High Desert Test Sites advances Andrea Zittel’s vision of creating art within the context of everyday life. The organization stewards A-Z West, Zittel’s 80-acre compound and artwork, where artists, writers, and thinkers spend time in residence while realizing projects that engage with our surrounding desert communities.
Co-founded in 2002 by Andrea Zittel, Andy Stillpass, John Connelly, Shaun Regen and Lisa Anne Auerbach—High Desert Test Sites has hosted the work of more than 460 artists, 12 expansive site-specific programs, and 25 solo projects.
Who We Are
PO Box 1058
Joshua Tree, CA 92252
Office hours: Tuesday & Thursday, 10am-5pm PST
Vanesa Zendejas - Executive Director, email@example.com
Connor Schwab - Facilities and Grounds Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sydney Foreman - Director’s Assistant and Visitor Services, email@example.com
Lisa Anne Auerbach
Shaun Caley Regen
WEBSITE AND DESIGN
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
David Knaus - Chair
Andrea Zittel - Founding Director/Treasurer
Brooke Hodge - Secretary
Marilyn Loesberg - Member
Susan Lubeznik - Member
Aram Moshayedi - Member
Paul Bessire - Member
High Desert Test Sites is grateful to The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Tides Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation - Arts Regranting Program/Inland Empire at The Community Foundation, Strengthening Inland Southern California through Philanthropy, The Foundation for Contemporary Arts, The Ranch Projects, California Arts Council, Sky Village Swap Meet, Copper Mountain Mesa Community Association and our generous donors for their support over the years.
When HDTS was founded in 2002, part of the original mission was to run on a zero budget. The idea was to support artistic visions in practical terms—provide help, guidance, tools, a cot, and infinite space. For many years this worked and it produced self-driven projects that were ambitious and independently spirited.
Over the past ten years, HDTS has been working towards building a more substantial funding structure for artists’ projects. This has included hosting recurring fundraising projects such as our Artist Painted Rock Auction, Gem/Mineral Expo, pop-ups at art fairs and art museums, and producing limited edition artworks for sale.
But these endeavors never quite add up to what we need—to pay our artists fairly, for venue rentals, for staff, liability insurance, the bookkeeper, to feed our volunteers, pay for all-terrain forklift rentals, and so much more.
As our programs grow every year, so does our budget. And although we make every effort to raise the money that we need with Andrea’s self-sufficient spirit in tow, we still rely on support from donors to make it all happen.
HDTS has been a registered 501c3 since 2013. Please consider a gift in any amount to help us in providing access to engaging, experimental, contemporary art in the high desert region.
Donate via PayPal, via Venmo (@hdts_azwest), or via check:
PO Box 1058 Joshua Tree CA 92252
Many past HDTS projects have only been temporarily sited, but some are permanent and scattered throughout the Morongo Basin. The best way to find these works is to follow the directions on our current HDTS driving map. This map also includes sites we’ve partnered with in the past and admire as independent projects. Most HDTS works are located at sites that we regularly activate and operate out of. Those sites include:
Our base of operations, A-Z West is Andrea’s project, where she lived and worked for 21 years. Located a few minutes outside downtown Joshua Tree, this 80-acre compound includes four restored homestead cabins, several experimental living structures, permanent sculptures, 4,000 square foot studio space, and pristine desert landscape.
Public tours of A-Z West are offered twice a month. Tickets for these tours can be purchased through the West Works store. All funds raised from tour ticket sales support HDTS programming and operating expenses.
Directions: Head east down Hwy 62 past downtown Joshua Tree. About 1 mile past Park make a right at the “Bail Bonds” sign onto Neptune. When the road hits a “T” make a left, then the next right. At the hanging wooden signs, go straight to park in the Encampment lot, or make a left to go to the house, cabins, or studio.
Behind the Bail Bonds
Sited on this 10-acre boulder strewn parcel adjacent to A-Z West are several works that may take some deeper exploring to divulge: Morongo by Nathan Lieb, Surveillant Architectures by Julia Scher, and CA Truck Heads by Sarah Vanderlip. Feel free to visit this site sunup to sundown but make sure you park in our designated parking and do not block the road.
Directions: Head east down Hwy 62 past downtown Joshua Tree. About 1 mile past Park make a right at the “Bail Bonds” sign onto Neptune. When the road hits a “T” make a left. Follow along power lines, park just before the turnaround area.
Andy’s Gamma Gulch
Co-founder Andy Stillpass has generously allowed countless HDTS projects to take place on this wildly beautiful 100-acre parcel north of Pioneertown off of Pipes Canyon Rd. Several works are sited here, includingGradually/We Become Aware/Of a Hum in the Room by Halsey Rodman, Trail Registry by Scout Regalia and Tapwater Pavilion by Tao Urban. Andy’s is also available to visit from sunup to sundown but make sure you park in our designated parking or if you do need to park off the side of the road, be careful not to end up in soft sand.
Directions: From Hwy 62 turn right at Pioneertown Rd. Drive about 7.5 miles. Turn right on Pipes Canyon Rd. Drive 2.2 miles to Gamma Gulch Rd, turn left (respect our neighbors – do not drive above 20 mph on this road!) Drive 1.6 miles to God’s Way Love (if the sign has blown off look for Dave & Jeannie’s sign), turn right. Drive 0.4 miles.
