The Joshua Tree National Park in southeastern California is 794,000 acres of quirky, free-form desert landscape. The Park’s namesake Joshua Tree is an arboreal expression straight out of Dr. Seuss, and the bizarre rock formations look like the remnants of a giant’s playpen.
The harsh desert environment is home to some pretty wacky creature inhabitants, too, like the pinacate, or ‘circus’ beetle. The circus beetle is the John Belushi of the insect world. When startled, the bug does a headstand and emits a foul-smelling secretion from its backside.
Not unlike the flora and fauna of the desert, the residents of the small communities adjoining the Joshua Tree National Park are firmly committed to non-conformity. The restaurants are independently-owned joints where everyone who doesn’t know your name is quick to make your acquaintance. The entertainment venues are honky-tonks and saloons, where the music is lively and the pours are generous. The lodging options are reverently updated roadside motels and Airstream trailer parks.
In and around the town of Joshua Tree, the local attractions are, well, out there. For example, consider the Integratron, a dome-like structure devised by an aeronautical engineer named George Van Tassel. When you visit the Integratron, you are told with a serene, but absolutely straight, face, that Van Tassel began building the structure following an interaction with aliens in 1953. Venusians (that’s folks from Venus) advised Van Tassel that the deficient state of humankind was giving the universe a headache, and imparted instructions for the construction of the Integratron, for the purpose of rejuvenating human cells and facilitating time travel. The extraterrestrials apparently hoped to extend the human lifespan – and experience – sufficiently for earthlings to gain some much-needed knowledge.
It is an irony of interplanetary proportions that George Van Tassel died in 1978, before fully completing the Integratron. But the building he created upon a ‘juicy’ intersection of geomagnetic fields has near-perfect acoustics. The current owners of the Integratron encourage visitors to partake in ‘sonic healing sessions’, dubbed Sound Baths. During a Sound Bath, crystal bowls are used to create weird noises which resonate through the body, an experience that basically feels like being a human tuning fork for about an hour. A Sound Bath could be relaxing, were it not for fear that the extraordinary acoustics will broadcast the sound of your most basic body functions, like a growling stomach, or Cosmos-forbid, flatulence, to the entire circle of your fellow time-space continuum travelers.
Another unorthodox Joshua Tree destination is the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum of Assemblage Sculpture. The Museum is ten acres of desert landscape turned showcase for Purifoy’s creative expression in the medium of the flotsam and jetsam of human existence. In other words, it is a bunch of funky stuff made of junk. Using beer cans, broken glass, plumbing fixtures, and mannequin parts, Purifoy’s art endeavors to inspire people to “do today what they couldn’t do yesterday…” At the very least, the Purifoy Museum has probably inspired more than a few visitors to go home and finally clean out the garage.
There is clearly something about the desert environment of Joshua Tree that fosters anomalies. No doubt, it takes a pretty unique character to settle in a place that most others are delighted to see in the rear view mirror. Maybe all that desert space is accommodating to individuals with expanded minds, or to those with a few rough edges. Whatever the reason, Joshua Tree is a mighty refreshing detour from the commonplace.
When You Go to Joshua Tree:
Integratron, in Landers; Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum of Assemblage Sculpture, in Joshua Tree (visits by appointment only); Joshua Tree National Park, access from Interstate 10 and State Highway 62