What is the Integratron?
It’s a circular, wooden, two-story, hemispherical umbrella dome structure built by George Van Tassel near Landers starting in 1958. Its primary purpose was as a life extension machine, but Van Tassel thought it might be able to undertake time travel and antigravity experiences. It was intended to be the primary building of a ten-acre campus called the College of Universal Wisdom to educate people about the teachings and guidance of the space people.
The History of the Integratron
The Integratron is the fusion of Art, Science and Magic
The Integratron, circa 1954, is located in Landers, California, 20 miles north of Joshua Tree National Park. Its creator, George Van Tassel (1910-1978), claimed that the structure is based on the design of Moses’ Tabernacle, the writings of Nikola Tesla and telepathic directions from extraterrestrials. This one-of-a-kind 38-foot high, 55-foot diameter, all wood dome was designed to be an electrostatic generator for the purpose of rejuvenation and time travel.
The location of the Integratron is an essential part of its functioning. It was built on an intersection of powerful geomagnetic forces that, when focused by the unique geometry of the building, concentrate and amplify the earth’s magnetic field. Magnetometers read a significant spike in the earth’s magnetic field in the center of the Integratron.
The Integratron is privately owned by three sisters who have been part of the restoration and maintenance of the structure and property for more than 30 years. Their focus is to restore and preserve the structure while sharing its amazing acoustical properties with the world via the Integratron Sound Bath.
This unique structure was listed in 2019 on the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service.
Early on the morning of Aug. 24, 1953, George Van Tassel, a 43-year-old former aviation engineer, was awakened by a man from outer space. Six years earlier, Van Tassel had moved with his family to Landers, Calif., a place of stark beauty and rainbow sunsets in the southeastern corner of the Mojave Desert, 40 desolate miles due north of Palm Springs. Van Tassel had the clean-cut look of a midcentury company man, and a résumé to match: He had worked for Lockheed and Douglas Aircraft, and for Howard Hughes’s aviation concern. But his spiritual leanings were esoteric. He settled in Landers because of its proximity to Giant Rock, an enormous seven-story-high desert boulder in whose shadow he would sit silently for hours at a stretch. He told friends that he went to Giant Rock to commune with the spirits of American Indians, who had regarded the boulder as sacred.
But on that night in 1953, Van Tassel’s visitor was not a Native American. He was, Van Tassel claimed, a Venusian: the captain of a “scout ship” from Venus that had landed on the airstrip abutting Van Tassel’s property. The spaceman looked like a human, wore a gray one-piece bodysuit and spoke, Van Tassel told a television interviewer, “in the best English, equivalent to Ronald Colman’s.” He informed Van Tassel that his name was Solganda and that he was 700 years old. (He looked no older than 28, Van Tassel said.) Van Tassel was ushered onto the spacecraft where he was told that Earthlings’ reliance on metal building materials was interfering with radio frequencies and disrupting interplanetary “thought transfers.” Solganda also divulged a secret: a formula that Van Tassel could use to build a remarkable machine, a device that would generate electrostatic energy to suspend the laws of gravity, extend human life and facilitate high-speed time travel.
Van Tassel died in 1978; Solganda hasn’t been heard from in decades, presumably having settled, at the ripe age of 750-something, into a comfortable Venusian retirement. But Giant Rock is still in Landers — a hulking mass that rises out of the desert like an immense beached whale. Three miles south of Giant Rock, across a scrubby expanse, you will find an even more extraordinary sight: a circular, dome-topped building, 38 feet tall and 55 feet in diameter, constructed by Van Tassel over the course of nearly two decades in accordance with the instructions of his extraterrestrial architectural patron. A sign above the gated entrance to the property proclaims the name that Van Tassel gave to his time machine: the Integratron.
“It’s the most amazing structure I’ve ever seen,” says Joanne Karl, who bought the building 14 years ago with her sisters Nancy and Patty. In fact, the Integratron is a sort of time machine, or at least a time capsule. It is an immaculately preserved artifact of midcentury modernist design, and a totem of 1950s U.F.O.-ology culture — the mixture of Cold War paranoia and occult spirituality that drew true believers to remote reaches of the Desert Southwest in search of flying saucers and free-floating enlightenment. Under the ownership of the Karls, it has become a unique tourist destination: perhaps the oddest spot in a very odd corner of the world, a magnet for new generations of spiritual questers and for the just plain curious. “Nobody comes to the Integratron and just shrugs,” says Joanne. “You don’t leave and say, ‘Oh, that was nothing.’ ”
GOOD VIBRATIONS The Integratron’s main chamber, where visitors lie on the floor and listen to transcendental tones played from quartz-crystal singing bowls.