This 40-acre site, located at the most eastern edge of Wonder Valley, in the Sheephole Valley Wilderness area, is surrounded by BLM wilderness land. Located at the very end of the valley, but feels like the end of the world, this site is home to several permanently sited works, including Dineo Seshee Bopape’s HDTS 2022 work, and a mostly “invisible” project: Bob Dornberger and Jim Piatt’s Secret Restaurant. On the opposite side of Ironage Rd and slightly to the north is a work by Kiersten Puusemp (Untitled) that you will probably need to get out of your car and explore in order to find. Be very careful when parking off the side of the road as the sand is very soft here.
Directions: From 29 Palms continue east on Hwy 62. Drive forever (23 miles) and turn left at Iron Age Rd. Drive a mile or so until you see something. (Iron Age Road connects both Amboy Road and Hwy 62, so you can reach it using either access road.)
Landers is a small community north of Yucca Valley, accessible by Hwy 247 or Old Woman Springs Road. The general name Landers is often used interchangeably to refer to both the community of Landers and its sister community of Flamingo Heights. An interesting fact: because of its elevation, Landers actually has many more Joshua Trees than the town of Joshua Tree.
There are lots of stories about the large boulder (seven stories high and about 5,800 square feet across) that lays in the Mojave Desert near Landers, California. Most of these stories describe a vague history of the boulder, called “Great Stone” by local Native Americans. According to George Van Tassel, the local natives called the boulder the Great Stone, “because it symbolized the Great Spirit, as it was the largest single object in the area.” Accordingly, the natives held rituals and ceremonies at the Great Stone. Records regarding the Morongo Basin native population suggest that the local tribes represented a division of the Shoshoneans known as Serranos, as well as the Cahuilla and the Chemehuevi. Eventually, the United States government overtook the land where the Great Stone lay, and renamed it “Giant Rock.”
The most famous story about the Giant Rock revolves around Frank Critzer. Critzer dug a 400 square foot home under the rock, where he made his home. Due to his German heritage and all the radios and antennas he surrounded himself with, many believed him to be a German spy. In 1942, three federal agents arrived to take Critzer in for questioning. They found Critzer barricaded in his subterranean home. One version of the story claims that one of the agents launched a grenade into Critzer’s home, which exploded the dynamite he held inside. Another version of the story claims that Critzer exploded the dynamite himself. Either way, he died in the explosion.
Local resident George Van Tassel later converted the airplane landing Critzer had created into a small airport, held weekly mediations in his former subterranean home, and held frequent UFO conventions at Giant Rock. During one of these weekly meditations, Van Tassel purportedly received the instructions to build the Integratron.
Critzer’s former subterranean home has since been filled in by the Bureau of Land Management, the airport has been demolished, and the rock has been vandalized and split on one side, said to signal mother earth opening her arms to mankind.
When I came out here in 1947, I became a close friend of Charlie Reche. Later, I bought Charlie’s property, which was known as Reche’s Wells. Charlie Reche had been here since 1887, at which time the people living in the area were all Indians. Most of the information I gathered concerning the history of Giant Rock was from both the Indians and Charlie Reche. So I figure this information is right from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, because they were the ones who were here before it became what it is now.
According to the Indians, this was an Indian Holy Ground, where the north and south tribes met annually. The Chiefs held their séances and meetings close by the Big Rock, which they called the “Great Stone,” because to them it symbolized the Great Spirit, as it was the largest single object in the area. Today, it is still known as the largest single boulder in the world. The Indians assembled for their meetings here for up to three days at a time. During their meetings, none of the tribesmen were allowed close by as the meetings, per se, were actually a collection of the Chiefs and the VIPs in the tribe. The rest of the people in the tribe had to camp about a mile or so away so as not to be near the actual meeting place.
I had the honor of being able to speak to the son of an Indian Chief. This man was ten years old when his father put a mark on the Giant Rock, on the north side. The Indians called this mark “the Sign of the Scorpion.” To the Indian’s understanding, this means a good place. Also, wherever an Indian Chief put a sign, no other Indian was allowed to put other signs. This being the reason for only the one sign on the big Rock. Whenever one finds an area where there are numerous Indian hieroglyphics on the rocks, this is an area where Indian children have been practicing the art.
Charlie Reche, having homesteaded here in 1887, was allowed the privilege of meeting with the Indians many times. Reche’s homestead included the area where the Integratron now stands, as well as several acres besides. In 1930, while I was still in Santa Monica, a very interesting person arrived at my uncle’s garage. This fellow had taken up prospecting because he had been in a fishing fleet and also in the Merchant Marine, and as a result had acquired too much moisture in his lungs. Therefore, under doctor’s orders, he had discontinued these activities where he had to be in fog and moisture all the time. He had a four cylinder Essex car which had a rod knocking in the engine and he had no money.
My uncle, Glenn Paine, had his garage on 2nd Street, just off of Broadway in Santa Monica, across from the Carmel Hotel. He engaged mostly in the selling of overnight parking for the hotel inside his garage. He also did repair work and was a Buick specialist. When I came to California from Ohio, in 1930, to see my uncle, he needed someone to help him. So I stayed with him and that’s how I happened to be there.
This man I spoke of happened to be Frank Critzer. When he came into my uncle’s garage, he was looking for someone to correct that rod knock in his Essex, who would do it without charge. Being interested in mining and having a period of lull during the depression, we just happened to have a little time on our hands when this fellow drove in with his Essex. So, that same day we took him to lunch with us. We discovered he was a very intelligent person and that he did know quite a lot about prospecting. Thus, in the course of getting acquainted we became instant buddies, so to speak. My uncle allowed him to sleep in the garage and we repaired his Essex. When Frank Critzer was ready to leave, we gave him $30.00, which was a lot of money in those days. We also stocked his car full of canned goods and headed him out. He told us that wherever he would settle down then he’d write to us, and also that we would be included in any mining claims he should happen to declare.
