most young people aren’t thinking “Okay, I’m going to go buy my own property and build something on it.” It’s the kind of the thing most people would attribute to settlers back in the day coming to the West.

AC: One part of that I think is that it’s kind of life cycle. My grandparents were farmers, and that’s how they lived. I think eventually that stuff comes back around, you know, like how people say having red hair skips a generation, and obviously not everybody gets it, but I think maybe I did get it to where developing my own land just makes more sense to me. I’ve never felt comfortable in the environment that I’ve grown up in because it’s always been city, and you know, just too much shit going on. I just don’t care for it, you know, I go to my own beat.

This is just one of those things that will make me better in the future. In that past I’ve taught myself how to paddle board, surf, ride a motorcycle, and cook. All those things have prevented me from becoming stagnant in life, and so will developing this property. It shows me that I can continue to improve and never stop learning.

Some people might not want to challenge themselves to do something new because it’s scary. Like in surfing, it’s scary because you’re out in the open water. But, what if you end up doing it and it makes you a better person?