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Giant Rock, Space People and the Integratron

Giant Rock, Landers, CA (2014) | © Kim Stringfellow 2018

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 core¹. This erratic, aptly-named Giant Rock towers some seven stories high, weighed 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, ancestral Serrano and Chemehuevi conducted spiritual ceremonies at Giant Rock, during which only the chief was allowed to touch or be near it ². 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, 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 ³. 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.

A February 1940 Popular Science feature on Frank Critzer's unique subterranean abode and airstrip.
A February 1940 Popular Science feature on Frank Critzer's unique subterranean abode and airstrip.

Our story begins nearly 90 years ago, when Frank M. Critzer first stumbled upon this exceptional boulder. A former member of the Merchant Marine, the itinerant Critzer was born in 1886 in Waynesboro, Virginia. 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 degrees 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 33 miles of level dirt roads in the future Landers area, earning the nickname “Straight Road Frank” for his efforts. He also graded an emergency landing field on the dry lake just east of 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 ¹⁰. 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.

“You’re not taking me out of here alive. I’m going, but another way, and you’re going with me!” –Los Angeles Times, July 26, 1942
Illustration from a November 8, 1942 American Weekly story titled, “How the Hermit of Giant Rock Sealed his Strange Secret.” | Courtesy of the Morongo Basin Historical Society
Illustration from a November 8, 1942 American Weekly story titled, “How the Hermit of Giant Rock Sealed his Strange Secret.” | Courtesy of the Morongo Basin Historical Society

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 70 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 the 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 Monument¹¹.

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 twenty 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’s personal test pilot, although some researchers assert that he most likely embellished his career history¹². 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 Paine and Van Tassel repaired Critzer’s car for free and let him bunk in the garage overnight. By the next day, Paine and Van Tassel 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, Van Tassel, 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 him¹³. 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.

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Van Tassel recounted his first physical encounter with the aliens in his 1956 book, “Into This World and Out Again.” 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 airstrip¹⁴. Van Tassel described the spaceship as “about 36 feet in diameter and about 19 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 20 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 regions¹⁵.

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 of Van Tassel’s initial contact¹⁶.

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”¹⁷." 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 Rapture¹⁸.

In his 1976 collection of writings, “When Stars Look Down:” “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 1,000 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.

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.

A May 27, 1957 LIFE Magazine feature on the Giant Rock Interplanetary Spaceship Convention. | Ralph Crane for LIFE Magazine, May 27, 1957
A May 27, 1957 LIFE Magazine feature on the Giant Rock Interplanetary Spaceship Convention. | Ralph Crane for LIFE Magazine, May 27, 1957

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 books¹⁹. 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 lectures²⁰. 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.

The Integratron, Landers, CA. | Kim Stringfellow
The Integratron, Landers, CA. | Kim Stringfellow


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 38 feet high and 55 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 64 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 operational²¹.

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.”[²² 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 ²³.

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 18th-century founder of Mesmerism, which was discounted by his peers as pseudo-science²⁴.

George Van Tassel pictured with his Integratron in Landers, CA. | Daniel Hennessy for LIFE Magazine 1962
George Van Tassel pictured with his Integratron in Landers, CA. | Daniel Hennessy for LIFE Magazine 1962

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 maladies²⁵. 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 Telsa’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 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 public 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, they 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 practices²⁶. 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.

The front page of the Hi-Desert Star two days after Giant Rock cleaved in two on February 21, 2000 | Stacy Moore of Hi-Desert Star
The front page of the Hi-Desert Star two days after Giant Rock cleaved in two on February 21, 2000 | Stacy Moore of Hi-Desert Star

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 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 January 21, 2004, the Hi-Desert Star reported that an unidentified woman spray painted the boulder's exposed surfaces bright red as an "artistic" intervention "expressing the rock’s pain." | Sara Munro for Hi-Desert Star
On January 21, 2004, the Hi-Desert Star reported that an unidentified woman spray painted the boulder's exposed surfaces bright red as an "artistic" intervention "expressing the rock’s pain." | Sara Munro for Hi-Desert Star

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 clean-up 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.

The north side of Giant Rock showing soot and ash of past bonfires staged here. A concrete slab covers the location of Critzer's former underground home | Kim Stringfellow
The north side of Giant Rock showing soot and ash of past bonfires staged here. A concrete slab covers the location of Critzer's former underground home | Kim Stringfellow

Newman is currently partnering 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 2019. 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.

Top Image: Giant Rock, Landers, CA (2014) | © Kim Stringfellow 2018


[1] The Morongo Basin’s Hi-Desert Star reported on February 23, 2000 that Leslie and Larry Blunden of Palmdale, among others, had been camping at Giant Rock the morning of the split, thus recording the time of the actual event.

[2] These anecdotal accounts fail to provide any anthropological evidence for such claims, but it seems they originate from a single document authored by George Van Tassel, a copy of which is in the possession of the current Integratron owners. The authenticated handwritten letter details Giant Rock’s early Native American history as told to Van Tassel by area Indians and also Charlie Reche, a well-known rancher who sold the property on which the Integratron is located to Van Tassel..