A year went by before we finally heard from him. We had practically given up on him when we received a letter in which he had drawn a map showing how to get to Giant Rock. The following weekend my uncle and I went to Giant Rock to see him. Frank had already started to dig under the big Rock to make a place to live. Banning was the closest town in which one could purchase supplies for building, so Frank was getting by with what was there. Too, he had only squatter’s rights and a mining claim on Giant Rock. He didn’t own the property, for it was government land.
By digging under the Rock he could have a place to live without having to purchase materials to amount to anything. Frank had shrewdness and comprehension, so he reasoned that if he dug a room under the north side of the Giant Rock, the boulder would take all summer getting warm and hold the warmth beneath it during the winter. By the same reasoning, the Rock would get cold during the winter and keep the room temperature cool during the summer. Thus there would be little need for heating or cooling. This would amount to six months’ delayed thermal reaction. This has proved to be good engineering on Frank’s part because the maximum temperature under the Rock is 80ƒF without any refrigeration in the summer time, and a minimum of 55ƒF in the wintertime with no heating. The outside temperature will vary from approximately 25ƒF to 115ƒF. The Giant Rock covers 5800 sq. ft. of ground and is 7 stories high.
The rooms dug out from beneath it amount to approximately 400 sq. ft., so one can readily see that this is a very small fraction of the total area of the bottom side. Frank was falsely accused of stealing dynamite, failing to register for the draft, and several other things, in 1942, while the US was at war with Germany. Having a German name, it was assumed by many people that he had to be a German spy in order to live in such a desolate place as Giant Rock. The only radio Frank Critzer had was one that Charlie Korell had given him. I spoke to Charlie later about this as he made frequent trips to Giant Rock. The radio was a little 3 dial, A & B dry battery Atwater Kent, with the tubes exposed and no case around it. It wasn’t any good for transmitting messages to Germany, although it was a superhetrodyne receiver.
The stories had generated from some people’s erroneous thinking. Frank did have a German name. He had served in the German Navy as a mess boy on a German submarine in World War I. But he had come to our country, worked in our Merchant Marine, and was a naturalized citizen. Besides, he had no further affiliation with Germany whatsoever. But because he did have a big radio antenna on top of the mountain, some people assumed he was using his radio for spying purposes and, without first checking with the FBI, these people started the rumor that Frank surely must be a spy. Consequently, in August of 1942, three deputies came to Giant Rock, supposedly to take Frank in for questioning.
I spent many weekends visiting with Frank at Giant Rock. Frank had a big kitchen table, and a big wood-burning cook stove, on which he prepared, cooked, and served German pancakes for anyone who happened to stop in. He usually had a case of two of dynamite and a partially opened case under the big kitchen table. We would put our feet on them when we were with him. He also had some caps, as he was doing some prospecting and dynamiting, and he knew how to use these things.
When the three deputies came to take Frank in, the first thing he noticed was that they were from Riverside County. Giant Rock being in San Bernardino County and Frank being a man of principle, he knew they had no authority in this county and he told them so. According to Bill Royal, who had brought the deputies out here — as they didn’t even know where Giant Rock was, Frank, after a lot of arguing, said that if they were going to take him in anyway, that he needed to get his coat. When he went into his living quarters beneath Giant Rock to get his coat, he pulled the 2 x 4 bar, which he had across the door on the inside to hold it in place, and thus barricaded the door. The deputies immediately assumed Frank was defying them, so they lobbed a tear gas grenade in through the north side window. The unfortunate part of this whole incident was that the grenade landed underneath that table, thus setting off the caps and dynamite.
The explosion killed Frank Critzer, blew the windows out, and injured the deputies. Newspapers ran the story that he was a German spy. I had personally talked with the FBI; they knew the newspaper stories were not true. Frank had written a manuscript called the “Glass Age” which he’d given to a friend to type. In 1936 he had already in print all of the plastics we use today, and some of which we do not have yet. He was an advanced thinker in his own right, with a brilliant mind. When I finally had the time from work to come to Giant Rock after reading about Frank’s death in the newspapers, there was nothing left but the hole under the rock. All of Frank’s belongings had been hauled away, including the 4 cylinders Essex. The place was literally stripped. I was working for Douglas Aircraft at the time, and about a month had passed before I could come to Giant Rock. On numerous occasions, after the death of Frank, I came with my wife and family to spend our vacations here camping out — because we all loved this place.
When the war ended in 1945, I made application to the Bureau of Land Management to acquire this property, and wanted to make and airport here. Frank had already cleared an area and many airplanes had landed. However, it wasn’t on the air maps. Being of hard decomposed granite, it is a perfect natural runway. But it was not until 1947 when the paperwork that was involved was finally completed that we were able to move to Giant Rock. It was in 1953 when we began the weekly meditation meetings in the room under Giant Rock, which led to the UFO contacts. This resulted in the information that led to the principles of rejuvenation and to the creation of the Integratron. I operated the airport from 1947 until December 1975 at which time I sold it to Phyllis and John Brady, who in turn turned it over to Jose Rodriguez and his family in 1977. Giant Rock has been known worldwide for a long time for its unusual UFO activities and for the many unmatched annual Space Conventions which have been held here.
(excerpt from Mass Effect, Cabinet Magazine, Issue 53, Spring 2014)
Two hours east of Los Angeles, three hours west of Las Vegas, and many miles from the nearest traffic light or roadside diner lies a single boulder in the Mojave Desert claimed to be the largest rock in the world—-at least until 2000, when a large chunk broke off, neatly and without provocation. Now split in two, it is still called Giant Rock. Graffiti blackens the lower surface and ATVs roar nearby. There is an occasional tourist.
