We often look at the fabled Route 66 and celebrate road-side attractions that have sadly slid into the past but the I-15 freeway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas is still growing with new roadside attractions. While the most famous ones are Alien Jerky in Baker and of course Calico Ghost Town, in recent years the tiny town of Yermo has opened a huge travel station featuring a giant ice cream Sunday ... and Liberty Sculpture park memorializing and championing the human desire for freedom.
The park began in 2017 when Weiming Chen, a Chinese-born activist and sculptor purchased 36 acres of desert land positioned along the I-15 so that any cars passing by would be reminded of just how precocious freedom is. As you can imagine from the artists background, this celebration of freedom has a very deliberate anti-CCP perspective and so most of the sculptures found here honor Chinese freedom fighters, memorialize tragic instances like the June 6 Tiananmen Square massacre or the more recent fall of Hong Kong to the CCP's central government.
However, the park is not entirely focused on condemning the CCP's evils. There is also a very prominent, 15' tall sculpture of Crazy Horse to remind us that the struggle for freedom is not something that just happens "over there". We must be reminded of our own history as well. He erected the sculpture to mark the 140th anniversary of the Indian Chief's death in 1877.
While you can simply drive by and use it to spark a conversation, it is absolutely worth spending 30-40 min (or more) if you are driving by.
Some people may be offended because there are some very specific phrases such as "CCP Virus" and names as well as political iconography condemning the Chinese Communist Party and leadership. However, it is critical to remember that this is a very raw work of art and political speech, not simply a feel good stop along the road.
From that perspective, it is extraordinarily powerful and one of the sculptures that I was particularly looking forward to viewing - one marking the alleged CCP's role in creating the conditions that allowed COVID to become a world-wide pandemic - was actually destroyed by vandals recently. While there are claims that it was destroyed by Chinese operatives, there has been no conclusive proof. Regardless though, what was once a piece of striking artwork has now become a symbol of the struggle artists face when creating controversial works.
The organizers and supporters of Liberty Sculpture Park have now dug a fairly deep pit around the remains of the sculpture and it appears that they are planning a fence to protect it as well as potentially rebuilding it on a higher pedestal near by.
One of the things that makes this sculpture park particularly dynamic is that it isn't just the voice of one man. Throughout the park you'll notice words from various supporters of Hong Kong for instance as well as mementos that help Americans that are willing to listen and learn that this struggle for human rights is something that is still real for most people.
While the anger and outrage we see here in the United States is in many ways also justified, the struggles that many ethnic, minority, and political groups face with regards to the CCP is on an entirely different level.
Sometimes though, no amount of news reports, tweets, or posts on Weibo can bring these struggles to life the way art can. That's what makes this place special. Liberty Sculpture Park isn't merely a political statement or a historical marker. It is living art that I expect will continue to evolve over time.
Some folks will visit here simply to shake their fists in outrage at the Chinese government, but this spot in the desert is more important than that. It is an opportunity for all visitors to take a breath, pause for a moment and recognize that no matter how terrible events in our past might have been - this is still a country where we have the freedom to protest. We have the constitutional right to build monuments and memorials to help ensure that whatever point of view we might have will have an opportunity to be seen by others and potentially change their minds.
Too many Americans get lost in the notion that they must either "Love America!" or "America is Evil!" and the truth is that we're still struggling with the fight for freedom yet we are still a nation of opportunity for those willing to fight for it.
Liberty sculpture park is located approximately 11 miles east of Barstow California in Yermo, at exit 194. Entrance is free but I heartily encourage you to make a donation to support both the maintenance and expansion of Liberty Sculpture Park.