Every visitor to the Integratron is on some level a pilgrim: It’s not a place that you just happen by. To reach the building, you wend through a sun-strafed landscape of Joshua trees and bare-rock outcroppings on a series of progressively smaller roads. Finally you spot it: a bright white dome jutting out from the dust that can at first glance appear to be a mirage — a U.F.O. that has touched down on the Mojave moonscape. The building’s brilliant whitewashed facade is not merely decorative, it’s adhesive. The Integratron was constructed without nails, screws, flashing or weather stripping. “It’s just paint and caulk that keeps the weather out,” says Nancy.
Inside the building, more engineering marvels await. You enter the Integratron through a set of double doors on its south side. A small stairway takes you from the ground floor, where there are exhibitions detailing the Integratron’s history, to the main attraction: the gloriously airy upper story. There, 16 rectangular windows offer 360-degree views of the desert, and the building’s wooden ribs, fashioned by shipbuilders, vault to the top of the dome. With the exception of a one-ton concrete ring that fixes those ribs in place, the whole thing — floor, walls, ceiling — is made of wood, old-growth Douglas fir from Washington State, which, if the lore is to be believed, Van Tassel was given as a gift by his old boss Howard Hughes. The wood lends a quaintly homey quality to the soaring space. It feels like the world’s most majestic clubhouse.
But it’s not the way the Integratron looks that draws thousands to Landers each year. It’s how the place sounds. The Karl sisters tout the Integratron as “an acoustically perfect” space, a “resonant tabernacle” whose form and materials — its curvilinear dome and reverberating wood — act as natural amplifiers, a surround-sound stereo system in the shape of a building. For fees ranging from $20 to $80, visitors can experience a so-called sound bath, reclining on mats while the sisters strike and stroke quartz-crystal singing bowls, producing tones that ripple and swirl through the building’s main chamber. The result, the Integratron’s website promises, is “sonic healing”: “waves of peace, heightened awareness and relaxation of the mind and body.”
It was a quest for sonic healing that brought the Karls to the Integratron in the first place. They visited Landers in the late 1980s on the advice of a friend, when the Integratron was in the hands of its second owners, Emile Canning and Diana Cushing. (Canning and Cushing purchased the property from George Van Tassel’s widow for $50,000.) The Karl sisters soon became part of a circle of Integratron regulars — traveling to Landers on weekends, sleeping in their rental cars and spending days beneath the dome in marathon sound-immersion sessions.
SPACE-TIME CONTINUUM The U.F.O.-logist George Van Tassel, in a photograph for Life magazine in 1962, outside the Integratron, where he hosted annual spacecraft summits.
“We experimented with every possible kind of sound,” Joanne remembers. “We played everything you could possibly play on a stereo: ZZ Top. Monks chanting. Om-ing kind of tapes. We had 20 hours of wild dolphin sounds from a marine biology professor. And then there were drums, you know — people would bring drums and we would drum for a whole bunch of hours. We weren’t musicians, but it would change us. We would play them until we were catatonic. I used to be known as the Governess of Catatonia.”
When the building came up for sale in the year 2000, the Karl sisters pooled their resources and bought it. Patty remained at her home in Pennsylvania, while Joanne and Nancy relocated to the desert to run the operation. For both sisters, it was a radical shift in career and lifestyle. They were successful professionals who had raised families in tony coastal enclaves. Joanne had lived for years in Sag Harbor, N.Y., in the Hamptons, where she worked in cardiac research and development. Nancy, a marketing specialist, was a resident of Marin County in Northern California. “It just feels like a thing that had to happen,” Nancy says. “The longer you’re here, the more the desert works on you.”
On an afternoon in early June, Nancy, 56, and Joanne, 60, could be found milling around the small compound that sits just beyond the fenced perimeter of the Integratron. When the Karls bought the Integratron, the building and environs had gone to seed — “It was Tumbleweed City,” Nancy says — but they have transformed it into an exceptionally pleasant place. Outside a low-slung office building, a little desert garden blooms: eucalyptus, pine, almond, pistachio, plum, apricot, olive and tamarisk trees, all planted by the Karls. The sisters preside over the Integratron with a mix of shaggy informality and military precision. They coordinate sound baths and other activities on walkie-talkies, answering to code names. (Joanne’s handle: “Lucid.” Nancy’s: “Rock It.”) When prodded, they will grudgingly discuss their business — it’s booming, they say, sound baths are booked solid — and supply names of the movie stars (Charlize Theron, Robert Downey Jr.) and musicians (Robert Plant, Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age) who’ve visited the Integratron.
But the Karls don’t like being called “owners.” Their preferred term is “stewards” — they are, they say, custodians of the Integratron’s history and full-time probers of its mysteries. They caution a reporter not to depict them as “crazy New Age witches.” Yet their hippie streak is undeniable. You will not spend a long time with the Karls before talk turns to chakras, energy fields and the “powerful geomagnetic vortex” atop which the Integratron sits.