For two eccentric Californians, Frank Critzer and George Van Tassel, the immense girth of Giant Rock was not simple geological happenstance but a sign portending mystical significance. In the hands of these two men, Giant Rock became the locus of a strange episode in the twentieth-century history of the American West. Like all Western heroes, Critzer and Van Tassel felt themselves poised between worlds, and at the threshold of civilization. Both felt vitalized and validated by the rock, and both saw it as a natural hub, laboring for decades to make it a gathering place. Absolutely inert and yet fecund, Giant Rock was less a rock than a destiny.
There is little trace of this history at the rock itself, except for a dusty slab of concrete. The concrete conceals a cavern, built by Critzer as a home, and later used by Van Tassel for telecommunication sessions with aliens. No one knows how Critzer stumbled on Giant Rock in the 1930s, or why he decided to move there, but he was obviously clever and resourceful. Critzer saw that the rock’s immense shadow offered succor from the heat and, following the lead of desert tortoises that dig holes in the sand in which to cool themselves, he used dynamite to blast out an abode beneath its north face. Engineering a rainwater-collection system and a narrow tunnel for ventilation, the home he excavated was never warmer than eighty degrees Fahrenheit and never cooler than fifty-five. Perfectly suited to its site, Critzer’s abode refuted the paradigmatic inhospitality of the desert.
The area surrounding Giant Rock at the time was untrammeled, uninhabited government land, marked on maps as “unsurveyed.” Critzer was a squatter, and his closest neighbor, Charles Reche, a long five miles away. No more than half a dozen men had seen Giant Rock in the last two decades, Reche told Critzer, and Critzer, motivated by entrepreneurial ambition, loneliness, or the pioneer’s sense of duty to domesticate the landscape, took that as a challenge. Giant Rock sits beside an ancient lakebed, flat and firm, which Critzer transformed into an airplane runway, dragging a leveler behind his 1917 automobile. Tacking up a windsock and whitewashing a nearby boulder—-Giant Rock is only the largest of many towering rocks in the vicinity—-Critzer opened Giant Rock Airport for business. Then he turned to the terrain, using his car to clear thirty-three miles of road that eventually connected Giant Rock to two mines, Reche’s home, and, finally, the nearest paved street. A 1937 article about Critzer in the Los Angeles Times admiringly described these homemade roads as “the straightest desert road that anybody ever saw,” reckoning that Critzer held the world record for one-man road building.
By 1941, Critzer’s Giant Rock Airport averaged a plane a day, flown mainly by amateur pilots who also kept Critzer supplied with food and company. As legend goes, his visitors ate German pancakes at his kitchen table, their legs propped up on spare boxes of dynamite. Critzer hoped to spur investment in the area, and fantasized about opening a winter resort. His plans came to naught. On 25 July 1942, during a police visit gone awry, Critzer’s stash of dynamite exploded and he was killed. His exit from Giant Rock is as shrouded in mystery as his entrance; according to various accounts, the three officers were inquiring about missing dynamite, or gasoline theft, or the antennae Critzer used to attract a radio signal. Some speculated that the combination of a German name and isolated airfield during World War II justified a visit. Perhaps the explosion was an accident, or perhaps it happened exactly as the officers claimed, with Critzer shrieking, “You’re not taking me out of here alive! I’m going, but another way, and you’re going with me!” before he blew himself up.
One man was particularly intrigued by these events, and made his way out to Giant Rock from Los Angeles as soon as he could. George Van Tassel noted that when he arrived, Critzer’s cavern was stripped of belongings and the car gone. The only trace of Giant Rock’s tenant was a bit of blood splattered on the walls of his cave. The United States still had several laws in place that rewarded intrepid settlers with free land, such that Critzer’s industriousness at Giant Rock almost certainly would have guaranteed him legal ownership. At his death, however, the land reverted back to the government’s newly created Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Van Tassel was not deterred, and began brewing a plan to relocate. Five years later, in 1947, he managed to lease the property from the BLM and left Los Angeles for good, bringing along his wife, Eva, and their three young daughters.
Gubler Orchids is in Landers, California. The Gubler family has owned and operated the business since 1954. The greenhouse/farm is fairly easy to find off highway 247. When I visited there were no other visitors on site and I was able to get a personal tour. There are two large buildings available to visitors. The first building is closest to the parking lot and contains the entrance, gift shop, small greenhouse, and restrooms. The second building is available to visitors with a staff member/tour guide. On their website it states that tours are every 30 minutes, but if it happens to be a particularly slow day, they will accommodate you.
Sarah, my tour guide, was very informative. She had memorized a script which included information about the Gubler family, the facilities, the site, every orchid variety on site, and their growing conditions, but was also able to answer all of my random off the cuff questions. Sarah started working at Gubler over a year ago and has since become one of the most knowledgeable persons at the facility.
There are thousands of plants in the greenhouse at different stages of growth. Most orchids available at nurseries and or florists across the country are of the phalaenopsis variety which Gubler has hundreds if not thousands of in every color. Gubler also grows Lady’s Slipper Orchids, Vanilla Orchids, Dancing Lady Orchids, carnivorous plants, and Staghorn ferns among others. At any point in the tour visitors are allowed to take a plant from the greenhouse to purchase in the front building. You are not able to return to the greenhouse (second building) to grab orchids you saw during the tour so be impulsive while on the tour and scale back later. It fairly overwhelming to see and learn about all the different varieties.
