Words b Matilda Bathhurst
Photography by Justin Chung

Alison & Jay Carroll, Wonder Valley

Joshua Tree, CA

early morning breakfast with the Caroll's

There are two types of people who make their home in the High Desert. Those who seek to impose their vision on the land, and those who wait to hear what the desert has to say. Jay and Alison Carroll are of the latter sort—East Coasters originally, they opened themselves to the desert’s language when they moved to Joshua Tree four years ago. They brought what they knew—in Al’s case, an understanding of the cultivation and processing of olive oil, in Jay’s case, how to recapture the character of derelict buildings—and set up their own olive oil business, Wonder Valley.
As a creative director, Jay has a thing for roadside relics. His projects include the reinvention of El Rey Court, a 1930s motor court in Santa Fe, and when the opportunity arose to rent the gas station in downtown Joshua Tree, he wasn’t going to say no. “My line of work is all about creating character by revealing what’s already there—ideally, stripping down to the bones of a pre-existing structure, and seeing where that takes you. Our small but mighty little retail shop is in the station’s former office, where you would buy your oil and pay for your gas, and we wanted to dovetail that history with our own olive oil brand.”
The shop is all glass and steel, with expansive casement windows to catch the desert light. The name Wonder Valley refers to an open stretch of arid land along Route 62, where Jay and Al rented a cabin when they first came to the region. They moved away from Wonder Valley when a small homestead came up for sale near the entrance to Joshua Tree National Park, but they preserved the wonder for the olive oil bottles.

“We’re surrounded by boulders and hills here,” says Al. “There’s lots of desert life—turtle doves, quail, bats, coyotes, jackrabbits, bobcats, lizards, tortoises, owls... Once the sun has gone behind the ridge and it cools down, we take the dog for a walk in the valley below our house—we’ve had the most incredible cactus blooms this year.”

“It’s a great set up,” says Jay, “But back when we started renovating the house, it was crazy. The place was full of shotguns and drug scales—we had to put on a new roof, and we stripped the structure down to the concrete pad and studs. It took about 18 months, and we bought a 1953 Vagabond trailer to live in while we were doing the renovation. We had one locker each for our stuff, but in the end we didn’t use much of it. Living in a trailer changes your perception of how much you need, and how to use space efficiently.”
That period of spartan living was all in favor of a philosophy of “mañana”—the laid-back approach to life, which knows that the hard stuff can wait till tomorrow. In the meantime, it’s more sensible to take an outdoor shower in the adobe bath-house, built on the foundations of an old auto parts shed. Or get the fire going in the outdoor open fire kitchen where Al likes to grill whole chickens and place the vegetables down among the coals. Her preferred outfit is a jumpsuit from her own clothing line, Al’s Big Deal—“the uniform of mañana.”

At Wonder Valley Oil in Joshua Tree

“My background is in kitchens, agriculture, and marketing,” she explains. “When we lived in San Francisco I worked as the marketing director of the California Olive Oil Council, so I learned all about professional tasting, the process of growing, and working with millers.” Al maintains a tie with that part of her life, choosing to source from olive groves in Lake County, Northern California. “I’m fascinated by the versatility of olive oil—it’s the cornerstone of a healthy diet and can be applied in all sorts of ways, including skincare. Essentially, it’s pure energy.”
Pure energy. The world contracts, compresses, flows and stills. And when the heat is down, when the sun sets over the ridge, it’s time to walk outside and light the stove. ●

Photographed in 2019 – Joshua Tree, CA

Wonder Valley Oil
Al's Big Deal