California Desert trips,interesting places to visit: ghost towns, old mines, lost treasure, personalities and bits of the old west


The desert is sort of my second home. The places described below are special and worth visiting provided you know the story. That's what this blog is all about. Now I have tried as best I can to be factual but sometimes you hate to let facts get in the way of a good yarn.

Monday, April 09, 2007


Desert prospectors were noted for seeking unusual places to throw-down their bedroll. Places cool in hot summers and warm during cold Mojave winters. It wasn’t unusual to find them living in dugouts and mine tunnels, and other places offering a natural barrier to climate extremes.

And none was more unusual than the one picked by a German immigrant named Frank Critzer, who chose to live beneath the largest boulder on the California desert. A rock estimated to be six stories in height and weighing in excess of 100,000 tons -- appropriately named “Giant Rock”. Frank Critzer filed a mining claim here and set about to blast and chip three rooms all secluded comfortably beneath the heavy stone’s brow.

Frank claimed a number of other mining sites in the surrounding mountains from which he derived some income. However, he spent most of his time in his 1922 Essex behind which he towed a collection of heavy metal objects capable of removing vegetation and leveling the ground and, in this unusual way, he created a serviceable automobile road across the desert. Over the period of eight years he scraped over 40 miles of dirt road connecting 29 Palms Highway to his mines and his home beneath Giant Rock. He also bladed a runway for aircraft and marked the boundary with boulders painted white. He claimed that this was to encourage folks from the other side of the mountains to visit the desert by air and by car and he hoped that someday a major highway would run past his door.

This occurred during the Great Depression years of the 1930s. Because of his German extraction and the fact that he maintained a shortwave radio tuned to receive broadcast from his native country, he was considered by some to be un-American which at that particular time was unfortunate for him. After Pearl Harbor, the word got around that a German spy was living on the desert next to an airfield. Shortly, these rumors reached the authorities and in the early months of 1942 two sheriff’s deputies visited Frank Critzer at Giant Rock and demanded that he come with them for questioning. According to the story, they wanted him out of the way so that they could search his place and observe any activity at the airstrip. What actually transpired next is not clear. All we know is that Critzer went into his burrow and detonated dynamite that he had stored for work on his mines. The blast obviously killed Critzer and injured the two surprised deputies. Now let me add that there are other versions of what took place at Giant Rock that day.

It is highly unlikely that Frank Critzer was a spy. Those were edgy times for those of us in California. Anyone speaking German could be suspect. Japanese residents were shipped to camps away from the coast and, as a boy, I remember there were signs posted everywhere ordering German and Italian immigrants to register with the government for what purpose I was never sure.

Stranger things were to come. In the early 1950s, George Van Tassel, a retired aircraft employee, and his wife constructed a residence near the airfield and Sbegan using Critzer’s under-the-rock chamber for meditation. According to the story, energy created by these sessions attracted visitors from outer-space. Van Tassel described them as being of short stature with perfect teeth. Van Tassel was give a tour of their spacecraft and given a message to the world that The Council of Seven Lights, rulers of the universe, was concerned about the use of hydrogen in atomic explosions here on earth.

Van Tassel was profoundly awakened by the visit and the message that he received, and spent the rest of his life raising funds and constructing devices to further his Ministry of Universal Wisdom. Over the years numerous Flying Saucer Conventions were held at Giant Rock. It was reported that “tens of thousands of visitors” attended them and various other related functions between late 1950s and early 1960s.

With donations from his followers, he selected a location a short distance from Giant Rock for the construction of a special circular building which he called “The Integratron”. The building is designed to capture “lines of force that will rejuvenate the human body”. Van Tassel died in 1978 before the building was completed. The Integratron is open to the public on certain weekends and by special request. Huell Houser is a regular visitor according to the folks that operate the facility.

In the early 1990s a number of organized all-night “rave” parties were held at Giant Rock, attracting as many as 5,000 participants.

Giant Rock, one of the truly special geological features on the Mojave Desert, has received unbelievably bad treatment by the past occupants and the public. The walls are covered with graffiti and fires set along under the edge have blackened the sides and probably, as a result of heat expansion, caused a large slab of the boulder to break-off. I should mention that the rock is located on public land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Over the years residents of the adjacent community of Landers have sponsored weekend clean-ups to remove graffiti and trash.

It’s interesting to note that USGS, on the topographic map of this area, named the mountain immediately to the west of Giant Rock “Spy Mountain”.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's really interesting

1/11/2016 8:55 PM  

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