There is an annual Morongo Valley Orchid Festival the first week of October so be sure to check that out if you are in the area. Gubler will have special orchids on site during and shortly after the festival. I was able to find the last of a special variety of Lady’s Slipper that was part o the festival.
If you are planning a visit be sure to swing by Integratron and eat at La Copine. They are both very close.
2200 Belfield Blvd Landers, CA 92285
King Clone is thought to be the oldest Creosote bush ring in the Mojave Desert. The ring is estimated to be 11,700 years old, making it one of the oldest living organisms on Earth. This single clonal colony is a group of genetically identical plants that grew from a single original plant (clonal colonies are often considered to be the same living organism). It reaches up to 67 feet in diameter, with an average diameter of 45 feet King Clone was identified and the age documented by Frank Vasek, a professor at the University of California, Riverside. The plants age was measured using two methods: radiocarbon dating and measurement of growth. In the first method, pieces of wood from the center of the ring were analyzed to find the amount of the radioisotope carbon-14 present. The second method measured the amount of time a clonal creosote bush takes to grow outward in a ring. Both methods arrived at the same conclusions, giving an estimated age of 11,700 years.
The land that King Clone resides on is mostly unprotected. This means that, unfortunately, many people may drive over it with all-terrain vehicles. But it also means visitors can go see King Clone in person.
Creosote Rings Preserve Location: In the California Mohave desert between Lucerne Valley and Johnson Valley on Highway 247. Head north on Bessimer Mine Road. Approximately .6 miles from the highway on the east side of the road you will find the beginning of a fenced area, triangle shaped, protecting the ancient Creosote rings. The rough dirt road is accessible with any vehicle that has good ground clearance, 4wd is not necessary. You must park and walk in. Good Luck!
If you ask Phil, owner of Lander’s Brew Company (in Landers, CA), what kind of garbage ingredients are in certain beers, he will tell you in his heavy British accent that “there’s an E-40 colorant that will fuck you up.” At LBC, you can get a variety of beers on tap, and you even get a Natty Ice and a bag of Cheetos when in stock.
Coming upon LBC, on a path of dirt off of several dirt roads in the middle of Landers, you might feel like you’ve mistakenly stumbled upon a beautiful accident in the middle of nowhere, and you’d be right. Phil knows just what he’s up to out there. When I joked to him about his habit of raking dirt around the building, he said that the patterned rake lines tell him a lot about what happens around his bar—-trespassers (human or animal), vehicle traffic, weather. “It tells you a lot,” he says stoically.
The building had hosted a variety of bars and restaurants since its construction as a roadhouse in 1948. Before LBC, it hosted The Castle, a biker bar. Before The Castle, there was O’Malley’s, The Oasis, and the original Golden Slipper. Phil recalls the days when the bar was the place where rough men from around the area came to get in bar fights.
These days, the bar boasts a beer garden, live music on an outdoor stage, and a karaoke night. It advertises itself as the “local watering hole with the best beer selection on tap in the desert — off-roaders, musicians, artists, misfits and characters welcome.” Patrons sign their name and the names of the people they meet at the bar on the back of dollar bills, which are stapled to the overhang above the bar.
1388 Golden Slipper Ln, Landers, CA 92285
At 4:57am on Sunday, June 28, 1992, a 7.3 magnitude earthquake broke the earth in the town of Landers, California. At that time, it was the largest magnitude earthquake to hit the contiguous United States in forty years. There were visible cracks in the earth, roads were torn apart, but only one person was killed—-a small child who was crushed under a collapsed brick fireplace while visiting the area with his parents.
Most of the information I gathered about the earthquake came from local residents who walked in and out of Lander’s Brewing Company on a Wednesday afternoon in October of 2016. The bar owner, Phil, remarked “the likelihood of being beach front is ever present here in California, no matter how far inland you go from the Pacific.” One bar patron, Tar, added, “locals who’ve been out here for a while call is Shakerville.” The bartender, Diane, jokingly sighed and said, “we lost K-Mart in the quake… good old K-Mart.” The old K-Mart stood on the north side of the 29 Palms highway. It was later rebuilt and has since been converted into a charter school, which recently closed. Frequent visitors to the area, Chuck and Brian, remembered an old weather reporter for KABC, George Fischbeck, who spoke about the inevitability of earthquakes. Chuck recalled an analogy Fischbeck made some time during his many decades on air, “If you imagine your mother’s fine China plate and somebody held it up and dropped it, it would break into several pieces. And with a little bit of glue you could put it back together. It would show the cracks but it would still be the plate and you could use it. If you live anywhere but on the crack itself, you would be inconvenienced for a few days, but your life would be put back together and you’d go on. And if you lived on the crack, there’s no amount of preparation you could have done to preserve yourself, so what the hell are you worrying about why don’t you enjoy what life you have right now.”
On my last visit to the Landers Landfill, the attendant said to me, “See you next month.” I don’t accumulate much garbage, and I recycle.
The view at the landfill is fantastic. Only once when I arrived during a massive spray-down, was the odor slightly unbearable. On my recent visit, the area smelled like fresh pine. The Household Waste area is shuffled around about every three months. During the summer, Household Waste was on the top level, along with Recycling. Currently Household Waste is located on the lower level with Recycling still on the upper level. Visually the layout reminds me of Dante’s circles of hell, but it’s quite pleasant for a landfill and not hellish at all.
