dream catcher ranch

Where Dreams May Come

Peaceful silence, star-filled night skies, and high desert wildlife 
lure travelers to a 
Yucca Valley bungalow and its warm hosts.

Lisa Marie Hart Home & Design, Real Estate

dream catcher ranch
An airbrushed koi pond is just one of the decorative floor treatments at Dream Catcher Ranch.

We are standing in the master bedroom. Homeowners Rey and Kiyomi Ortega and their artist friend Maryanne Schmuckle admire the trees the two women have sculpted onto the walls as if for the first time. Morning sun shines brightly through the large, bare windows.

“We let the sun wake us up,” offers Kiyomi.

“No alarm clock,” Rey adds.

The floor we stand on is airbrushed a watery Caribbean blue. White koi fish appear to swim beneath our feet around a lotus. Kiyomi says the two women created the floor to symbolize life’s ups and downs. “That’s why the waves on the floor have hearts in them,” she explains. “Despite the waves around us, we have to stay centered. To focus on the good and find our calling. The lotus was Rey’s idea. It reminds us to find beauty in life and calm in the turbulence, even when you’re going crazy.”

Who could go crazy in this peaceful High Desert hideout? Travelers seek out the property’s guest cottage on Airbnb for its far-flung locale and potent tranquility. There, between the boulders, they embrace respite and escape frenzied lives spent in crazy cities working crazy hours for crazy pay. Nature’s call is strong here.

“In the summer we sleep outside,” Kiyomi says, wandering through the French doors off the bedroom and out toward one of many seating areas scattered across the couple’s 5 remote acres. “One morning, I saw this beautiful sunrise on one side of us and a full moon hanging on the rocks on the other. I woke Rey up and said, ‘I don’t know which way to look!’ ”

Her memory of that morning speaks to the design of their home, the small, detached yellow cottage, and their secluded Yucca Valley terrain: Which way to look, indeed? Kiyomi and Maryanne’s artistic touches consume the senses, and each is steeped in meaning.

In the entryway, wishes have been made on thousands of pennies that form a true north and south nautical compass in the floor. The women interspersed coins from around the world with the pennies, placing them toward the direction from which they originate. “We are all part of the circle,” Kiyomi explains. “When you enter this house, you enter it with an open heart and love.” On the kitchen floor, a colorful mosaic butterfly acts as a messenger between physical and spiritual worlds. “Where we’re going and where we’ve been,” she says, “and a respect for those who have passed.” More pennies glisten across the counters and backsplash, totaling some 200,000 in the main house alone.

The couple named their rugged domain “Dream Catcher Ranch” a few months after purchase. “We saw it as a place to catch all of your dreams and make them come true. It’s for everyone’s dreams,” says Kiyomi. “And it truly has become that. It is catching all of our dreams.”

The 1950s-built home and its cozy cottage are a bittersweet twist of fate. They were born from a crashing economy in which the Ortegas lost everything and slowly built themselves back up. The former performers — whose cultural shows for children were successful in venues from schools to cruise ships — lost their custom home and burned through their savings 10 years ago.

“We really struggled to reinvent ourselves,” says Kiyomi. But time and creativity heal. Rey taught classes at a local taekwondo studio; then they borrowed money and bought the business. They sold a condo they maintained in Akumal, Mexico, to buy Dream Catcher Ranch. Then they sold the small home where they had been living in Joshua Tree so they could invest in renovations. All their eggs went into a new basket.

An 1880s carriage welcomes guests as they drive up the road to the Dream Catcher Ranch rental cottage. A loose mosaic that incorporates unbroken glass bottles flanks 
the front entry of the main house.

Friends saved glass bottles for the home’s bottle walls and collected coins that would be pressed into mosaics across the floors. “I had been pretty depressed,” Kiyomi says. “Until the house became my first canvas. I was no longer a performer; I was an artist. But I was still a storyteller through my art.”

When she met fellow artist Maryanne, who was enrolled in classes at the taekwondo studio, the women formed an instant friendship. Collaboration began on their expressive mosaic, glass, sculpture, and airbrushed projects throughout the property — and it never ceased.