But who can blame them? To spend even an hour at the Integratron is to find your mind opening to esoteric possibilities — to feel your doubts melting away beneath the desert sun, skepticism bending toward curiosity. You may not go as far as the thousands who traveled here decades ago, when Van Tassel hosted the annual Giant Rock Spacecraft Convention, a gathering of U.F.O. enthusiasts and alien “contactees.” You may not subscribe to Van Tassel’s belief that ancient Egyptians were capable of levitating “anything, including themselves,” that there are spaceship bases on the moon, that the Integratron is capable of rejuvenating your cells and reversing the aging process.
SPIRITUAL ARTIFACTS Crystals and other objects gathered in a small shrine inside the Integratron.
But an Integratron sound bath will startle your ears, and, perhaps, awaken your imagination. The crystal singing bowls have a ventriloquial effect: Their tones seem not to emanate from the instruments themselves, but to hover and dart in midair, an effect that is enhanced by the Integratron’s awesome acoustics. Lying back beneath the wooden dome, it seems at moments that you’re not listening to sound so much as inhabiting it — that you’re on the inside of a musical instrument, in the hollowed belly of a massive cello. It is, aesthetically speaking, extraterrestrial: a transportative encounter with music, an experience of pure sound not quite of this earth. “Ninety percent of what goes on here is beyond the visible eye perspective,” Nancy says. “And that’s why so many people, when they come here, if you were to say to them, ‘Well, describe it,’ they’d say, ‘Just go.’ Because it’s experiential. You really kind of have to come and hang out.”
On any given day, a peculiar parade of hangers-out moves through the Integratron’s gates: well-heeled spa devotees, raggedy yogis, a Peruvian shaman, a British rock band, a girls’ choir, a heartbroken lover seeking spiritual solace. A few years back, “a crazy German garage-scientist guy with a little bit of a tic” stopped by. He turned out to have known Van Tassel, and had the original architectural blueprints for the Integratron stashed in his bedroom. On another occasion, an older gentleman showed up, claiming to be a former government intelligence operative. He had an ominous warning for the Karls: “This project is watched. And you are watched. And there are watchers who watch the watchers, and watchers who watch them.” If a man from Venus — if Solganda himself — alighted on the roof of the Integratron tomorrow, you get the feeling that Joanne and Nancy would barely flinch.
“It’s part of our strategy in opening to the public,” Joanne says. “There are so many things we just don’t know. George [Van Tassel] said the Integratron was a time machine. Who knows? I mean, we just don’t know. Maybe someone out there will arrive with the answer. What if you’re the guy? What if you’re the one that comes in and goes, ‘I got it! I see it!’ So our choice is to just stay humble and see who walks through the door next.”
On the morning of February 21, 2000 at 8:20 a.m., an extraordinary event occurred. In outlying Landers, California, an immense boulder of igneous quartz monzonite, formed some 65 to 136 million years ago, cleaved. A huge section of the boulder came crashing down, revealing a gleaming white granite core. This erratic, aptly-named Giant Rock towers some seven stories high, weighs in at 25,000 tons or more, and covered 5,800 square feet in its original form.
Years before Giant Rock mysteriously split, this apartment-sized monolith achieved widespread notoriety. According to unsubstantiated internet accounts, the ancestral Serrano and Chemehuevi people conducted spiritual ceremonies at Giant Rock, during which only the chief was allowed to touch or be near it. By the start of the Great Depression, an eccentric prospector would tunnel underneath it to build his home. The boulder’s next tenant would claim that a friendly extraterrestrial visitor had provided the design for the nearby domed time-travel machine known as the Integratron.
New Agers have described Giant Rock’s location as a spiritual vortex where the Earth’s ley lines intersect, thus channeling mystical and psychic energy. Perhaps there is some validity to this assertion? After all, Landers, located about twenty miles north of Joshua Tree National Park, was the epicenter of a severely destructive 7.3 magnitude earthquake that occurred on June 28, 1992.
Take into account this online report involving Shri Naath Devi, founder of Eagle Wings of Enlightenment in South Central Los Angeles. On February 19 and 20, in the year 2000, after fasting, she and a group of devotees began a “long dance” ceremony because Shri had divined that the boulder was being spiritually neglected. In response, the earth was expected to undergo a “violent upheaval” unless they intervened. The story goes on to detail how the “Mother” would crack the boulder at its side if their prayers were answered. Alternatively, if it split through the middle, this action expressed the Mother’s displeasure with humankind.