The sanitation workers are friendly and informative. Last summer, one of the workers noticed the Integratron decal on my bumper and told me the story about Frank Critzer. It was a slow day and I was the only person around. The entrance used to have a few kitsch statues, but as of this writing, they’ve been relocated due to the expansion of the entrance kiosk.
Large ravens can be frequently seen circling overhead. On windy days, the retaining fence reminds me of work done by Christo and Jean-Claude.
As of today, only 14 people have left reviews of the landfill on Google. People typically spend 15 minutes here.
59200 Winters Rd, Landers, CA 92285
Mojave $5 Pizza Place—-yes, that’s actually its name—-is a pizza place attached to a gas station off Old Woman Springs Road in Landers, California. The owner, Michael, opened for business in October of 2012, and has since seen a steady flow of customers who love his fresh ingredients and adventurous delivery capabilities. His delivery vehicles are specially equipped to handle rough dirt roads. Per their advertising, they like a delivery challenge.
They deliver other goods as well, but you’d have to ask them in person just what that means.
Other bonuses are their dairy free cheese, gluten free dough, homemade alfredo sauce, and 45 different toppings. They also serve wings, salad, sandwiches, pasta, and chicken.
If you ask, the rowdy boys who run the place (Michael, his brother, and his friends) might tell you about the Landroidians (local Landers folk) and the methalopes (self-explanatory). Michael grew up in Landers and Mojave $5 Pizza Place is truly a local, family and friends business.
282 Old Woman Springs Rd, Yucca Valley, CA 92284
The Integratron is a large, white, wooden dome built in 1959 by UFO-ologist George Van Tassel in Landers, California. So the story goes, Van Tassel received instructions for the building from extraterrestrial forces during one of his weekly meditations in the subterranean room under Giant Rock.
Van Tassel built the Integratron based on the instructions received from the extraterrestrials, the design of Moses’ Tabernacle, and ideas from the writings of Nikola Tesla. He claims the 38-foot high, 55-foot diameter dome is built on top of an intersection of geomagnetic forces, which the dome structure amplifies.
The Integratron offers sound baths—-to be booked in advance—-where visitors (up to 32 at a time) can enjoy the perfect acoustics of the structure. Visitors lie on mats and wool blankets in a circle around the edges of the dome as bowl players play quartz crystal singing bowls correlating to different chakras of the body.
If you visit with a partner, stand at the opposite ends of the wooden beams upstairs, where you can talk at a regular volume and hear one another without anyone else hearing a sound.
2477 Belfield Blvd, Landers, CA 92285
Visit www.integratron.com for reservations
I am already on a different planet as I step onto the grounds of the Integratron, a spa-like mini-verse with a courtyard complete with a ‘hammock village’, bathrooms dedicated to Venus and Mars (there is also an genderless bathroom for those unaffiliated with a specific planet), complementary lemon flavored holy water and parasols to shade visitors from the desert heat. An older man (or wizard perhaps) greets me upon my arrival, and introduces me to the amenities of the experience. I am informed that the site of the Integratron is positioned on a major vortex where three water lines connect, creating energy fields that are powerful and unique. The lemon water comes from a well, and drinking it is supposed to have powerful, medicinal effects. There are chalkboards and chalk, and, after quickly drinking three cups of the water I begin to write intergalactic messages and symbols on the boards for future generations to decipher. This is a playground from another dimension, a Disney land for the spiritually inclined, an access point to enter a realm where beings can access higher vibrational frequencies and ascend to new levels of consciousness.
A man with the build of a security guard or football player jostles me out of my trance state and motions to the main building on the grounds, alerting me that the crystal bath séance is about to begin. He is wearing blue-tooth and dark glasses, and he murmurs ’enjoy your voyage’ as I flash him the Vulcan salute. As I walk towards the massive Integratron structure, I fixate on the event about to occur with dazed amazement, wondering absent mindedly if this experience will change the course of my life, will alter my destiny forever.
The Integratron is an all white geometric domed structure, designed by a scientist turned human prophet/earth ambassador to Venusian aliens, who gave him the blueprints to build this acoustically perfect portal, originally intended to increase the human life span through energy power. The ground floor of the structure is dimly lit with artifacts stating details about alien- human interaction at the Integration location. I give the wizardly man a ticket to enter the sound bath, and climb up a steep staircase in the center of the room, onto the second floor where I enter a world beyond the past-future time structure.
Along with the other human travelers, we are each instructed to lay on soft mats on the floor. I look up at the wood domed ceiling and through a skylight in the very center of the dome. The skylight looks like a gigantic eye, and as the clouds pass by I feel my soul being extracted from my body. A man is speaking, and his voice reverberates with tones that are alien to my ears. Distance is condensed in this acoustic environment so that the ear detects sound waves that are far away easier than sound waves that are close by. The exception to this phenomenon is when you are speaking in the center of the room, where your own voice will be distinctly amplified in your own ears.
The man leading the crystal bowl ceremony tells us that different crystal sounds access different chakras, and the sounds will vibrate through the body before registering as sound. This is why a sound bath is such a bodily experience, because the electromagnetic field of the body will intermingle with the vibrations produced in the environment. The sound bath begins and it is extraordinarily intense, causing my eyes to water profusely, as my perception gains sensitivity to an alternate consciousness. I can hear people breathing from far away, and I look up at the wood paneled ceiling where I begin to see many stories unfold in the wood grain. I see buffalo and mountains and plains and rivers, wars and cities. I close my eyes and begin to receive answers to questions about my own life that had been brewing in my unconscious. I visualize the future of my art practice, see the souls of people I have not yet met, and I come to terms with my own mind as a separate entity from my body.