[3] Joanne Karl, one of the Integratron’s current owners, was present for the long dance ceremony headed by Shri Naath Devi and described the event. Email correspondence with the author and Joanne Karl on April 27, 2018.

[4] The author was not able to contact Shri Naath Devi to comment on or confirm this story.

[5] Critzer is a variant of Kritzer. Both spellings were used interchangeably in various historical newspaper accounts. The 1940 U.S. Census for Twentynine Palms, San Bernardino County, California, lists his name as “Critzer.” However, his death certificate on file at findagrave.com spells his last name as “Kritzer” — a misspelling.

[6] Critzer’s February 25, 1928 notarized Merchant Marine application states that he is a Native U.S. citizen and not a German national as some previous accounts have stated.

[7] A 1940 Popular Science feature on Critzer’s unique home states that he arrived at Giant Rock in 1931.

[8] Giant Rock sits on public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

[9] Ainsworth, Ed. “Plans for ‘Out of This World’ Laboratory in Desert Disclosed” Los Angeles Times, 17 June 1954.

[10] Technically, the Riverside County deputies were out of jurisdiction as Giant Rock lies within San Bernardino County.

[11] Ainsworth, Out of This World.

[12] Author Sasha Archibald, in his 2014 Cabinet Magazine essay “Mass Effect” stated that Van Tassel most likely exaggerated his career resume: “He [Van Tassel] told the 1940 census-takers he was a tradesman, a tool and die maker.”

[13] Van Tassel, George. I Rode A Flying Saucer. Los Angeles: New Age Publishing Co., 1952, 18.

[14] Van Tassel, G. W. Into This World and Out Again. Self-published, 1956. 80. This story is recounted in Van Tassel’s other books as well as the June 18, 1964 KVOS television interview, “The Extraordinary Equation of George Van Tassel.”

[15] Tumbler-Snapper released about 15,500 kilocuries of radioiodine (I-131) into the atmosphere (for comparison, Trinity released about 3,200 kilocuries of radioiodine). Although this was only some 40 percent more than that released by Buster-Jangle, unfavorable weather patterns caused dramatically higher civilian radiation exposures (about 15-fold). The total thyroid tissue exposure amounted to 110 million person-rads, about 29 percent of all exposure due to continental nuclear tests. This can be expected to eventually cause about 34,000 cases of thyroid cancer, leading to some 1,750 deaths. Chart of fallout exposures from “underground tests” (60 K, 539×577). From National Cancer Institute Study Estimating Thyroid Doses of I-131 Received by Americans From Nevada Atmospheric Nuclear Bomb Test, 1997. Source: http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/Usa/Tests/Tumblers.html.<

[16] Desert Center is technically in the Colorado Desert but near the ecological transition zone where these two deserts meet.

[17] Van Tassel, George. When Stars Look Down. Los Angeles, The Kruckeberg Press, 1976, 140.

[18] There are many other colorful Biblical reinterpretations described in When Stars Look Down, including this gem on page 37: “This mass pickup of people will take place very soon, prior to the planet’s rebalancing on new poles. This cataclysm will wipe out the destructive mammon lovers who will be left on the surface.” Continuing on page 141 Van Tassel states: “The time is short. You are either an instrument of God, or a pawn of the devil. Jesus is about to land amidst you. Are you ready to be “taken up” or are you one who “be left.””

[19] In addition to the books previously mentioned, Van Tassel authored Into This World and Out Again (1956), The Council of Seven Lights (1958) and Religion and Science Merged (1958).

[20] These numbers can’t be confirmed and are based solely on Van Tassel’s own accounts.

[21] McCartney, Jennifer. “A Time Machine in the Mojave Desert,” The Atlantic, 20 February 2015.

[22] Ainsworth, Out of This World.

[23] During the 1964 KVOS TV Interview, Van Tassel states the shorter version of the "formula" at 15:30.

[24] Westernized hypnosis has its roots in Mesmerism. Asian healing practices such as reiki and qigong share similarities with Mesmerism.<

[25] Lakhosvsky’s research and the Multiple Wave Oscillator are described in detail in the 2014 Cabinet Magazine essay by Sasha Archibald.

[26] An example of Van Tassel’s considerable ego is apparent in this passage in When Stars Look Down on page 177: “It’s a strange thing that George is involved in so many firsts. Maybe this is where the expression evolved of ‘1et George do it.’ Here we have George Crile’s research tied in with George Lakhovsky’s principles, being extended by George Van Tassel. After all, George Washington was our first President, and Nikola Tesla was financed by George Westinghouse. Nikola Tesla’s discoveries made Westinghouse what it is today. Then there is the contrast of opposites because Ge-or-ge is ge twice with an “or” in between, and Westinghouse’s largest competitor is General Electric or G.E., and further in the letter expression of meanings, G.E. means generate energy.”

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