The group began the ceremony at Giant Rock and moved to the nearby Integratron property that afternoon. Here, from sunset until 3:30 a.m. the following morning, eight to ten participants danced around a fire until “the last person fell from exhaustion,” thus concluding the rite as a light rain began to fall. Not only did the boulder crack the next day, but a huge one-eighth section broke off. Shri Naath Devi and the others are said to have interpreted this as Mother Earth “opening her arms to us, cracking open her heart for the world to see.” This episode adds yet another cryptic layer to the strange and colorful folk history of Giant Rock, what some considered the largest freestanding boulder in the world.
Our story begins nearly ninety years ago, when Frank M. Critzer first stumbled upon this exceptional boulder. The itinerant Critzer was born in 1886 in Waynesboro, Virginia. A former member of the Merchant Marine, it is not known how Critzer first learned about Giant Rock, but he evidently arrived there in 1931. Critzer proceeded to set up camp as a squatter and then filed a mining claim shortly thereafter. A self-reliant soul, Critzer began to blast out a 24 x 36 foot, two-room home underneath the immense boulder’s north side. The underground dwelling featured hand-hewn stone stairs leading to a ventilated living room, kitchen area and bedroom. A bank window positioned under the boulder’s overhang passively lit the chamber during the daytime, and a water catchment system collected occasional desert rainfall off the rock’s face. The interior of his subterranean home remained a temperate 55 to 80° Fahrenheit year round.
By most accounts, Critzer was described as an odd but sociable host. He served up German pancakes while he and his visitors conversed, propping up their legs on boxes of dynamite, which their host used for his various prospecting and construction projects. Locally, Critzer was known for community service, grading thirty-three miles of level dirt roads in the future Landers area, earning the nickname “Straight Road Frank” for his efforts. He additionally graded an emergency landing field on the dry lake just east of the boulder, complete with an unauthorized windsock. The Giant Rock Airport remained operational from 1940 to 1975. One of Critzer’s strangest boasts was how he was “so full of electricity” that he could charge flashlight batteries by placing them under his pillow while he slept.
Publicly, Critzer was described as an agreeable character. An illustrated article from the May 9, 1937 edition of the Los Angeles Times featured his unique home and the public airstrip. A few years later, however, a July 26, 1942 Times article presented Critzer in a completely different light: Three Riverside deputy sheriffs raided his subterranean home on July 25, 1942, seeking information on recent thefts of dynamite, gasoline and mining equipment in area towns. Apparently the encounter had gone sour.
To add fuel to the fire, Critzer had been under FBI investigation sometime during the late 1930s, for suspicious activities spurred by pre-WWII paranoia and his fraudulently assumed German heritage. It hadn’t helped that he had installed a short-wave radio antenna and receiver on a nearby rock formation, adding to the speculation that he was a Nazi spy. Although Critzer was formally cleared of these charges, law enforcement and some locals remained apprehensive of this eccentric desert character.
“I’m going all right,” the hermit bellowed. “But your’re going with me!” And before the sheriff could interfere Kritzer [sic] pressed the plunger of a dentonator wired to his secret cache of dynamite and it went off with a terrific roar. –“How the Hermit of Giant Rock Sealed His Strange Secret,” The American Weekly, November 8, 1942
Regarding the actual chain of events that occurred on July 25, 1942, several versions of began to circulate. The Times states that shortly after arriving, deputies Claude McCraken, Harold Simpson and Fred Pratt were severely injured when seventy pounds of Critzer’s dynamite mysteriously exploded. McCraken, being the first to enter the cave, was the most seriously injured of the three. The blast was said to be so forceful that it shredded his clothing as he was violently thrown about the room. McCraken sustained up to 100 bloody gashes and had to be hospitalized. The explosion occurred as the other two deputies were descending the stairs, allowing them to escape with concussions and some less serious injuries. Varying accounts suggest that either Critzer or the deputies somehow accidently or purposely set off the stash during the confrontation.
One thing is known: Critzer, 56, died immediately. Details are murky as to how or why the blast occurred, since the explosion and subsequent fire destroyed any evidence that could determine Critzer’s guilt or innocence. As it turned out, the missing dynamite was later discovered in Joshua Tree National Monument.
Before Critzer’s questionable demise, one of his regular visitors was George W. Van Tassel, an Ohio native who had moved to Southern California in 1930 at age 20 to work in the booming aviation industries. Van Tassel worked with Douglas Aircraft until 1941, then moved on to Howard Hughes’ operation and finally ended his aviation career at Lockheed’s Skunk Works in Burbank. Van Tassel claims to have worked as a flight safety inspector and even as Howard Hughes’ personal test pilot, although some researchers assert that he most likely embellished his career history. Van Tassel additionally claimed that he had first met Critzer in 1930 at his uncle Glenn Paine’s Santa Monica auto repair shop, just before the aspiring prospector made his way out to the Morongo Basin.