If this was a ‘Vice’ article it might be titled ‘The Time I Went Soul 2 Soul with a Crystal, Was Abducted by an Orchestra of Intergalactic Sound Waves, and Discovered My True Form as a Venusian Alien’.
After the sound bath, I asked the wizardly man if aliens looked like human people, and he told me he had never seen an alien. I like to think that everyone is an alien mind, trying to make sense of a human body on a foreign planet full of mysteries. If we are all aliens than everyone is equally confused, and this is how I come to terms with my own confusion and the confusion of society at large. Others may see this outlook as ignorant, but I find it helpful, as it protects me from judgment and allows me to enjoy every experience as a new phenomenon.
2477 Belfield Blvd, Landers, CA 92285
In May 2013, I visited Jo Ann Karl at the Integratron in Landers, CA, to receive sound therapy, also called neuroacoustics or pschoacoustics. The Integratron is a very unusual white dome shaped building in the middle of the Mojave Desert. I was there with a group of fifteen other artists.
In the downstairs belly of the building, there are instruments scattered about and its wooden walls are dotted with mystic iconography, classic 1960’s UFO landing recreations and photographs and newspaper cuttings devoted to George Van Tassel, the engineer, architect and promoter of the building. In 1953 Van Tassel claimed that aliens of a spaceship from Venus woke him up at his home under Giant Rock and both verbally and telepathically gave him a technique for rejuvenating the human body, “to recharge energy into living cell structures, to bring about longer life with youthful energy.” The aliens told him the exact spot where he should build what was to become known as the Integratron.
In 1954, Van Tassel, who had previously worked as an airplane mechanic and flight inspector, began building with some others what they called the Integratron to perform the rejuvenation. He wanted to create a center for scientific and spiritual research with the aim to recharge and rejuvenate people’s cells. He called it “a time machine for basic research on rejuvenation, anti-gravity and time travel.” However the Integratron was never fully completed due to Van Tassel’s sudden death a few weeks before its official opening.
“Before I came here I would never ever thought I would be into this,” Jo Ann says to me, “I was a New Yorker working a regular office job, if you asked me ten years ago I would have said UFO’s, alien sightings were all rubbish.”
I climbed the wooden staircase to the upper floor and stumbled into a circular room with a vaulted dome-shaped ceiling suspended by a crisscross of arches. The floor appears to be held up by a giant acupuncture needle sticking out of the earth. I stand atop the needle and sound a tone, which surprisingly feels as if it is coming from within me, really within, with a resonance that seems infinite. It is shocking and I stop instantly. I hear my own frequency and I am not sure about it.
The sound therapy session takes place via a sound bath. Jo Ann guides each of us to find a place on the floor and explains that she is going to ‘play’ seven giant quartz bowls. She explains that bowls generate very pure frequencies that are keyed to the major energy centers of the body. I feel almost like I am being hypnotized as she starts to tell us about the correlation between the seven major notes of the scale and the seven major energy centers, or chakras, of the body. “If any of us wish to stay on and relax after the sound bath we are very welcome to do so,” Johanna says lastly, “but please do maintain silence and relaxation from this moment on. And no snoring during the sound bath, please.” With that, she begins.
As I lay there with my eyes closed listening to Jo Ann playing the quartz bowls the room becomes a sound chamber. I experience layers of textured tones, which in turn created feedback loops, spiral-like in form. The resonance of which makes it unclear what sounds are in my head and what sounds are outside it. Halfway through the sound bath, I hear it. Snoring. As it persisted, it was all I could hear. I was conscious that my colleague beside me is sleeping, but I am pretty sure he was not the snorer. I couldn’t figure out where the damn noise was coming from, but it seemed to be getting louder, louder, and spread all around me. A little bit disgruntled, perhaps I sat up a bit from my lying down position. Johanna spots me in a flash and says loudly, “Stop snoring please”. The snoring stops abruptly.
Once the sound bath ends, I am the first to leave and take a seat on the hammocks outside. When the rest of the group come one by one, I recount how I heard the snoring and amazingly, only a small number of the others had heard it. Anyone exempt from the snoring is positively glowing: I hear stories of deep healing dreams and visions, of symbols, messages, answers, healing feelings, and beautiful colors. No one knows who the snorer is.
That night, camped in the desert, off the main road leading on from Joshua Tree towards Palm Springs. As we were sitting around the campfire before bed, I wander into the desert for a nighttime pee. In front of me is a large expanse. I only now notice that the panorama is a surrounding circular ring of frozen waves cut in the center by a highway. I hear the unmistakable sounds of a motorcycle gang vroom-vrooming along the center of this highway. These stark sounds emanate from the bikes and somehow that night acts like the striking of the Tibetan singing bowl, except now the bowl is the landscape; the landscape is in a state of vibration. I hear the frequency of landscape and I am very sure about it. It is the emotion, or the expression of that place, right then, time as everything that has come before and time as everything that is right now, combined. I feel as if I have been turned into cello strings.
I squint and try to pick out the silhouette of the mountains against the bright night. The mountains stand sentinel, ready to keep my dreams in sleep. And then a single cloud passes over the moon and the land gradually disassociated from the sound. The tones uttered now cease to exist. Later, I sleep under the night sky surrounded by sonic reverberation.
