Bearded & Shucked
1st Annual Mermaid Parade in the Desert
Joshua Tree, CA 2016 

Coney Island is a good 2,600 miles from Joshua
Tree, California, geographically and viscerally. 
But it’s such an enduring symbol of Americana 
that for some, it’s home no matter where they 
Mention Brooklyn’s seaside amusement parks and 
the immediacy of the visual reference is like a 
bust in the chops with a cotton candy fist from 
a laughing, bare-bosomed, lipsticked lady 
covered in glitter and from the sea. Its 
Mermaid Parade invites the outlandishly dressed 
to celebrate themselves along the boardwalk 
with thousands of cheering onlookers and the
joy of tradition.
So when a fairy tale seemed to spill off its 
pages and through the plains of Joshua Tree on 
the very day of that Coney Island tradition—led 
by a bunny rabbit drinking a Bud Light and an 
8-foot-tall, bewitching mermaid caricature in 
heels—it couldn’t be a coincidence. Not with 
all those other mermaids surrounding them. 
Sparkling in the golden desert sunset and mov-
ing along a narrow gravel road that stretches 
across the valley of Joshua trees and to a bar, 
they marched.
This is the "magic hour". Every photo of the 
landscape is a cliché that has made it onto a 
postcard, phone book or calendar. “Happy 
Mermaid Parade!” someone shouted kindly to a 
family sealed from the heat inside their pass-
ing black Ford Focus, windows rolled up.
The reality of this surreality is that the 
force of shelled crowns, ribbon and netting 
emerged from the house belonging to artist 
Aaron Sheppard. The former Las Vegas resi-
dent—who’s been to Coney Island’s parade 
12 times—collaborated with artist Erin 
Stellmon, who is equally acquainted with 
the parade and park; she even placed first 
in a Coney Island arm wrestling competition 
once. Unable to meet up this year at Coney 
Island, the longtime compadres living on 
opposite sides of the country contacted 
friends, planned an informal reunion, 
Bearded & Shucked, and paid homage.
There are things in life you never antici-
pate, and one of them is Las Vegas artist 
JW Caldwell wearing a bunny suit. History, 
kinship and tradition led to this walk 
through the desert. Conversations picked 
up where they left off hours, days, weeks, 
months and years before. Approaching town 
and tar, the undulating rhythms from the 
cars passing on Twentynine Palms Highway 
breathed like an ocean, a sea from whence 
these Mermaids came—by car from Las Vegas 
and elsewhere.
It’s not about wanting to or being able to 
re-create the Coney Island parade, Sheppard 
says. It’s about having like-minded friends; 
hanging out before, after and during the 
actual event; the creating, the preparing, 
the logistics; and the communal aspect. 
-Kristen Peterson
 Mermaids in the Desert Give Love to Coney Island
 Las Vegas Weekly, June 22, 2016

all photographs by Mikayla Whitmore

Erin Stellmon with Aaron Sheppard. Whitmore's photographs and Sheppard's costume from 
this project were aquired by The Marjorie Barrick Museum at The University of Nevada, 
Las Vegas (UNLV) for their permanent collection.