According to Van Tassel’s story, Critzer had found himself broke and in desperate need of car repairs when he stumbled into Paine’s shop. The three struck up an immediate friendship to the extent that Glenn and George repaired Critzer’s car for free and let him bunk in the garage overnight. By the next day, Glenn and George had grubstaked Critzer $30 plus foodstuffs, so he could prospect in the desert. Critzer planned to repay them once he struck it rich. Keep in mind that $30 was a hefty sum in 1930 dollars—around $430 today—which is a rather generous wad of cash to hand over to a complete stranger. The trio agreed that once Critzer was settled he would drop them a line notifying them of his general whereabouts. George maintained that he visited Critzer’s home regularly beginning in 1931, occasionally with his family in tow. During these visits, Van Tassel claimed that Critzer shared breakthrough formulas for plastics not in use at the time, and other visionary inventions that were lost in the unfortunate explosion.
Even after Critzer’s untimely death, Van Tassel continued to visit Giant Rock. He eventually applied for a permit from the Bureau of Land Management to operate the airport on 2,600 acres of public land in 1945. By 1947, George, his wife Eva and their three daughters moved to Giant Rock, where they began their new life running the airport and a café called Come On Inn, popular with the locals for Eva’s tasty hamburgers and spiced apple pies.
During the early 1950s, Van Tassel began hosting Friday night “meditation” sessions in Critzer’s former subterranean digs. During these channeling meet-ups, Van Tassel claimed to have received telepathic communications, which he referred to as “thought transference,” originating from a group of compassionate Venusian extraterrestrials. The first of these psychic transmissions began on January 6, 1952, when “Lutbunn, senior in command first wave, planet patrol, realms of Schare” initially contacted him. These psychic visitations became so numerous that by the end of 1952, Van Tassel had enough to publish a collection of missives, titled I Rode a Flying Saucer. His volume included salutatory telepathic messages from bizarrely-named benevolent aliens, such as Ashtar, Clatu, Locktopar, Singba and Totalmon.
Van Tassel recounted in his 1956 book, Into This World and Out Again, his first physical encounter with the aliens. He was awakened by Solgonda, a member of the Council of the Seven Lights, around 2 a.m. on August 24, 1953, and taken onto a spacecraft that had landed at Giant Rock’s adjacent airstrip. Van Tassel described the spaceship as “about thirty-six feet in diameter and about nineteen feet high,” with an interior space that appeared somewhat smaller. Once teleported aboard, Solganda and three other male humanoid aliens showed Van Tassel the craft’s celestial navigational instrumentation and other features, including retractable seating—all described to Van Tassel via telepathy. The entire incident was estimated to have lasted about twenty minutes. During a 1964 televised interview, Van Tassel described the extraterrestrials as youthful “white people with a good healthy tan,” and of average human height. He estimated their ages at 700 years old.
Many of the telepathic missives warned George and his fellow humans about the dangers of testing atomic and thermonuclear armaments. For instance, on April 19, 1952, Kerrull, 64th projection, 2nd wave, 4th sector patrol, realms of Schare proclaims, “due to inaccurate calculations, many of your fellow beings will suffer prolonged illness from an experiment to be conducted next week. This folly in the use of atomic power for destruction will rebound upon the users. Discontinue.” Indeed, the U.S. Government detonated eight “free air drop” atomic weapons between April 1 and June 5, 1952 at the Nevada Proving Ground as part of Operation Tumbler-Snapper, which caused “dramatically higher civilian radiation exposures” of radioiodine 131 in downwind regions.
As a UFO “contactee” Van Tassel was not unique. It is not coincidental that nearly all of his peers hailed from Southern California, or that many of their alien encounters took place in the Mojave Desert. Consider George Adamski, author of the 1953 book, Flying Saucers Have Landed (co-written with Desmond Leslie), who had his first encounter with a friendly Venusian called “Orthon” near Desert Center, California, on November 20, 1952—around the same time as Van Tassel’s initial contact.
Adamski described Orthon as a fashionably-attired extraterrestrial sporting a belted jumpsuit with tanned Nordic features and shoulder-length blonde hair, who could also communicate telepathically. In 1949, several years before this particular encounter, Adamski began giving public lectures throughout Southern California about his numerous UFO sightings in the Palomar Gardens area of North San Diego County. As with Van Tassel’s benign and compassionate aliens, Orthon warned Adamski about the perils of atomic testing, with the explanation that radiation emanating from earth would spread and contaminate the entire solar system.
Adamski also claimed that the Venusians subscribed to universal law, stressing a “Creator of All” that conveniently reflected Judeo-Christian religious beliefs and doctrines. The idea that Christianity and even Christ himself came from outer space seems to be the prevailing ethos communicated by these alien mentors to their 1950s contactees.