2477 Belfield Blvd, Landers, CA 92285
(excerpt from the 2015 Institute of Investigative Living reader)
There are few hard facts about the origins and early life of George Van Tassel (1910-1978), the creator of the Integratron. According to his own account, he was an aeronautical engineer, a test pilot and personal pilot to Howard Hughes. What is known is that he was born in Ohio, flunked high school and moved to Southern California, where he worked in various capacities, including aircraft mechanic and flight inspector for the Douglas, Hughes and Lockheed aircraft companies during the war years, before being laid-off in 1947. It is also a fact that within a few years Van Tassel, with a set of unconventional spiritual leanings, had become a prominent figure in the postwar UFO movement, organizing annual “spacecraft conventions” at Giant Rock for 25 years. In 1947, at the age of 37, Van Tassel acquired a renewable government lease for the former Critzer land, re-opened the Giant Rock Airport and built a small cafe named The Come On Inn. Critzer’s dynamite-gutted abode became the underground storage space for the Van Tassel family, who at first slept outside the Rock and during the day tended the airstrip and their small cafe. It was in the shadow of Giant Rock that Van Tassel began his new identity as founder a religious non-profit, the Ministry of Universal Wisdom, and an associated college, and began mass mailing its official newsletter, the Proceedings of the College of Universal Wisdom.
Van Tassel was fully immersed in an elaborate belief in the existence of UFOs, and he asserted that the nearby airstrip was also frequented by visiting aliens. Initially drawn to Giant Rock to commune with the spirits of those Native American tribes who regarded the massive boulder as sacred, in 1953 he began conducting weekly meditation sessions in the rooms underneath the rock. The sessions, he claimed, led to UFO sightings, contacts and finally to his own transformative personal encounter with extraterrestrials. According to Van Tassel, on August 24, 1953, a spacecraft from the planet Venus landed in the middle of the night and invited him on board. There the aliens, who spoke perfect English, had a “healthy tan” and were all exactly 5’ 6” tall, shared with him the mathematical formulas and technical knowledge for rejuvenating living cell tissues with a machine. The “machine” would become the structure he called the Integratron.
Starting in 1953, Van Tassel’s annual spacecraft conventions would, at their peak in the late 50s—early 60s, attract thousands of enthusiasts and feature speakers, prominent “contactees” and even stunt flyers. Some attendees were reported to be involved in the study of antigravity, primary energy, and electromagnetism. In 1954, Van Tassel began construction on the Integratron, which he described as “a high-voltage electrostatic generator that would supply a broad range of frequencies to recharge the cell structure” of humans. The family used the conventions to subsidize the Integratron work, construction which continued until Van Tassel’s sudden death in 1978, after which the buildings at Giant Rock were vacated and gradually vandalized until the Bureau of Land Management bulldozed the remains. In the 1990s — 2000s, Giant Rock began to attract ravers, sometimes upwards of 3,000 at a time. On February 21, 2000, a huge piece of the rock split off and nearly crushed a parked RV. The sudden break may have been caused by heat from a large bonfire that burned next to the rock the night before.
At various points during the 25-year period that Van Tassel built and developed the Integratron, he called it “a time machine, a rejuvenation machine and an anti-gravity device.” He wrote that continuing UFO channeling and telepathy and the ideas of scientists such as Nikola Tesla led to the specific materials, construction and unique domed architecture of the structure, which was built entirely of old growth Douglas Fir (purportedly a gift from Howard Hughes). Recent research suggests that the core concepts for the Integratron were derived from the “bioelectric” research of George Lakhovsky, an eccentric Russian scientist whose writings, notably his book, The Secret of Life: Cosmic Rays and Radiations of Living Beings (1925), were circulating in esoteric and anti-establishment circles in southern California at the time. In his many radio and TV appearances, Van Tassel compared the Integratron to the Tabernacle of Moses. He claimed he was instructed by the higher intelligence extraterrestrials to build a 21^st^-century version of the Tabernacle using the same “positive power principle” of the Great Pyramids of Giza. He was told it would revitalize and rejuvenate the physical bodies of humans, a theory based on the idea of recharging of cell structures using a powerful negative ion field. “We are electrical creatures using a biochemical body to exist in an electro-chemical environment,” Van Tassel wrote. Additionally, Van Tassel and his followers believed that there are powerful geomagnetic fields running through the earth beneath the Integratron site. There is also a large underground aquifer. These elements combined with concentrations of quartz, gold, copper and granite result in a powerful vortex of energy. The Integratron’s parabolic shape embodied a sacred geometry that focused and amplified this energy, creating a space in which people experience energy beyond the normal visible/audible spectrum.
According to the current owners, scientists travel from around the world to study and experience the Integratron. One geophysicist described it as a ” mass battery.” A nuclear physicist called the sound chamber “a magnetic room.” In 2005, a scientist verified that at the center of the Integratron, there is a significant spike in the Earth’s magnetic field, which she had measured from Giant Rock to Joshua Tree National Park. Today, the Integratron, with its unusual architecture, sound chamber and elusive scientific underpinnings, is owned by Nancy and Joanne Karl. The two sisters work to preserve the site, offers public tours, special events and Sound Baths.
Sound Therapy, sometimes called Neuroacoustics or Psychoacoustics, has been used as a source of healing for centuries. Sound Baths at the Integratron are 30-minute “sonic healing sessions” that use tones from crystal bowls, which are particularly powerful because of the Integratron is a highly resonant, multi-wave sound chamber. The bowls are made from quartz, crushed and heated in a centrifugal mold. The bowls generate very pure frequencies and are keyed to the major energy centers of the body. There is a wide agreement that the 7 major notes of the scale correspond to the 7 major energy centers, or chakras, of the body, as well as to the colors of the spectrum. ”This energy-focusing ability was considered when the Integratron was designed, and accounts for some of its remarkable effects when used for music, sound therapy, meditation, physical healing, and spiritual upliftment.”