Before the Ortegas discovered the property three-and-a-half years ago, it had languished off the market for five years. The day it landed on the real estate agent’s desk, they beat out three other offers to snatch it up. Kiyomi and Rey are the third caretakers. Just one owner separates them from the original homesteader.

In 2015, they opened the cottage to explorers from around the globe. Guests find just enough separation from their hosts — who live in the 1,100-square-foot, two-bedroom main house — when they stay in the private 1,000-square-foot rental cottage with two bedrooms and a sleeping loft. One little bedroom opens to a sitting area. Out back, a deck faces the fire pit and Jacuzzi. Amid towering boulders and timeworn trails, this vacation rental “is on people’s minds,” as Airbnb puts it. Its page receives nearly 300 views per week.

Recently, the Ortegas decided to offer guests, intimate event party planners, and movie location scouts the option to rent the entire property. They pour the rental revenue back into enhancements. This summer, the couple added a saltwater lagoon pool and 10-person Jacuzzi sunk in the middle of a boulder cove. Rey and Kiyomi are effusive and openhearted hosts. Eager to share their personal dream with others, they simply relocate to an on-site trailer to act as site coordinators when others rent their home.

Penny mosaics are decorative floor treatments. Kiyomi and Rey Ortega at home with their cats.

They even built a stage in front of the house for ceremonies and entertainment. A year and a half ago, they staged a Mayan show with fire, musicians, dinner, and full regalia. This spring, the Ortegas will launch a series of cultural shows. Proceeds will benefit schools to teach students about diversity, just as Kiyomi and Rey used to do when they performed on tour from school to school. “The greatest thing in my life has been children,” says this mother of five. “We love helping kids learn how to be proud of who they are in the world. When we bring cultural arts shows into the schools, children come away with awe, curiosity, and love.” The ranch is show-ready.

Few visitors notice the stage on arrival. Or the pool, or even the views. They notice the profound silence. The only noise audible for miles is the wind, pushing its way between the clustered rocks and rushing over their rounded tops. A powdery dust of sand rises in a whirling cloud, then scatters to rest. Those who listen can almost hear the sun.

Rustic indoor-outdoor living spaces thrive on seating areas and fire pits.

“We’re just five minutes from town, yet we’re adjacent to BLM [Bureau of Land Management] land where you can hike for miles,” Kiyomi says, leading us behind the cottage and up the “Sunrise Coffee Trail,” a private viewing spot for guests to take in the desert dawn and shooting stars. Though sleep is an easy friend here, guests often opt to rise early when the bottles and melted glass inside the walls glow in the morning light. They retire long after the stars puncture the jet-black sky. Content in the late hours, they drift from fire pit to hot tub and back again, spotting wildlife who scurry by in the shadows.

The trio’s hands have built, shaped, and adorned the ranch. They envision their Dream Catcher as a destination in itself. Its location doesn’t hurt, either. On the map they fall between Pappy & Harriet’s and the Joshua Tree National Park entrance.

“This will be a project for life,” Kiyomi proclaims. Rey counters with a smile: “No, it will be a project for wife.”

Rey, Kiyomi, 
and Maryanne relax beside their latest addition to Dream Catcher Ranch, a 10-person hot tub and pool with sundeck. Kids wearing goggles can spy on the underwater world of mosaic art.

And for the guests who come to marry, celebrate, connect, rest, and heal. The property’s first wedding welcomed 40 people blessing a couple who joined their lives under the giant oak tree. Another guest shared the place with her parents; she sent them to stay for several days before her dad began chemotherapy treatments. The evocative natural surroundings and the art that flourished from a time of loss and heartache touches those who traverse the back roads to get here.

Kiyomi says during the past year-and-a-half at work on the property’s art with Maryanne, pouring in their “blood, sweat, and tears,” as Maryanne puts it, the pair became moved to share the dream and take on similar projects for client home renovations under the name Dream Catcher Studio.

“When you make your home a canvas, it takes on your spirit,” Kiyomi says of the new endeavor. “Once you start living in art, you don’t want to live any other way.”

Some call this “little sedona” for its otherworldly rock formations that change colors throughout the day. 
some say they feel the energy that emits from those rocks. some believe this quiet land is nothing short of sacred.