Van Tassel went so far as to postulate that Mary, mother of Christ, was herself an extraterrestrial “who volunteered through assignment” to birth Jesus on Earth, or Shan, as the space people were said to call our planet. It seems that Jesus Christ, too, was an alien selected for duty. Both were part of Van Tassel’s “Adamic Race” of “space people of God’s pure creation.” He goes on to mention that the three wise men present at Christ’s birth were extraterrestrials who followed the spacecraft, better known as the Star of Bethlehem, “until it hovered where Jesus was being born.” This is just one of Van Tassel’s numerous and complicated revisionist interpretations of both the New and Old Testaments, in which he posits “angel” as a misspelling and misinterpretation for “alien,” or that a select group of individuals with the correct “vibratory body aura” will be snatched up to the heavens by godly extraterrestrials during the Rapture.
In his 1976 collection of writings, When Stars Look Down, he writes, “Whether one believes in Christ, or not, is not the point…The point is that the conditions of earth require outside intervention, and the time conforms to the requirements of prophecy.” Van Tassel, along with the other 1950s “Christian ufologists,” including Adamski and Orfeo Angelucci, would help usher in the 1970s “New Age of Earth” movement that brought together esoteric traditions, occultism, 1960s counterculture, and environmentalism into an eclectic, holistic spiritual institution.
Another notable mid-century contactee with Mojave Desert connections was Truman Bethurum, a day laborer who also moonlighted as a fortuneteller and spiritual advisor. Bethurum detailed his own experience in his 1954 book, Aboard a Flying Saucer, claiming he had been singularly invited aboard a spacecraft that landed in the desert near a worksite where he and a construction crew were laying asphalt. The captain of the vessel turned out to be a petite, extremely striking humanoid female named Aura Rhanes, who was visiting from the planet Clarion. Bethurum explained how this unknown planet could not be directly viewed by humans because it remained behind the sun, seemingly unfettered by the laws of planetary motion. During their ten recorded meetings, notably at public lunch counters, Aura communicated to Bethurum that Clarion was a utopian society free of “war, divorce and taxes.” She went on to share how Clarionites lived to be nearly 1000 years old and were good Christians to boot. Captain Rhanes offered Bethurum a ride on her spacecraft but she apparently flaked out. Bethurum claims he never saw or heard from her again, although he remained obsessed with the illusory Aura throughout his life, leading to the failure of his second marriage.
<►>A February 1940 Popular Science feature on Frank Critzer’s unique subterranean abode and airstrip.
Bethurum relocated to Landers shortly after attending one of Van Tassel’s seventeen annual Giant Rock Interplanetary Spacecraft Conventions. The events attracted droves of the UFO-obsessed, who spent two days in the desert camping in tents and travel trailers. The core 1950s contactees, including Adamski, Angelucci, Bethurum and others guests, lectured to a festive and enthusiastic crowd from a wooden platform located at the southern side of Giant Rock. In the evening, as they waited patiently for extraterrestrial visitors, attendees gathered around campfires swapping personal sightings of UFOs, alien abductions and other unexplained phenomena.
At its height of popularity during the mid- to late-1950s, the convention reportedly attracted 1,200 to 11,000 attendees, depending on what year and the source cited. Van Tassel announced that he planned to run for president in 1960, using the UFO convention as his campaign launch, certain that his alien friends would help him win. Interest in the conventions began to fizzle during the early 1970s, due, in Van Tassel’s view, to the fact that UFO sightings had become commonplace.
In conjunction with his annual convention, Van Tassel launched the non-profit, non-sectarian Ministry of Universal Wisdom in 1958, along with an associated college dedicated to “religious and scientific research.” He also began publishing and distributing The Proceedings of the College of Universal Wisdom and authored several more books. In these sprawling treatises, Van Tassel jumps recklessly from one pseudo-scientific theory to another, suggesting that he was an intelligent, active thinker with far too much time on his hands. Sprinkled throughout his essays are references to esoteric philosophies, including Theosophy and Spiritualism along with hints of Scientology, Mormonism and his own form of Christian revisionist ufology.
Over time, Van Tassel would boast that he appeared on 409 radio and television shows and had given 297 lectures. Listening and watching the few archived lectures available online, it is easy to comprehend why his many followers found his demeanor so convincing—Van Tassel’s reassuring voice and his fair, conservative Anglo appearance projected an effortless image of professionalism, sincerity and authority.
A “TIME MACHINE”
FOR BASIC RESEARCH ON
Beginning in 1953, Van Tassel began to conceive, plan and construct the Integratron, located three miles south of Giant Rock off Linn Road in Landers. This sixteen-sided domed wooden structure is thirty-eight feet high and fifty-five feet in diameter, joined together without nails or metal fasteners so as not to interfere with its conductive qualities. The building is constructed with glue, laminated old-growth Douglas fir beam “spines,” and plywood. The exterior is painted brilliant white and, from a distance, gives the impression that a flying saucer has just landed. A central one-ton concrete core holds the structure’s curvilinear wooden skeleton in place. Copper wire emanating from the core spirals outward to enfold the entire circumference of the structure. The rotating “floating” armature, mounted with sixty-four aluminum collectors, was designed to act as a huge capacitor to collect “up to 50,000 volts of static electricity from the air in order to charge the human body,” but it never became operational.
