Deserts are not just for recluses anymore. Nowadays, entirely respectable people go there and rent houses and stay, and burn stuff, and watch caloric waves shimmer off the desert floor, and feel rugged and hardy and American, and drink a lot. You might have thought the desert was just for coyotes and creepy lizards, but I’m here to tell you. Much of Los Angeles is there, goes there every year, at least in the winter.
I’m talking about the constellation of towns near Joshua Tree National Park: Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, Twenty Nine Palms, Yucca Valley City, Palm Springs, all of them partners-in-baking when the calendar progresses past May. Bob Hope made Palm Springs famous, mostly for the golf, I think. Dinah Shore, Gene Autry, the Rat Pack—the place has celebrity credentials. I found it mostly walled golf courses interspersed with walled condos and walled strip malls.
One day I got taken out to a mystery location in the Mojave Desert. Out we went to where the roads became rougher and thinner, and the desert began to dominate again over the futile etchy-sketchy byways of humankind. We went toward a destination my friend wouldn’t reveal, for an event she wouldn’t describe, and an experience she couldn’t calculate. Eventually, I realized why, as after I had it I couldn’t say much either.
We entered a gate like one of the many along those roads, opening to a property filled with superseded furniture, the bodies of ancient automobiles, many of them bullet ridden, antique refrigerators, antique freezers, skeletal old easy chairs, middens of colored bottles, roadside signs that formerly stood before hotels, drive-in restaurants and summer camps, forgotten children’s trampolines, the occasional jumble of go-kart and minibike parts, and other sequelae of hobby enthusiasm gone amuck, all long abandoned, all radiating slowly outward from the house in an ever-expanding pool like an oil slick.
Except this property was clean and neat and kind of enchanting. The parking lot was swept, small structures of neat carpentry stood nearby. Even the ancient automobile bodies look scrubbed.
This was the surrounding ground of The Integratron, which the signs there began to instruct us.
There were neatly carpentered benches, a wall of clean chalkboard with large cylinders of chalk waiting below, and a full length mirror displaying the picture of you over the words You Are Here. There was a cluster of hammocks beneath a gauzy shade, and free standing outbuildings in warm colors.
At the far end of the property was The Integratron itself. It looks like an observatory, about 60 feet high, a big white dome colored a metallic-looking white but in fact built of plywood and other non-magnetic materials. This you learn when you see the pictures of it under construction in the check-in office beside it.
What you also learn, reader--something I’ll wager you didn’t know but not many people do in this age of distraction and ignorance of our heritage. What you also learn is that the Integratron was one of the first places on earth we made contact with the wisdom of other planets. Since then, owing to its highly unique resonance and geological anomalies, it has served as a place of cellular rejuvenation and the first stop in anyone’s education wishing to prolong life indefinitely.
Again, reader, please don’t reproach yourself for not knowing this; it’s rather poorly known, for whatever reason.
This contact, I might as well tell you, was made between an aerospace engineer from California in 1953, and a Venusian man who was dressed in a very dapper one-piece gray body suit. The Venusian, whose name was Solganda, told the engineer, whose name was George Van Tassle, how to construct a building that would extend human life and enable time travel. It would do a lot of other things, but unfortunately Van Tassle died before getting it finished. Three sisters bought it 14 years ago and now it’s a tourist attraction and—if you can believe this—recording venue for musicians.
We entered, on the ground floor, removed our shoes, underwent ritual purification, endured a body search—actually I made the last two up. But it did have the feeling of a preparation to enter holy space, with its formal ablutions and suppression of hilarity. We went upstairs. There were sleeping mats laid on the floor, and a series of bowl-looking things at one end of the room. Signs asked us to not touch them, though we never thought of doing so until we weren’t allowed. We lay down. A man began speaking.
I have no doubt he spoke English. But what he actually said I have no idea. He talked about this location being at the intersection of three rivers beneath the earth’s surface; and about how the height of the building is a number the reverse of which is the exact coefficient of pi at sea level. He spoke of the 17 rafters in the ceiling and their cosmic meaning. He spoke of cosmic meaning of every last joint, and why it was titanically significant. The room was a superb place for the “sound bath” he was about to perpetrate upon us, and we should be prepared to experience, in sound, the exact vibrational level that was known to rejuvenate human cells. It was all very mystical and numerological and, if you ask me, more than a little psychotic. Yet it stands to reason that earthlings like myself won’t understand these things.
After he had professed this incoherent scripture for 15 minutes, he began—I think he got a signal from someone in the audience—to bow his bowls, and the meat of the experience was arrived at last. These were quartz bowls, and when rubbed with a bow, made a rich and interesting sound. We lay back and closed our eyes, and the capsule-like room that had been built with the help of Venusians resonated with warm tones. The notes were full, disarming, relaxing, sustained as long as the gusts of wind and steady as the rock that produced them. I think I dozed off for a while.
The thing wore on for about twenty minutes and I cannot say that it—the sound bath/cellular rejuvenation/electrostatic irradiation—was unpleasant. I didn’t snore and I didn’t laugh, and when the whole thing was finished we wandered out further into the desert among the scattered properties and scattered lives, and looked for somewhere to eat.