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  • Writer's pictureKathy Condon

History and Mystique of Giant Rock Near Joshua Tree

Updated: Aug 25, 2020

This guest blog was written by Julia Peschel about three years ago, yet it is timeless. Unfortunately, I have lost track of her and would be delighted to be in touch with her again. However, this blog remains relevant, and I honor her by posting her blog in its entity exactly as she has written it. This place is stunning and remains one of my favorite places to take visitors. It is about 65 miles from Palm Springs. A four-wheel drive is recommended, or a car that rides high, for some of the ruts can be deep. Note there are not many people so a great place to go during the Pandemic. On the way to Giant Rock you ail see Joshua Trees.

A Trip Through Time and Space

By Julia Peschel

The soft, warm light glimmered from behind the mountains as we drove down a bumpy desert road at dusk. There were no other beings in sight, and it felt like we were truly in the middle of nowhere, discovering something uninhabited and magical for the first time. We turned around a bend that revealed a flat, open terrain of white-colored sand. There it stood. Basking in the twilight and towering over its miniature mates was the legendary Giant Rock.

Giant Rock is located in Landers, CA — near the Integratron and approximately 30 minutes from the town of Yucca Valley. This attraction stands seven stories high and s claimed to be the largest freestanding boulder in the world. To truly appreciate the legend and lore of Giant Rock, one must see it in the flesh.

According to locals, Giant Rock and its grounds were held sacred by Native Americans for hundreds to thousands of years prior to colonization. The story has it that Shamans would go there to draw spiritual strength and energies from the rock. However, it wasn’t until the 1930s that the spot gained buzz from the modern community.

A squatter by the name of Frank Critzer settled into a one-room cave dwelling that he dug directly underneath Giant Rock. He even built a runway for small planes at the location. Critzer lived under the rock for years and was known to point a shotgun at those who neared his subterranean home. His stay ended during a police raid in 1942 when Critzer perished in what was argued to be a self-detonated dynamite explosion.

The strangeness didn’t end with Critzer. Critzer’s friend, the constructor of the Integratron and self-proclaimed extraterrestrial connoisseur — George Van Tassel — took over Giant Rock from there. Van Tassel believed he had been transported from Giant Rock to a spaceship where aliens inspired him to build a “rejuvenation and time travel machine.” Thus, the Integratron was born.

For over 20 years, Van Tassel held UFO conventions at Giant Rock to raise money for his invention. Thousands of people would journey to the desert to hear from UFO researchers and even grab a bite to eat at the restaurant he built in the shadow of the granite behemoth. Unfortunately, Van Tassel died before completing the inner workings of the Integratron. Today, it is an attraction where visitors can receive sound baths and take part in meditation groups.

Knowing the vast, unusual history behind this place, I looked around and couldn’t help but let my imagination run wild. I stood where so many others had stood before me — tribes and Shamans, hippies and suburbanites bonding over space-faring beings, rock climbers who are much braver than me. And of course, I thought about Critzer and Van Tassel, whose admiration for this rock was so deep they dedicated their lives to it.

The entire landscape was silent except for the wind gushing throughout the boulders. I thought that an alien might pop out to greet me after all. We shouted just to hear our voices echo. I took my shoes off and twirled around in the cool sand. I examined the rock face up close and took in the many shades of tans and browns that speckled across its surface. A feeling rushed over me that was dreamlike, and I knew those crazy, eccentric old men were right — this place was special.

Today, Giant Rock is used recreationally for climbing, camping, and even hosting events such as the intimate Gran Roca Music Festival. I recommend visiting during the golden hours — in the early morning or just before dusk to catch the sunset over the mountains. Bring essentials such as plenty of water, be aware that you likely won’t have cell phone reception and prepare for the dusty rollercoaster of a road it takes to get there.

If you’re exploring the Joshua Tree area and planning a visit to the Integratron, be sure to put this peculiar spot on your list.

Kathy Condon is a freelance travel writer and blogger. She is the Founder of the Palm Springs Insider Guide Her book It Doesn’t Hurt to Ask: It’s All About Communication was named Best Book Finalist By USA Book News


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