The actual architectural plans were drafted by Los Angeles architect Howard Peyton Hess, who was later asked in an interview whether he had received his design directives from aliens. He replied:
No little space people stood at my elbow and whispered in my ear. But when I finished the job, Van Tassel told me, “They surely must have been guiding you on this. It’s exactly what we want.”
But Hess went on to mention that he personally heard “voices purporting to be those of space people giving messages through Van Tassel’s vocal cords.” Over the twenty-five years that Van Tassel worked on the Integratron, over $200,000 in worldwide donations from his devotees funded its construction—one could imagine the endeavor as an early crowdfunding project.
Van Tassel long maintained that Solganda provided him with the formula for the Integratron during their purported exchange at Giant Rock in August 1953. Over time, Van Tassel would interchangeably assert that this formula was a seventeen-page equation tested secretly in Chicago, or that Solganda had verbally stated this far simpler version: f=1/t with (f) for frequency and (t) for time.
In truth, the Integratron’s design and ultimate function were distilled from numerous sources, arising from Van Tassel’s obsession with fringe science. Conceptually, the Integratron is an amalgam of arcane interests, including Mesmerism, also known as animal magnetism, which posits an invisible natural force, possibly a vital bodily fluid, possessed by all living animate beings that responds to magnetism. The word “mesmerize” originated from Franz Anton Mesmer, the eighteenth century founder of Mesmerism, which was discounted by his peers as pseudo-science.
More central to the concept behind the Integratron is the work of Russian scientist Georges Lakhovsky, whose first iteration of his Multiple Wave Oscillator appeared in 1923. Lakhovsky authored The Secret of Life: Electricity, Radiation and Your Body in 1929, positing that, “cells from living organisms behave as tiny radio transmitters and receivers” sensitive to oscillations or frequencies that could be positively manipulated by his restorative electromagnetic device to cure cancer and other maladies. This device, whose main components were two large copper coils infused with high voltage, in turn borrowed heavily from Nikola Tesla’s invention, the Tesla coil. Van Tassel extensively cites both Lakhovsky and Tesla’s concepts in his own texts describing the inner workings of the Integratron. Coincidentally, Tesla publicly shared that he, too, had received extraterrestrial communiqués.
Like batteries, cells run down, bodies run down, and the energy loss is manifested as aging. —George Van Tassel, When Stars Look Down
The Integratron website describes the structure as “a resonant tabernacle and energy machine sited on a powerful geomagnetic vortex in the magical Mojave Desert.” Indeed, the Integratron was designed as an electrostatic generator to rejuvenate human cells and tissue. Its designation as a “time machine” has been misconstrued: the Integratron was not designed for literal time travel but as a way to transcend the effects of time by defying the laws of gravity and reversing the ravages of age on the body.
Once the structure was operational, Van Tassel intended for participants to don white suits, enter and pass through the lower floor in a precise 270-degree arc, during which each individual would be exposed to rejuvenating “electromagnetic vibrations” before exiting through the rear door. The “energy” was to be generated through the revolution of an external ring located between the two floors of the structure, which transferred and focused the “electrostatic forces” within the concrete-housed stator, positioned in the center of the lower floor. Instead of sitting between the two copper coils of Lakhovsky’s design, Van Tassel’s participants were to be immersed in a giant copper generating spiral that encircled the entire building.
Although the building itself had been fully constructed by 1959, when Van Tassel rather mysteriously died of a heart attack on February 9, 1978, the Integratron’s electrostatic mechanism was said to be ninety percent complete, and yet no plans or instructions could be found to make it operational. Disciples close to Van Tassel claimed that his blueprints were stolen, attributing the theft to a conspiratorial cover-up. Van Tassel was buried with an epitaph reading, “Birth through Induction, Death by Short Circuit.”
After Van Tassels’ death, his second wife, Dorris, leased the building to several tenants, including one who had plans to make the dome into a disco. Over the next few years the structure began to fall into disrepair, until a New Age couple from the Bay area, interested in preserving the Integratron’s unique history, decided to purchase it in 1987 for $50,000. The dome’s latest owners are three sisters from the east coast, Joanne, Nancy and Patty Karl, who bought the property in 2000. Over time they have lovingly restored both the grounds and the building, which requires constant structural maintenance. In 2018, the Integratron was nominated for the National Registry of Historic Places.
Although the Integratron is not being used as Van Tassel had originally intended, it has become an outrageously trendy tourist destination with 20,000 to 30,000 visitors each year. For a fee, immersive sound bath sessions are performed with specialized white quartz bowls of varying sizes to produce transformative “harmonic sound frequencies” within the acoustically perfect upstairs space. A 2014 New York Times feature described the experience as similar to being “inside of a musical instrument.” Indeed, to participate in a sound bath at the Integratron is to encounter sound both purely and physically. The spatial qualities of the structure generate audio tones and vibrations that aurally envelop your body and mind in a profoundly pleasant meditative state.
Whether or not one believes in Van Tassel’s alleged alien encounters or the Integratron’s extraterrestrial provenance, one must acknowledge his devoted affection for the landscape surrounding Giant Rock. Here, the Mojave Desert plays a starring role in Van Tassel’s out-of-this-world vision that is both a site for the wildly popular UFO conventions he hosted and his magnum opus, the Integratron.
One can surmise from Van Tassel’s writings and interviews that, as an embedded desert dweller who slept with his family semi-outdoors most evenings, he remained attuned throughout his life to the desert’s many nuances and hidden secrets.
It should be noted, too, that the public’s fascination with Van Tassel’s UFO-tinged form of Christianity was not coincidental; his claims were uncannily similar to those of his peers. More importantly, however, he had tapped into the looming Cold War anxiety of the time. Of course, these claims were bolstered by a heavy dose of showmanship and Van Tassel’s obsession with fringe science and esoteric spiritual practices. His vision may have even indirectly inspired darker manifestations of these UFO-based myths, such as the infamous 1997 Heaven’s Gates mass suicide. Still, without Van Tassel’s moonstruck extraterrestrial-infused visions, mid-twentieth century popular culture would just not be the same.
Shortly after Giant Rock cleaved in 2000, theories began to circulate on the cause of the split, including the previously mentioned “long dance” ceremony. The local Hi-Desert Star initially offered natural causes as the likely culprit, suggesting that an existing fracture in the rock had been exacerbated by continuous weather-induced expansion and contraction along with intermittent seismic events—including a 4.4 earthquake centered in Loma Linda just two hours before the break occurred.
One of the more rational explanations was the extreme heat generated by numerous bonfires set at all sides of the boulder throughout the years—some large and hot enough to do lasting damage. Indeed, Giant Rock continues to be a popular local meet-up spot for partying teenagers, ravers, campers and off-roaders, who have regularly set fires around the monolith using large timbers, tires, car engines and other combustible items. The resulting black soot shrouds the boulder’s lower northern face, where the Bureau of Land Management filled in Critzer’s bunker during the early 1980s. One gentleman wrote to the Hi-Desert Star, suggesting that the 1942 blast contributed to the split. Whatever the actual cause, most folks were not particularly surprised when crude graffiti appeared instantaneously, marring the pristine white surface.
On February 21, 2004, the Hi-Desert Star reported that a woman painted the exposed inner surface of Giant Rock a bright magenta, using a generator-powered airless sprayer. Two dirt bike riders stumbling upon this January 11, 2000 “artistic” intervention were aghast. When they asked the woman what she was doing, she explained, “This is my way of expressing the rock’s pain. The rock is bleeding from the split.” To this day the woman has not been identified. The red paint is no longer visible but has been replaced by layers of new tagging. Lacking any reverence for what this boulder may have witnessed throughout its unfathomable history, these individuals return time and time again to deface it without forethought.
Throughout the years, a number of local groups including the Friends of Giant Rock have organized cleanup efforts and graffiti abatement in their attempt to rid the area of trash, debris and unsightly markings on the boulder’s surface. Artist Karyl Newman, who created a detailed online interactive timeline of Giant Rock’s history, partnered with the Bureau of Land Management, the Morongo Basin Historical Society and several community groups for three trash collection efforts she initiated in 2016. In all, they removed over seven tons of trash from the surrounding site.
Newman partnered with the Yucca Valley’s Hi-Desert Nature Museum to develop Our Giant Rock: A Community Touchstone in the Mojave, a multimedia project and programming series funded by California Humanities, scheduled for public launch in 2020. Newman will bring together an archaeologist, explosives specialist and other research experts in an attempt to resolve some of the many mysteries of Giant Rock. Was the site truly a locus for regional tribal occupation and spiritual activities? To what extent did federal authorities investigate Critzer and Van Tassel, and if so, what did they find? And finally, what really caused Giant Rock to split in 2000?
No doubt as time passes, Giant Rock and Van Tassel’s mythical legacies will continue to evolve. Over deep time, the incessant graffiti will have long faded and the boulder’s secrets and lore will be lost. One thing is certain: Giant Rock will persist as it always has—stoically and with fortitude—well into the next millennium.